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Look again at the creative arts, Bishop of St Albans urges the Government

14 April 2023

Croydon Minster

Music matters: a first outing for probationers in Croydon Minster, earlier this year

Music matters: a first outing for probationers in Croydon Minster, earlier this year

THE Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, has called on the Government to take a fresh look at the whole breadth of the creative and performing arts, in a House of Lords debate on government plans for supporting those sectors.

Baroness Featherstone, who called the debate, on 30 March, described local authorities as having been “comprehensively kneecapped” by massive cuts to their funding, and deplored the Government’s message that only a knowledge-based curriculum was valid.

The Bishop asked: “Have we really reached the point where we primarily describe the arts by the financial contribution that they make? Can we or can we not somehow talk about enriching the human soul?”

That was “surely what it was about”, he said. “We cannot and must not measure the performing arts primarily in financial terms, but in the way that they expand our imaginations, unlock our sympathies, and confront us with alternative realities that take us out of our comfort zones and demand that we engage with them.”

Many of the country’s greatest composers had started out singing in church choirs, and without church music most would never have become composers. That tradition continued among popular contemporary musicians such as Ed Sheeran, Annie Lennox, and Chris Martin, of Coldplay, he suggested.

Dr Smith referred to the number of professional musicians employed in Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedrals, large churches, and some Oxford and Cambridge colleges, together with the four thousand choristers, as proof of the level of engagement.

He commended the Royal School of Church Music’s chorister-training schemes and the St Albans Cathedral chorister-outreach programme, developed in partnership with the Hertfordshire Music Service and funded by Sing Up, the national singing programme.

Over 15 years, it had worked with more than 80 primary schools, and more than 6000 children, with no state funding. “We need a long-term settlement which will enable this vital area not just to survive, but to flourish and grow in our nation,” he said.

The Bishop was followed by Lord Berkeley of Knighton, himself a former chorister of Westminster Cathedral. “Musicians are beginning to feel as though they are the wrong end of a coconut shy: so many things have hit us,” he said.

“The arts bring us together and make us listen to each other. If we are singing in a choir, or playing an instrument, we have to listen, which is one of the first ways of getting young people to behave well and understand the nature of listening and giving.”

A minister in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, expressed pride in the part that the Government had played in supporting these sectors, exemplified, he said, in the £1.5-billion Culture Recovery Fund, the recent tax reliefs in the Budget, and the Arts Council’s next National Portfolio Investment programme.

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