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Also on another thread:  This will come as no surprise to anyone who has kept up with contemporary church politics and finances. The current situation and the likely immediate future make for very gloomy prospects for the church in general and cathedrals and choirs in particular, especially those away from major tourist trails. Think of Carlisle, Newcastle, Blackburn, Bradford, Ripon, Derby, Birmingham, Bury St Edmunds, Portsmouth, Truro. The life of a DOM for cathedrals without choral foundation or choir school must be hugely arduous: chorister recruitment, retention and nurturing, keeping clear of the mires of clergy politics, the routine stuff and more. I hope Sheffield can work its way through this and live to tell the tale. I wonder about the sustainability of boarding choir schools with not only financial pressures, but increasingly too an awareness of the harmful effects of boarding on the very young. And with the economic double whammy of brexit and virus, how many families will be able to afford fees? Sheffield and other places need support. Edit or delete this

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There are threads on this topic on various social media group pages.

Some see it as a necessary and positive step.

However another group post includes the text of a letter from a long-standing chorister parent to the Editor of the Church Times, which puts a rather different complexion on it, quoting lamentable mismanagement and appalling failure of  communication.

[For the record, I have no first-hand knowledge of the situation. I’m merely quoting what I have seen.]

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18 hours ago, DHM said:

There are threads on this topic on various social media group pages.

Some see it as a necessary and positive step.

However another group post includes the text of a letter from a long-standing chorister parent to the Editor of the Church Times, which puts a rather different complexion on it, quoting lamentable mismanagement and appalling failure of  communication.

[For the record, I have no first-hand knowledge of the situation. I’m merely quoting what I have seen.]

I have seen that letter to the editor of the CT. If what is said in it is true (and, as you say, we have no proof either way) then it is not good at all and doesn't reflect very well on certain people in the cathedral.

Dave

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1 hour ago, Andrew Butler said:

He wants to be using "...ALL of the Tudor repertoire, such as Purcell...."  ????? 🤔

Since someone else accused him of this, I listened carefully and that is not quite what he said. He wants to broaden the repertoire to include, for example, a whole range of Tudor music, Purcell, plus more modern repertoire such as Panufnik.

I have a Facebook friend who is very well acquainted with the Sheffield scene and has great respect for the dean and his musical knowledge.  He has filled me in on the background to this situation. I cannot, and will not, divulge what I have been told (so don't send me any PMs), partly because I have promised not to and partly because I might risk misleading yet further, but suffice it to say that, assuming my friend is correct, it puts a completely different light on pretty much all the statements that have been posted on the internet and explains why the chapter has acted in the unilateral way it has.  It is certainly true that we are not being told everything.

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I must admit I only listened once and posted my comment some time later.  Still not quite sure why a whole music department has to be dismantled in order to add to the repertoire though. I have no axe to grind over Sheffield Cathedral, which I have never visited, but am disturbed by this whole business and why we are not being told everything.  It sounds to me as though either someone was not up to the job, or someone was intent on finding fault wherever possible.....

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This may be controversial!

I'm not sure why 'we' have to be told anything! The Dean together with the Chapter have come to a decision that they want the music department to have a broader focus than it has at the moment. There appears to be no Director of Music in place at this current time and therefore, it seems, it is an appropriate time to consider implementation of their plan which they have been considering for some time. This has happened in other places too and there can be a multitude of reasons why the decision to 'start afresh' has been taken.

It is easy to belittle someone without having accurate details and I would suggest that posting half-truths, assumptions and opinions when not in full receipt of the facts is not particularly helpful!!

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18 minutes ago, S_L said:

This may be controversial!

I'm not sure why 'we' have to be told anything! The Dean together with the Chapter have come to a decision that they want the music department to have a broader focus than it has at the moment. There appears to be no Director of Music in place at this current time and therefore, it seems, it is an appropriate time to consider implementation of their plan which they have been considering for some time. This has happened in other places too and there can be a multitude of reasons why the decision to 'start afresh' has been taken.

It is easy to belittle someone without having accurate details and I would suggest that posting half-truths, assumptions and opinions when not in full receipt of the facts is not particularly helpful!!

I'm pretty sure you don't "consider implementation" of a plan to broaden the focus of a cathedral music department by abruptly dismissing all the dedicated adults and children of the choir.

I'm not sure that there is any belittling going on - people are simply commenting on the public statements that the Dean and Chapter have decided to issue.

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40 minutes ago, S_L said:

I'm not sure why 'we' have to be told anything! 

...

It is easy to belittle someone without having accurate details and I would suggest that posting half-truths, assumptions and opinions when not in full receipt of the facts is not particularly helpful!!

