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College council defends disbanding of its mixed choir, St John’s Voices

22 March 2024

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St John’s College chapel

St John’s College chapel

THE Council of St John’s College, Cambridge, has defended its decision to disband its second chapel choir, the mixed-gender St John’s Voices (SJV) (News, 22 March).

In a statement issued on Thursday in the wake of the growing chorus of protest, it said that, following a comprehensive review of music in the Cambridge college, the decision to pursue a broader approach had been unanimous, and reflected students’ feedback on their needs and aspirations.

“Students’ preferences and experiences in music today are different from those of previous generations, and many of them have had fewer musical opportunities in school than might have been the case in the past,” the statement reads. “St John’s will create new co-curricular music programmes to meet these changing needs.”

Proposals include a scheme to provide music lessons for any St John’s student; masterclasses on aspects of music such as song-writing; “enabling new ensembles and community music-making”; “supporting other kinds of singing in college, including Aquila, the existing all-female choir; and new opportunities for non-auditioned singing”. The council proposes music awards to all St John’s students who sing in auditioned choirs in the university.

Money currently devoted to SJV is to be redirected to all these, taking into consideration “the choral opportunities already available in the collegiate university, to which St John’s College Choir will continue to make an important and distinctive contribution.” The statement praises the “exceptional choral education and training” of the College Choir.

The council acknowledges that that choir is not able to offer opportunities for soprano singers, but insists that “talented classical singers of all voice types are exceptionally well provided for across the University of Cambridge, with around 25 college chapel choirs catering primarily for the Anglican choral tradition.”

The statement suggests the possibility of a successor to SJV, independent of the college, and says: “This could be a route for the corpus of the choir and its director to stay together if they wish, and by meeting a gap in provision in the University, could add a fresh dimension to classical singing in Cambridge.” It points to a “financial hurdle”, however, in the shape of a necessary endowment of at least £500,000.

It concludes: “The upset this decision has caused to the St John’s Voices community is regrettable. The decision is in no way a reflection on the high standards achieved by the choir and its director, Graham Walker. The college will provide support to members of St John’s Voices who wish to identify and secure alternative choral and accompanist opportunities. There will be time next term to pay tribute to all that they have achieved in their ten-year history.”

Read more on this story in this week’s Letters

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