Sheffield Cathedral Choir: Moving forward or a desecration?

According to yesterday's Grauniad, Sheffield Cathedral have disbanded their choir and mean to start again in mid-August.

Opening up the choir to boys not from private schools to me looks like a positive move, I'm all for moves that open up music to all. Broadening the repertoire is another move I approve of. The cathedral chapter have made it clear that the Anglican choral tradition will still be at the centre of what the choir does. My interpretation is that if you go to to choral evensong you will still get choral evensong.

The cathedral's own take on events is here.

Given that the Grauniad is not the place to go to for traditional views, what do you think about this?
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Comments

  • ThunderBunkThunderBunk Shipmate
    There was no need for the destruction of the existing arrangements to do this. Heaven save me from ever being employed by clergy, especially clergy furiously agreeing with each other and believing that noone else has skills, a profession or a vocation.
  • MarsupialMarsupial Shipmate
    My instincts when it comes to choirs is that it's much easier to destroy than to build up, so that if you've got something that's working don't mess with it.

    If they're taking down something that's working and has a genuine following in the speculative hope that maybe doing something different could increase their attendance then I think they may be doing something very foolish. No one can be all things to all people, though perhaps large Cathedral churches are increasingly feeling the pressure to do this.

    But I don't really know what's happening at Sheffield. Is their choral tradition increasingly disconnected from their actual attendance? Do they have an elite choir that singing mostly to an empty church? If so, then they may well need a re-think, much as it pains me to say so.
  • High quality choirs are a lot of work. It's not just getting a bunch of kids who can sing in the same room, and letting them sing. Being in such a choir is a large commitment on the part of the kids and their families.

    It should be elitist, in exactly the same way that a top football club's youth training program is elitist.

    Or by "elitist" do they really mean "our choir sings Tallis and Palestrina, and we don't think normal people like that"?
  • balaambalaam Shipmate
    They went out of their way to point out that it was not the music that was elitist but the way it was presented—choirboys being drawn only from private schools. If your parents cannot afford a fee-paying school or choose not to send you to one, forget it.
  • MarsupialMarsupial Shipmate
    edited July 23
    I'm not reading the Guardian article as saying the choir was drawn exclusively from private schools. It's really hard to get a sense from the article or their statement what concretely the powers that be really have in mind.

    Based on long experience of Anglican churches making mistakes that have destroyed good music programs, I think there is a valid concern that TPTB don't really know what they're doing and may end up with a much diminished music programme rather than the still-excellent-but-more-diverse programme they are promising.
  • balaam wrote: »
    They went out of their way to point out that it was not the music that was elitist but the way it was presented—choirboys being drawn only from private schools. If your parents cannot afford a fee-paying school or choose not to send you to one, forget it.

    The Guardian article says (including private schools) not (exclusively private schools). And of course they should include private schools - private schools are part of the community.

    If you told me that the choir drew exclusively from schools with choral programmes, and that those schools were the private schools and some of the leafier state schools, I wouldn't be all that surprised.
    Peter Bradley, the cathedral’s dean, said: “The city is changing pretty quickly and we feel cathedral music needs to have a wider reach. We want to be more ambitious, and that means engaging with a wider group of children and reaching parts of the city we haven’t reached before.”

    Which is one of those statements that sounds good, but could mean almost anything in practice.

    But I tend to think that Cathedral music should be elitist - it should draw the best musicians, and be the best it possibly can be. A cathedral isn't a big parish church, and I think its liturgy and music should reflect that.
  • MarsupialMarsupial Shipmate
    Peter Bradley, the cathedral’s dean, said: “The city is changing pretty quickly and we feel cathedral music needs to have a wider reach. We want to be more ambitious, and that means engaging with a wider group of children and reaching parts of the city we haven’t reached before.”

    Which is one of those statements that sounds good, but could mean almost anything in practice.

    It's this kind of thing that makes me worry they may have decided to deep-six their existing programme in some kind of vague hope of getting people to come to church who have never actually shown any interest in coming to church (or at least, to the Cathedral), ever. Or the current PTB just don't like traditional English church music very much and are looking for an excuse to get rid of it.
    But I tend to think that Cathedral music should be elitist - it should draw the best musicians, and be the best it possibly can be. A cathedral isn't a big parish church, and I think its liturgy and music should reflect that.

    Though I think even a Cathedral needs to be responsive to its congregation. I've sung in Anglican churches that have handled this very well, within their means, usually with two services and two choirs. Ideally you'd think that a Cathedral with a strong existing music program would want to add to it rather than replacing it. But I assume that running the existing program is already a full-time job for one or more people, so adding to it would cost money which perhaps Sheffield doesn't have.



