*** DEBUG END ***

Angela Tilby: Music is not a luxury for the elites

31 March 2023


THE opera singer Brindley Sherratt wrote in The Guardian this month of his time in the BBC Singers, and praised its immense immense variety, consistency, and professionalism. He recalled the Daily Service, when a choral octet would sing two hymns and a psalm, an experience that he recalls as “live, early, and terrifying”.

I remember those days well, as a 22-year-old recruit to the BBC, presenting the Daily Service from All Souls’, Langham Place, the singers rehearsing as I scrabbled to choose the prayers that I would say from New Every Morning. Mostly self-confessed agnostics, the singers sat in front of the altar in their jeans and T-shirts, sounding like a pious, robed, and standing church choir. Then, the light pulsed, and we held our breath, the light went steady, and out of the hush came the first notes of a sung introit.

The BBC has paused its plan to scrap the BBC Singers (News, 10 March) after several organisations offered to fund it, although I suspect that the devil is in the detail. In my cynical moments, I wonder whether the announcement that the choir would disband before the Proms season was a way of testing the water to see whether the professional music world would indeed rise up in protest, enabling the BBC to receive a new source of income from those willing to help to fund its chamber choir.

What dismays me is the cynicism of the BBC. Of course, it should be supporting its chamber choir and its orchestras, who are not to be spared from redundancies. It seems part of a wider trend to downgrade our cultural heritage. Many schools have abandoned music. Some of our cathedrals are disbanding their choirs, or cutting back on the professionals.

I find it depressing that two institutions with which I have been involved during my working life, the BBC and the Church of England, should take so little pride in our musical heritage, in spite of the evidence that singing and participation in music-making is good for our health and well-being. I write this as our own choirs at Portsmouth Cathedral have just given a performance of Handel’s Messiah, a well-attended event in our annual calendar. Five of the arias were sung by our own choristers. It is good to think that, besides enriching lives in the present, we may be nurturing great voices for the future. I hope that the BBC Singers will still be around for those who have the talent, nerve, and versatility to join them.

We have to give up thinking of music as a luxury. We have to stop dismissing musical quality as elitism. There are a range of recent theories that human beings communicated with musical sounds before the evolution of speech. Music is a human necessity, and we should value it “as well for the body as for soul”.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Awards Ceremony: 6 September 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available


Inspiration: The Influences That Have Shaped My Life

September - November 2024

St Martin in the Fields Autumn Lecture Series 2024

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


Visit our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)