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He stated: "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", but no explanation of this was given, and it doesn't seem obvious to me that it is true unless there are significant things being left unsaid.

I note also that the "civic community" consulted according to the printed text was only "civic leaders" in what he said.

Paul

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I love cathedral music and want it to continue, but as the church is facing a financial crisis, the question of "who pays for it" is a legitimate one. Is it God's will that we have choral evensongs with only one or two in the congregation, or none? Could the money be spent better in a different way - if, indeed, there is any money? Are weekday cathedral choral services sacrosanct?

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There is the argument that the size of the congregation is irrelevant to the Opus Dei, but realistically one cannot ignore issues of finance.  Dispensing with weekday Evensong would mean an annual loss of around 250-300 services (depending on whether Saturday is counted) and all the associated liturgy.  At my local cathedral we used to have weekday choral matins which was given up for these reasons -  a slippery slope?

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We, the general public, will probaly never know the full reasons why the D&C chose to make the whole music team redundant. It ceratinly feels to me that it is not just musical direction that has led to this decision. Sadly this is not without precedent and there have been other well documented cases of church authorities disbanding groups that didn't fit with their ambition.

Why now? Well, the choir won't have sung together since March. Now is the end of the summer term when many choral and organ scholars move on and, depending on set-up, many yonger singers may move on as well. The current COVID restrictions will have put a stop to usual recruitment activities and it is unlikely, unless some startling new scientific evidence to show singing is 'safe', that the choir will be singing together until Christmas at the earliest. So faced with a (potentially) 9 month gap in activities and then returning to a depleted choir makes some sense of the timing.

I hope that the D&C have been engaging with the impacted people and their parents before the decision was announced to the public. I also hope that they have some plan to keep music alive in the cathedral in the interim before their new music department is up an running.

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So the Dean is concerned that there are one or two people at Evensong, well so am I, but, the purpose of Choral EVensong is to offer worship to God, not put bums on seats, but as he said later there are difficulties with the time, so a solution without disbandment is possible.

To answer his specific points:

"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 - Already identified as caused partly by the limited schoolaccess, widen it.

  • we value our choral tradition here very deeply, but we want the choir to be singing at services with much larger congregations - Improve the choir, by treating the musicians with a little more respect and care than appears to have been the case.

  • we want greater flexibility, experimentation, and imagination in our worship - Yes, so widen the intake of musicians of all ages, and develop new choirs to give wider opportunity, and therefore greater resources for wider and different forms of choral 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 - This is achieved by trust, respecting and investing in your musicians. By a wholesale dismissal, the foundation for the next attempt at a musical life at the cathedral has already been undermined, because there is a risk that if it doesn't go the way the cathedral want, it will be disbanded again.

  • our Diocese and Bishop as for better provision for Diocesan services, not least in light of the new Diocesan strategy - So? It has been done elsewhere very successfully without disbanding the choir.

  • members of the congregation--very strongly--want systematic provision for choral worship every Sunday of the year - Yes, I refer honourable members to the answers given earlier.

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. - Yes, of course, a bigger pool means greater possibilities, but, children are very canny, they are not going to join something that doesn't display excellence, and are going to be wary of something that has previously been shut down because it was regarded as 'not fit for purpose.'

  • 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? - Yes, Friday Sung Eucharist, Matins, Compline, and other opportunities, provided by multiple choirs, while respecting mixing boys and girls has huge problems of its own. How about, Boy's Choir, Girl's Choir, Junior choirs for both, training choir, teenagers choir for those who's voices have broken (I detest that expression, but it is succinct, they have broken, ideally they are changing to be even better!), student choir, adult chamber choir, choral society, other small groups drawn from within the aforementioned choirs, all leading to greater resources, more opportunity, ability to provide a wider range of services and other events, and to build a social 'choir family' to be supportive and affirming of one another.

  • should focus on a new student choir, and from which we can build up our provision? Do we need more choirs? - Yes and yes, see previous answer.