  • TelfordTelford Shipmate
    It's the parents of pupils from private schools who are more likely to swell the coffers.
  • Fawkes CatFawkes Cat Shipmate
    Two comments, in the hope of generating light rather than heat, but in the fear that I will do the opposite:

    1) There was an interesting thread on Facebook (which I saw because a friend had contributed to it) that seemed to suggest that there were problems with the management of the choir. Unfortunately (from my point of view) the thread has been taken down so I know no more
    2) The mechanics of this reorganization seem very similar to those used in the York Minster bellringers affair a few years back - the cathedral authorities announcing an immediate closing of the doors, and then restarting from scratch, rather than working with the existing lay people involved to move forward.

    For the avoidance of doubt, I have no idea what the issues are at Sheffield, and in particular no reason to think that they are the same as they were at York.
  • Bishops FingerBishops Finger Shipmate
    edited July 24
    Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Sheffield situation might be, I feel distinctly uneasy about it being discussed on a public board.

    Just sayin'...YMMV.

    The whole question of music provision at Cathedrals and larger Quires And Places Where They Sing (BCP) in the post-lockdown era is an interesting and challenging one, and there will be many and various opinions as to how such Places should proceed!
  • MarsupialMarsupial Shipmate
    I imagine a lot of people will be interested in seeing who they hire as a replacement. If they are able to attract a strong candidate with an established reputation that will be a positive sign for the future.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    I'm prepared to put good money on there being more on both sides that could be said, but which is being held back.
  • Exactly - one reason, perhaps, why discussion of a particular situation on a public board is rather futile...

  • DardaDarda Shipmate
    Exactly - one reason, perhaps, why discussion of a particular situation on a public board is rather futile...

    I don't think there would be many posts on the Ship if everyone waited until they had full information!
  • Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Sheffield situation might be, I feel distinctly uneasy about it being discussed on a public board.
    I agree - we simply don't know the ins and outs of what's going on.

    The only mitigaton is that there may well be frantic (and possibly inaccurate) discussions taking place on social media.

  • angloidangloid Shipmate
    Marsupial wrote: »
    I imagine a lot of people will be interested in seeing who they hire as a replacement. If they are able to attract a strong candidate with an established reputation that will be a positive sign for the future.

    Gareth Malone perhaps?
  • Baptist TrainfanBaptist Trainfan Shipmate
    edited July 24
    I think one question which should be asked (and probably is) is, "What sort of music should we have at a Cathedral?" There are many who would immediately jump to the Great English Choral Tradition and that of course has had a wonderful history over the centuries; it shouldn't be summarily jettisoned especially as it would be hard to revive. One has to ask, though, how many people it appeals to and if that number is perceptibly diminishing over time.

    More pertinently perhaps, one might want to ask if it is possible to retain that tradition without loss of quality yet also diversify into - yes - Gareth Malone/Only Men Aloud type music, gospel choir or whatever. I do remember going to a music study day arranged by the URC some years ago. The guest speaker was the Director of Music at another English Cathedral, who amazed us by speaking of the breadth of music they were embracing, albeit on different occasions and with different sets of musicians who understood the various genres.
  • PDRPDR Shipmate
    Why am I smelling a managerial, not a pastoral, response to a possible problem here?
    Whichever way it goes I see abundant cock-up potential all around.
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    edited July 24
    I would say St John's Ranmoor stands to gain most from this.
  • MarsupialMarsupial Shipmate
    I think one question which should be asked (and probably is) is, "What sort of music should we have at a Cathedral?" There are many who would immediately jump to the Great English Choral Tradition and that of course has had a wonderful history over the centuries; it shouldn't be summarily jettisoned especially as it would be hard to revive. One has to ask, though, how many people it appeals to and if that number is perceptibly diminishing over time.

    Broadly speaking, we may well be seeing a phenomenon where (a) fewer people are interested in classical church music, (b) fewer people are going to church, and (c) just for good measure, the people who are interested in classical church music are increasingly not the people who are going to church. I don't think this is a good thing, but it may be our (Anglican) present reality in many places.
    More pertinently perhaps, one might want to ask if it is possible to retain that tradition without loss of quality yet also diversify into - yes - Gareth Malone/Only Men Aloud type music, gospel choir or whatever. I do remember going to a music study day arranged by the URC some years ago. The guest speaker was the Director of Music at another English Cathedral, who amazed us by speaking of the breadth of music they were embracing, albeit on different occasions and with different sets of musicians who understood the various genres.