I would just like to point out politely that I never suggested that we 'had' to be told anything.  I was simply confirming what several people elsewhere have suggested: that we are not being told everything.  They are correct. There are what I would consider good reasons for this.

I very much agree with your last sentence.

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1 hour ago, Vox Humana said:

I would just like to point out politely that I never suggested that we 'had' to be told anything.

 

No you didn't - and I never said that you did!!

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16 minutes ago, DaveHarries said:

The suggestion that the press were told before the choir is, if true, a very poor way of doing things.

Dave

Agreed.  That is something that is not going to be forgotten.

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Tomorrow's service from Sheffield Cathedral could be interesting: I wonder what the Dean will have to say for himself. If I was he I would be choosing my words rather carefully in view of the backlash from the disbandment of the choir.

 

Dave

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I remember many years ago a certain dean from a certain cathedral in Bradford making a mistake that I presume he must have seriously regretted afterwards.
You'd think a person in that position would have the sense to think before acting.

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On 24/07/2020 at 17:38, michaelwilson said:

I'm pretty sure you don't "consider implementation" of a plan to broaden the focus of a cathedral music department by abruptly dismissing all the dedicated adults and children of the choir.

It seems unduly hard on the children because it's not their fault. Presumably they are not singing at the moment anyway, so maybe it is more of a matter of them not being reconvened until a new regime is in place. A very risky strategy, if so, which may well make things harder for the new DoM than they might be.

Very many years ago a new vicar at our city centre church was determined to move the very healthy music in a happy-clappy direction. He appointed a new DoM who was enthusiastic about this vision.  The choir was highly antagonistic and the congregation deeply divided.  The atmosphere became very hostile, nasty and unchristian, to the extent that pastoral relations completely broke down. The vicar decided that the only solution was to disband the choir. He got his way and the musical reputation of the church was permanently destroyed - an opportunity for evangelism lost.  Needless to say, the revolution did nothing to increase bums on pews. There are surely similar cases elsewhere.  I am emphatically not saying that this is what is envisaged at Sheffield because I have no information on that, but it does demonstrate one reason why a clergyman might choose to dismiss a choir.

Does anyone know how many children there were in the choir at Sheffield?  I believe that at one point, many years ago, they were down to six boys.  Was that the point at which the treble line became mixed?  

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14 hours ago, DaveHarries said:

Tomorrow's service from Sheffield Cathedral could be interesting: I wonder what the Dean will have to say for himself. If I was he I would be choosing my words rather carefully in view of the backlash from the disbandment of the choir.

 

Dave

I hope the Dean and Chapter were listening to this morning's BBC "Sunday" and listened particularly to the words of Bishop Michael Currie, leader of the American Episcopal Church who, whilst not referring to Sheffield, mentioned certain unsavoury things happening in the USA. He quoted, "Do unto others as you would have done unto you."

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2 hours ago, Vox Humana said:

Does anyone know how many children there were in the choir at Sheffield?  I believe that at one point, many years ago, they were down to six boys.  Was that the point at which the treble line became mixed?  

I don't know the current situation but on the BBC Easter broadcast in 2018 there were 19 or 20 on the front row, roughly 50:50 boys and girls. The back row was 11 or 12 with maybe two women. Seemed like a very healthy choir.

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The Dean's Address:

 

Address at the Cathedral Eucharist
The Very Reverend Peter Bradley
Dean of Sheffield 

Sunday 26 July 2020

In place of a sermon this morning, I would like to tell you what is happening with our Cathedral Choir, and why this is happening. I would like to set Chapter’s decision in a wider context which I hope that you will find helpful.

There have been real high points in our choral life, such as the live BBC TV broadcast on Easter Day in 2018, our Advent Carol service and Christmas Carol service this past year, and many others. However, for many years, there have been only one or two, sometimes nobody attending Choral Evensong on weekdays; fewer people are attending Choral Evensong on Sundays too. Our worship is offered primarily to the glory of God, but it must surely give us pause if we all put such great effort into our choral music, and only a handful of people join us. Attendance at Cathedral Choral Evensong nationally is very strong, with rising numbers. We are all aware too, that despite some really good work, recruitment  to the Choir has been weaker than we would have hoped.

Towards the end of 2018, Chapter decided to commission an external review of our worship and music. You might recall that every member of the congregation on our electoral roll was asked to contribute, and there was widespread consultation of Choir members and Choir parents, our Diocese, and the civic community. Chapter received the report in early summer last year.

