A PETITION calling on the Dean and Chapter of Sheffield Cathedral to reconsider last week’s decision to disband the choir has attracted more than 4000 signatures in less than five days.
The announcement that the existing choir was to be disbanded was made on Wednesday of last week (News, 24 July). The reason given was “to create a Music Department and Choir ready for the exciting future of the mixed urban community in which we live and work”.
The petitioners argue that the move is “short-sighted and without clear explanation”. They continue: “We are alarmed by statements from the Dean and Chapter which attempt to frame their decision to disband the Cathedral Choir as one of championing inclusion. We believe that it is dangerous and wrong to characterise our grievances with their decision in this way.”
One signatory writes: “As a working class family, we simply cannot afford (nor know how!) to replace the musical education my 9 y/o has now lost.”
Two 13-year-old choristers write in this week’s Church Times: “As children we can’t understand that adults, particularly those representing the Church of England, can behave like this.”
The group behind the petition is also considering a legal challenge on the grounds of unfair dismissal. Three lay clerks are being made redundant, and the scholarships of five choral scholars are in doubt.
At the main service last Sunday, the Dean of Sheffield, the Very Revd Peter Bradley, replaced the sermon with a long explanation of the move. He remarked that recruitment for the existing choir had been weaker than hoped, and congregations for choral services had been low. He spoke of a desire for “greater flexibility, experimentation, and imagination in our worship”.
He thanked the existing choir members and hoped that many would consider joining the new choir “or choirs”. Among those suggested was a choir of choral scholars, a sixth-form choir, and more parity between girls and boys. He maintained that the Anglican cathedral choral tradition “will remain fundamental to cathedral worship in Sheffield”.
He referred briefly to allegations of bullying, which he said would be dealt with “through our robust official procedures”.
He insisted that the Chapter’s intention was not to save money, but to invest more.
Speaking last week, Dean Bradley said: “Everyone recognised that there was something really significant here that we were not getting right. There is a lot of high-quality music-making in Sheffield, and we felt there were real opportunities here for contributing in a much broader way to the life of the city. We didn’t feel we could negotiate within the structure we had. If we were to have something to sustain us 20 years into the future, investment in starting again seemed worth while.”
He continued: “We will reflect on what happened. But I want to be very clear here. This is about raising ambition, building a sort of choir that, instead of trying to replicate Westminster Abbey, is asking how we can use the fullness of the tradition we have to meet the needs of a rapidly changing urban cathedral, in a way that really engages a large number of people in our mission. This is absolutely in no way at all a retreat from choral worship. But it is looking for a new model.”
Read the letter from the two choristers here