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Male and female voices in cathedral choirs

12 October 2011


From Mr Stephen Beet

Sir, — For years, those behind the introduction of girls into cathedral choirs have been at pains to reassure doubters that the all-male tradition would continue and indeed be protected. Events have proved otherwise, however, and now several cathedral choirs have permanently mixed treble lines. In a few years’ time, this will be the norm. The unique contribution of the boy soprano will be lost for ever, at least in the UK.

Should the boy-soprano voice indeed be considered redundant, it would seem only a matter of time before the male alto follows, his place being taken by women contraltos. Lincoln Minster (News, 30 September), therefore, can hardly be blamed for taking the lead. Others will follow, and surely within a matter of months.

Should it not, however, be honestly acknowledged that the whole purpose of introducing girls into cathedral choirs in the first place was a deliberate iconoclastic act by feminists who were able to convince good people that they were acting from the most noble of motives?

All sorts of reasons have been introduced to convince doubters that boys are no longer up to the job and should therefore be replaced by girls. Not least among such “reasons” is the entirely spurious argument that boys’ voices are breaking earlier.

In 1948, the report of the Archbishops’ Committee warned: “There is a growing tendency to employ women in choirs and to banish boys altogether, not because boys are not available, but for the less worthy reason that women do not demand so much practice, and give less trouble. If this tendency is allowed to grow, the results will be­come serious. The unique contribu­tion of the boy’s voice will be lost.

“Moreover, the source from which choir men are most likely to be drawn will disappear; boys will be deprived of a valuable spiritual and educative influence, and many who might have been attracted to the life of the church by membership of a choir will remain permanently outside it. The Committee, there­fore, makes a strong and urgent plea for the retention of boys in church choirs wherever possible.”

It is, indeed, unfortunate that this warning was not better heeded.

13 rue Principale
87320 Thiat, France

From Mr Richard Place

Sir, — Why the pother about a lady alto in Lincoln Cathedral Choir? It is no new thing. In the late 1940s into the ’50s, there were no male altos in Chichester Cathedral Choir, only two ladies, Mrs Salwey and Miss Head, who sang the hymns, responses, psalms, and canticles from their seats adjacent to the choir stalls, but stepped across to join the men for the anthems.

44 The Causeway
Royston, Herts SG8 5LG

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