It was very encouraging that contributions to consultation showed broad agreement. To summarise the the findings:

  • we want a choir that is full--which has not been the case for some time

  • we value our choral tradition here very deeply, but we want the choir to be singing at services with much larger congregations

  • we want greater flexibility, experimentation, and imagination in our worship

  • we want to raise our ambition for excellence in singing, so that once again we will be one of the best, if not the best, Cathedral choir in the UK

  • our Diocese and Bishop as for better provision for Diocesan services, not least in light of the new Diocesan strategy

  • members of the congregation--very strongly--want systematic provision for choral worship every Sunday of the year

To achieve all this, Chapter received the recommendation to close our current provision, restructure, and begin again with a fresh vision. Since last summer, Chapter has been planning to make these hopes a reality under God. 

In our discussions, we have also been considering these additional questions:

  • will recruitment be stronger if we extend our reach, and work with a wider group of schools? As “a place for all people” we  have been asking ourselves if our Choir can better reflect the diversity of our city.

  • what might a more flexible provision of music actually look like? should we be considering entirely new ventures, such as a short Sung Eucharist on Friday lunchtimes when the city is full of people?

  • should focus on a new student choir, and from which we can build up our provision? Do we need more choirs?

  • how can we make proper provision for boys whose voices break? Would this be a VI Form choir for young men and women?

  • are we able to offer choral Evensong at 17.00, when the city centre is much fuller?

That’s already a long list, but as we reflected, Chapter discerned three further issues: 

  • It has become impossible to go into a mixed sex school and only audition younger boys, or older girls. Schools rightly require parity of treatment, and so do the Cathedral’s own values. Does this mean that we should have two choirs of younger children? Or one choir of boys, as at present, and one of girls at the same ages?

  • We were already aware of the challenge of live-streaming but following COVID it is clear that we will need to live-stream all major services. How we can best live-stream choral worship in our building is not obvious, and in any case we will need to find significant new funding for the equipments such as permanent microphones and cameras

As I say, this is a long list, and it has become clear to Chapter that to have any real chance of renewing our choral life so fundamentally, an incremental approach is unlikely to be successful. We came to the view that it would be best to stop, reflect, recruit and plan, and then systematically build our choral worship in a new way. 

Chapter keenly understands that many people have found this decision painful. We know that it has caused real grief, not least to those who are currently members of the choir and their parents, but also to many in the congregation and the wider community. We know too that this decision may mean that colleagues who have worked here for many years may be made redundant.

Chapter is required to plan for the long term, and it is our prayerful discernment that a new beginning is in the best interest of the Cathedral’s mission. We fear that if we do not take this opportunity our choral life will simply decline. 

This morning, I would like to reiterate Chapter’s and my own thanks to the whole Choir community, children, young people--and the parents who have so generously supported them--Choral Scholars, and Lay Clerks. I know too that the whole congregation will join me in this thanks and appreciation. Our hope is that children and adults who will not be singing during the coming year will continue to be regular members of our worshipping community, and we hope that many of them will consider joining our new choir (or choirs).

You will have heard in the press concerns about bullying. I cannot, for legal reasons, comment on these, except to reassure you that any complaints which have been raised are taken very seriously by Chapter, and will be dealt with through our robust official procedures. Chapter also thinks that this is the moment to review our provision for safeguarding in the Music Department. Therefore, in early July, Chapter commissioned a lessons-learned review of safeguarding in the Music Department during the past five years. Chapter has committed to publishing the executive summary of the review report when it is finished during the autumn.

Please note that, unlike many other churches, Chapter is not seeking to reduce our investment in choral music. Finances remain very tight, but Chapter intends to maintain our current funding, and indeed will be seeking to increase music funding with the help of our funding partners. We are keeping national partners briefed during this whole process. I say this again: we are not seeking to save money, but to invest more.

Our decision to make a new beginning for our choral life has certainly not been taken because of COVID; we had been discussing a fresh start for some time. Nevertheless, Chapter’s view is that if we are ever to restructure, now is the time to do so. In the lift of COVID many civic services in the autumn will not now take place, and even under optimistic projections we are not confident that sustained choral training will be possible during the autumn.

It would, perhaps, have been easier to announce the end of the Cathedral choral tradition, and some commentators have understood that this is actually what we are doing. Can I once again state, as clearly as I can, that the Anglican cathedral choral tradition will remain fundamental to Cathedral worship in Sheffield Cathedral? The changes we are making will not diminish our choral life; rather, they should be understood as a sign of confidence in the long term potential of cathedral choral music here. 

Chapter’s vision is that by raising our ambition under God for inclusion and excellence, and by taking the many new opportunities we now discern for the development of our music, we will best fulfil our vocation to be “a place for all people” in service of our Diocese, city, and region.

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If I'm reading it right they've had 18 months to reflect on their review, and the best they could come up with to address the issues raised is that they should close the choir so they can reflect on them some more.

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