Lack of funds hampers parity for girl choristers

17 November 2017

RAY BURMISTON/CANTERBURY CATHEDRAL

“Io, io, io!”: the Canterbury Cathedral Girls’ Choir is releasing its first Christmas album. It includes a new work by the Dean of Canterbury, and a foreword by the Archbishop. decca.lnk.to/CanterburyGirlsLT

“Io, io, io!”: the Canterbury Cathedral Girls’ Choir is releasing its first Christmas album. It includes a new work by the Dean of Canterbury, and a foreword by the Archbishop. decca.lnk.to/CanterburyGirlsLT

THE director of music at Gloucester Cathedral has said that there is an intention “to make boys and girls equal as soon as we can”, after The Sunday Times reported that, while boy choristers had 75 per cent of their fees at King’s School paid, the girl choristers at the school received no discount.

“It is not fair, but we are in a transitory phase,” he told the newspaper. “It would cost tens of thousands of pounds for all 20 girl choristers to get their fees paid at King’s.”

At many cathedrals, remuneration is already equal. At York, both boy and girl choristers attend the Minster School, and the Chapter covers 60 per cent of all fees, which can increase to 100 per cent on a means-tested basis.

The financial challenges facing cathedrals that pay chorister tuition fees were explored by Dr Amanda Mackey in her doctoral thesis, New Voice: The patterns and provisions for girl choristers in the English cathedral choirs (News, 27 May 2016). Some cathedrals were “stifled by the financial limitations, and can only do as much as their budget already prescribes”, she wrote. “The boys go on with their scholarships untouched, and the girls must be paid from some other body or not at all.”

“Exact equality” was “not always the best option or even a viable option for every cathedral”, she wrote. But “in those cathedrals with exact equality at heart, it is difficult to defend the position that the girls should be paid less than the boys for equal work.”

Her thesis describes how the Chapter at Durham Cathedral started a girls choir, 25 years after the one at Salisbury Cathedral, and delinates the extent of the financial commitment, including extra staff and altered boarding facilities. All choristers receive a reduction of half of the full boarding fees, at a cost to the Chapter of more than £10,000 per chorister per year.

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Some cathedrals have gradually increased the responsibilities and remuneration of girl choristers, in line with budgets. Today, at Salisbury, all services are shared equally between girl and boy choristers, who all receive an initial 30 per cent bursary towards tuition. This week, the director of development and communications, Jane Morgan, highlighted the existence of a “a very active Girl Choristers’ Fund, run by independent trustees on behalf of the cathedral”.

At other cathedrals, a pay differential is still in place. When girl choristers were first introduced at Wells Cathedral, in 1994, they were unfunded, while the boys received a 45-per-cent tuition scholarship. “Without a serious reworking of the choir’s funds, the girl chorister line could have been scrapped altogether,” Dr Mackey wrote. Today, the boys receive 25 per cent off boarding or day fees, and the girls ten per cent off day fees.

Her account of the journey at Bristol notes the cathedral’s struggle to pay £3000 per year per chorister in school fees. The Master of Choristers, Mark Lee, told her of a “constant battle” to raise enough money. The school is now an academy, enabling the cathedral to be “much more creative with the money we have”.

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