Mike Rowland considers the future of the all-male choir
A goodly inheritance?
Choirs of men and boys have been singing in our Cathedrals for around a thousand years. Few living traditions of such antiquity can match their enchantment, nor equal their power to enrich our spiritual lives. The fleeting beauty of the treble voice, in particular, touches us as perhaps nothing else can. The loss of this tradition, as we currently know it, would be unthinkable. Our own all-male choir at the Abbey is indeed a jewel in the Church’s crown, offering as it does the rich musical repertoire distinctive to the Cathedral genre.
Girls choirs have been contributing to Cathedral worship since 1991 and, in the light of the admission of women to the priesthood, such a development may seem only timely and just. Yet if they become mixed choirs, as is already the case at Bradford, Edinburgh and Manchester Cathedrals, the consequence – despite the best of intentions – is that trebles will dwindle into virtual oblivion: consider the composition of the typical co-educational school choir. Where then will the altos, tenors and basses of the future – for opera and the concert hall as well as the Church – receive their musical initiation?
In 1996, therefore, the Campaign for the Defence of the Traditional Cathedral Choir was established. Its purpose is alert the Church and the wider public to the great cultural and spiritual asset that will be lost if political and financial constraints are allowed to prevail.
Further information about the Campaign may be found on its web site. Next time you listen to a choir of men and boys, meanwhile, remember you are witnessing what the late composer Alan Ridout called “a fragile musical miracle”.
The author of this article is writing in a purely personal capacity.