  • how can we make proper provision for boys whose voices break? Would this be a VI Form choir for young men and women? - Yes and yes, see earlier answer.

  • are we able to offer choral Evensong at 17.00, when the city centre is much fuller? - Why not?

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? - Indeed, and that should never be the ideal, recruit all ages, boys and girls, for the choirs provided for, to allow all of them to attend.

  • 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 - Indeed, but funding should be possible as all churches and cathedrals seek to modernise their way of accessing congregations and vice-versa. The church has lagged behind in use of such technology, save for some of the large charismatic-evangelical ones."

The importance as I see it is to respect and protect those who already contribute to the worship, and sadly I believe disbanding the choir will cause untold harm to the children already involved. What really needs to be done is to retain all current singers, and appoint a new Master of the Music who has a vision for an open, extensive, and adventurous programme of music in worship of the necessary excellence that draws musicians and congregations to itself. It needs a person of vision and energy, but from what I have heard from various sources, that person needs to be trusted, and there is a suggestion there has been some bullying in the workplace. Not even the strongest person will perform to the highest expectation if they are dealing with such other influences and pressures.

The person appointed needs experience, it is not a task for someone relatively new to the scene, they need guts, vision, integrity, ability to communicate, and above all passion for the maintenance of a choral programme on such a scale. It would be far easier for anyone coming in to build from the current position than start afresh. Starting afresh on vision and mission is important, but to build on what is there will cut a huge amount of development and training time out of the process, and might see excellent results in five years rather than twenty years.

Just my thoughts, as someone who has happily retired from such activities!

 

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Interesting to hear the 'safeguarding' bomb dropped in. I doubt that was accidental, though one could put very different interpretations upon it.

Other than that it sounds a pretty classic case of people simply not wanting to go to church (as presently constituted).

Probably for quite a while the music has been bringing in people who wouldn't otherwise be there, but now even that drug is not working. So they want to reformulate the same drug but in a stronger dosage, in the hope that it gets the gravy train moving again and puts off for a while having to address the more fundamental issues which have nothing to do with music.

Cynical? Me...? 

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It was also aired on the BBC R4 Sunday Programme just now, all angles were looked into including a contribution from Hugh Morris of the RSCM. There has been much ‘armchair hot air’ on this but from experience all I would say is that having seen examples in the past of unholy daftness from both laity and clergy In the CofE I personally would not be surprised by anything from either side!

A

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Are there any recordings of Sheffield doing an ordinary weekday Choral Evensong?  I'm not looking for special services, for which one can reasonably expect extra resources to be pulled in, but an ordinary, routine performance.  I would just be interested to hear exactly what it is that has been disbanded.

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3 hours ago, Vox Humana said:

Are there any recordings of Sheffield doing an ordinary weekday Choral Evensong?  I'm not looking for special services, for which one can reasonably expect extra resources to be pulled in, but an ordinary, routine performance.  I would just be interested to hear exactly what it is that has been disbanded.

Yes, there's one available on the BBC Choral Evensong site now. Orr - Short Service; Parry - Hear my words; Leighton - Paean. All sounds jolly good - though it is a 2014 recording.

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2 hours ago, Martin Cooke said:

Yes, there's one available on the BBC Choral Evensong site now. Orr - Short Service; Parry - Hear my words; Leighton - Paean. All sounds jolly good - though it is a 2014 recording.

Thank you, Martin. Indeed, there is nothing to be ashamed of there (except for that awful toaster!).  As you say, this was six years ago and a lot can happen to a choir in that time, but, if it managed to maintain that standard, the dean's decision is hard to understand.

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15 hours ago, Vox Humana said:

Are there any recordings of Sheffield doing an ordinary weekday Choral Evensong?  I'm not looking for special services, for which one can reasonably expect extra resources to be pulled in, but an ordinary, routine performance.  I would just be interested to hear exactly what it is that has been disbanded.

Easter Day from Sheffield Cathedral 2018 (BBC 1)

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  • 2 months later...

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