Sheffield Cathedral is to get rid of its choir because, as Deputy Dean Canon Peter Farrow complains, it does not engage with “Sheffield’s mixed urban community.” But the cathedral’s worshippers will not be left comfortless, for new singing groups will be brought in to make “significant change for engagement, inclusion and diversity.”
Well, Canon Farrow and his fellow musical-spiritual iconoclasts are going about things the wrong way. If they are sincere in their wish for more diversity, then they will leave the choir where it is. How many such choirs are there in Sheffield? I bet there are more rappers, steel bands and rock groups. So the classically-trained youngsters forming the cathedral choir are to be sacked?
But a choir which sings traditional church music is the very sign of diversity. To disband such a choir is blatant and cruel discrimination against a minority. What happened to your zeal for inclusivity, Mr Deputy Dean?
But why leave this matter in the hands of the monkey when we can listen to the organ-grinder? Never mind his deputy, the Dean himself, Canon Peter Bradley, issued his definitive judgement: “Church music can be seen as elitist.”
I would alter only one word in his statement: “Church music should be seen as elitist.” Or does the Very Reverend Gentleman reckon we should prefer mediocrity instead?
The cathedral authorities claim to be working for the good of the whole community. I can think of no better way to contribute to the good of the community than to offer the benefit of the finest church music in the world in the form of plainchant, anthems and motets. There is enough “diversity” in Sheffield already: how about a little excellence?
When it comes to the benefits of church choirs, I can speak from personal experience. As a lad, I was an oik. Some of my friends say I’m still an oik. But if I’m a bit less oikish than I was, it is because back in the 1950s Fr Geoffrey Sowerby hauled me off the backstreets of Leeds, between the gasworks and Armley jail, and enrolled me in the choir at St Bartholomew’s.
The organist and choirmaster, John Watkins, was vigorous in his elitism. And why not? That neo-Gothic masterpiece St Bartholomew’s loomed like a Victorian grandparent over the smoky slums. But we slum-dwellers were shameless elitists, for our parish church housed the Schultze – one of the finest church organs in the world. And we sang the greatest music.
Fr Geoffrey used to say of me, “Peter is a brand plucked from the burning!” It was the slum elitism wot done it! Before I joined that choir, my musical experiences went no further than Bill Haley and Lonnie Donegan’s skiffle band – plus the occasional nostalgic rendering of George Formby’s When I’m cleaning Winders.
Within six months I could sing whole stretches of William Byrd and Thomas Tallis by heart. Our hymn books were full of tunes by Orlando Gibbons, Samuel Wesley and Vaughan Williams. And of course, if you sing the music, you can’t help but notice the words. Thus I was doubly-blessed by the free receipt of a musical-spiritual education. Better than free – choirboys were paid fourpence – that’s 4d – for each service.
Dean Peter Bradley is also Deputy Lieutenant, which is a step up from oikiness. Why then is he so ill-mannered as to steal from the people of Sheffield the music of such as Byrd and Tallis which saved my life? Deputy Dean Keith Farrow seeks “justice for the poor.” So why deprive Sheffield’s poor of the stuff that can really nourish them?
But these dignitaries are only inverted snobs operating social engineering and the politics of envy. Diversity? Don’t make me laugh! What they want is yet another steel band, yet another rap outfit and yet another “singing group” with all their patented inanities. Can’t they understand that their actions will not make Sheffield more diverse – but only a monochrome mediocrity?