    If you want to do everything well this gets expensive though - I doubt very much that Gareth Malone comes cheap. There's also the risk of trying to be all things to all people and not really making anyone happy. My read of the Cathedral's statement is that they feel a need to be representative of the broader community, which is an understandable position for a Cathedral church to take. But query whether that comes at the cost of alienating your actual (and realistic potential) regular attenders. It may or may not, depending on what your actual and realistic potential congregation looks like.

    Jengie Jon wrote: »
    I would say St John's Ranmoor stands to gain most from this.

    I am wondering if ultimately the future of Tallis and Byrd and choral evensong is not in the cathedrals but in some parish churches that are large enough to support this kind of thing without having to accommodate the politics inherent in being a Cathedral church.

  • This (all of it).
  • balaambalaam Shipmate
    Yesterday I posted that the choir was to be re-formed after the new Canon Precentor had been installed in August. Today on local TV they said they would be doing it next year. Though they only interviewed the save the choir campaigners.

    Just what is happening?
  • Telford wrote: »
    It's the parents of pupils from private schools who are more likely to swell the coffers.
    Widow's mite, anyone?

    All my instincts are with the Dean and creating a new choir. But it may not work and so Sheffield may end up without a choir at all. Is that a risk worth taking? Probably...
  • PendragonPendragon Shipmate
    I know that Coventry's cathedral choir tries to attract choristers from across the city, and have actively had such a policy for a good many years. They have separate boys and girls choirs who practice about two or three times a week and do one mid-week and one Sunday service. The music is quite good.
  • Alan29 wrote: »

    Hmm. Is the matter sub judice now, perhaps?

  • TelfordTelford Shipmate
    Telford wrote: »
    It's the parents of pupils from private schools who are more likely to swell the coffers.
    Widow's mite, anyone?

    Widow's mites will not fill the foodbanks or fund the Homeless projects such as the Sheffield Cathedral Archer project.
  • balaambalaam Shipmate
    I suspect the Pharisees said something similar to Jesus.
  • CathscatsCathscats Shipmate
    The point about the widow’s mite was not that she gave a little but that she gave everything, which happened to be a little.
    If everyone gave the proportion she gave.....
    Also it’s not what you give that you should count but what you retain.
    And various other sermonic lessons.
  • Bishops FingerBishops Finger Shipmate
    edited July 25
    Exactly.

    And isn't there a saying 'Mony a mickle maks a muckle'? This being interpreted as something like 'Many little things add up to a big thing'.

    Dear me - the lack of understanding Our Blessed Lord had to put up with in His day is still with us 2000+ years later. The Pharisees are alive and well...

    Back to the Cathedral - I really don't see why Quires and Places Where They Sing shouldn't review and revise the way they work from time to time, given different circumstances that crop up. Perhaps in this case - and we certainly DON'T know all the background - it's the manner in which it's being done, rather than the fact of the matter, that may be causing concern.
  • ThunderBunkThunderBunk Shipmate
    Which part of the term "choral foundation" is opaque? This means that, shockingly, it's not all about the clergy and its whims. Of course, it doesn't mean precisely what it sounds like to modern ears either, but my point is that it's not just a big parish church; it's supposed to be a self-sustaining common production functioning according to its own rule, out of the whole of its resident community. This seems to cause a fit of the vapours in many clericalists. The chapter of Sheffield Cathedral is tearing up its own foundations and will reapthe rewards. Not that cathedrals know what they are for since the link between cathedrals and their diocese was ripped up in the most recent cathedrals measure. Perhaps that's where we need to look for the roots of this - a lack of self-confidence and an excessive desire to conform to an imperfectly understood and very much feared outside world.
  • Alan29 wrote: »

    Hmm. Is the matter sub judice now, perhaps?

    Not unless someone has been charged in a court and been remitted for trial, no. I don't understand why there should be any reason not to discuss the decision to disband the choir, which has been made public, and offer our views on whether it is for good or ill.
  • Bishops FingerBishops Finger Shipmate
    edited July 25
    Well, hence the question mark! As I've said before, I'm uneasy about discussing a particular situation when we don't know all the facts, background etc., though there's no harm in talking about it in perhaps more general terms.

    I take the point that whatever's going on hasn't gone to court, and that there is quite a lot of stuff (pro and con) in the public domain already.

