Ysenda Maxtone Graham

Why are cathedrals cutting ties with choral schools?

  • From Spectator Life
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There’s worrying news for all who care about the incomparable cultural phenomenon that is the singing of choral evensong in British cathedrals every day of the week. Canterbury cathedral announced in March that it’s cutting ties with its local independent choir school, St Edmund’s, ending a happy relationship that has lasted for 50 years. St Edmund’s was only informed about the end of the contract a few days before the public announcement. 

If these small powerhouses of excellence are lost, the nation will be culturally the poorer for it

From now on, Canterbury’s choristers will be drawn from any and all local schools, and they will sing just three services each per week. A child will still be able to go to St Edmund’s and be a chorister, but the cathedral will no longer (after the current cohort leaves) stump up the money to subsidise the fees in return for the child’s five years of musical contribution. 

Will other cathedrals with instinctively anti-independent-school deans and chapters follow suit, in belt-tightening measures dressed up as ‘inclusivity’? 

The cathedral was clever at spinning its announcement to make it sound virtuous and inclusive. They were ‘committing themselves to progressing equality’, they stated, as they announced that choristers will be allowed to ‘study at any institution’, with ‘compulsory boarding no longer a requirement’. The money the cathedral saves by ceasing to subsidise chorister school fees (i.e. no longer reimbursing families for their children’s hard work) will, they insist, be ‘ring-fenced to support community music projects’.

Those of us who care will watch carefully to see what the cathedral actually does with that ‘ring-fenced’ money. The drawing of primary school-aged boys and teenaged girls from a variety of local schools sounds attractive, but will it work in practice? What if they’re needed for a special service in the middle of a weekday, such as for a suddenly dead archbishop? It could be a nightmare to organise – emails going out to different heads, some of whom might not play ball.

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