    If we err, and stray from our ways like lost sheep, then a Host will be along to gently correct us, no doubt.
    :wink:
  • If we err, and stray from our ways like lost sheep, then a Host will be along to gently correct us, no doubt.
    :wink:
    For no-one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

  • TelfordTelford Shipmate
    Cathscats wrote: »
    The point about the widow’s mite was not that she gave a little but that she gave everything, which happened to be a little.
    If everyone gave the proportion she gave.....
    Also it’s not what you give that you should count but what you retain.
    And various other sermonic lessons.

    and the point of my statement is that the Cathedrals cannot survive on Widows mites even if they existed in 21st century Britain.
  • Well, Cathedrals, widows, and widows' mites all exist in 21stC Britain, so they can combine together to at least help sustain the music programme.

    Nice big stashes of £££ are good to have, too, of course.
    :wink:
  • Alan29Alan29 Shipmate
    Does it have to be one or the other? Is it not possible to have a musical/liturgical mixed economy?
    Or is that not the crucial issue at Sheffield?
  • ThunderBunkThunderBunk Shipmate
    edited July 25
    it is, of course, perfectly possible to have a liturgical mixed economy, for for this to be authentic, cathedrals must be allowed to make their own contribution to it, or the whole will become thin. Richness needs time and space, and I don't see that they are properly available outside structures created to allow for them.
  • TelfordTelford Shipmate
    Well, Cathedrals, widows, and widows' mites all exist in 21stC Britain, so they can combine together to at least help sustain the music programme.

    Nice big stashes of £££ are good to have, too, of course.
    :wink:

    If a widow donated all her income to the church I feel sure it would have made the news.
  • Telford wrote: »
    Well, Cathedrals, widows, and widows' mites all exist in 21stC Britain, so they can combine together to at least help sustain the music programme.

    Nice big stashes of £££ are good to have, too, of course.
    :wink:

    If a widow donated all her income to the church I feel sure it would have made the news.

    How would "the news", or even the church, necessarily know?
  • yohan300yohan300 Shipmate
    I feel perfectly comfortable discussing in public the public statements made by Dean and Chapter.

    The Dean said on the radio the other day, when asked whether it was diversity of membership or diversity of repertoire they trying to broaden, that the choir never sang enough Tudor music, and that they ought to sing all of it, and more Purcell.

    That's it, from the horse's mouth - he could have said they wanted to get more kids from the inner city from different racial backgrounds singing in the choir, or something like that, but no - he summarily dismissed the choir because he wants them to sing a wider repertoire

    I can only think that, if he's of sound mind, there must be something else going on, and that the public statements issued by Dean and Chapter are at best obfuscation.
  • TelfordTelford Shipmate
    Telford wrote: »
    Well, Cathedrals, widows, and widows' mites all exist in 21stC Britain, so they can combine together to at least help sustain the music programme.

    Nice big stashes of £££ are good to have, too, of course.
    :wink:

    If a widow donated all her income to the church I feel sure it would have made the news.

    How would "the news", or even the church, necessarily know?

    Her friendsand relatives would realise that even though she was getting her pension every week, she had nothing at all to buy food etc.
  • AnselminaAnselmina Shipmate
    Ref: Sheffield. The Dean and Chapter state that they have been planning these changes for a few years now. It therefore seems strange that Josh Stephens, the choir director, who was appointed in February of this year, should now feel the need to resign; making it three choir director resignations in less than five years. The Chapter are either being less than articulate when it comes to communicating what they really want from their music directors; or do not know themselves. A high turnover of stipendiary/salaried staff in church organisations which traditionally retain such services over much longer periods of time is, quite possibly, a strong indicator of where the main problem might lie.
  • ZappaZappa Ecclesiantics Host
    If we err, and stray from our ways like lost sheep, then a Host will be along to gently correct us, no doubt.
    :wink:
    For no-one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

    Oh, we're watching :flushed:
  • PDRPDR Shipmate
    I would have thought that a difference of opinion over repertoire could have been solved by key officers and staff having a friendly conversation over a good dinner and a couple of bottles of decent port. Then again, that may have been tried, and if someone is being obdurate things can get a lot more complicated.
  • Ex_OrganistEx_Organist Shipmate
    Anselmina wrote: »
    Ref: Sheffield. The Dean and Chapter

    From the cathedral website it would seem that the "Dean and Chapter" consists of precisely TWO people. There are also some "Assistant Clergy" (all from the Church Army).

    Other cathedrals seem to have got round the lack of clergy members of the Chapter by appointing Lay Canons who are actively involved in the work of the cathedral.

  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    The Dean made a Choir Address yesterday.

    The Church Commissioners fund only a Dean and two residentiary canons at most cathedrals. Additional canons (lay or clerical) need to be unpaid locally funded and Sheffield as a diocese has been notoriously cash-strapped for several years now.

    According to Wikipedia there are vacancies for a Precentor and two canons.
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