Children ‘thrown under the bus’ by decision to close Sheffield Cathedral choir, parents say

Opposition is mounting against the decision by Sheffield Cathedral to close its choir, as parents of singers claim their children have been ‘thrown under the bus’ by church leaders who are accused of ‘mismanagement’ by former members.

Friday, 24th July 2020, 2:20 pm
Updated Friday, 24th July 2020, 5:43 pm

The Anglican cathedral in the city centre wants to set up new singing ensembles for boys and girls which leaders say will be more appropriate for Sheffield’s ‘mixed urban community’.

Church music ‘can be seen as elitist’, the cathedral's dean the Very Reverend Peter Bradley has said, after vice dean the Reverend Canon Keith Farrow told The Star: “We've always been open to diversity but I think there are many more people we can reach.”

The idea, after a review in 2019, is for Sheffield's singers to have a broader repertoire while still performing traditional choral music.

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Cathedral choir members sing outside Sheffield Cathedral. Picture: JPIMedia.

A campaign group, Save Sheffield Cathedral Choir, has been set up with the backing of parents and ex-musicians. A Facebook page has attracted more than 650 followers, an official website has been launched and open letters are being shared by the group – one, signed by the parents of 12 children in the choir, said families felt ‘distress and shock' at the closure and wanted to 'set the record straight’.

They said it was ‘demonstrably untrue’ that ‘the majority of choristers come from local private schools’.

“Approximately two-thirds of the current choir, of around 18 choristers, are state or home-educated. Contrary to what the cathedral website says, there have not been 40 choristers in the choir for at least seven years. In the time our children have been choristers, the choir has always been ethnically diverse. One of our members has a diagnosis of ADHD and has benefited hugely from his involvement. We welcome diversity in the choir and would want to see more, but we see that as no reason to disband the current choir.”

They said the cathedral's master of music, Joshua Stephens, resigned less than three months after taking up his post in March. Another letter addressed to the editor of the Church Times by Kate Caroe, who has two children in the choir, said Mr Stephens ‘allegedly experienced harassment from the cathedral management and silence from the clergy while furloughed'.

"We could be forgiven for thinking that the closure is largely down to the fact that parents have been vociferous about the current troubles,” the parents said.

“As the cathedral has now had four music directors in five years, we are frankly cynical that a cosmetic relaunch will solve the problems which have clearly persisted for some time.

“In short, we are all left feeling betrayed and abandoned, and having to explain to our children, ranging in age from 10 to 17, why they have essentially been thrown under the bus by the cathedral in all its recent media statements. For a cathedral which claims to make safeguarding a priority, the lack of pastoral care shown to our children is shocking.”

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A third letter signed by dozens of former cathedral musicians said: “More must be done to make organisations more diverse and inclusive. But to use inclusion as a pretext to obscure the dean and chapter’s mismanagement of music at Sheffield Cathedral is shameful. In recent years, Sheffield Cathedral Choir has made great advances in encouraging the role of women and non-binary members among the lay clerks and choral scholars.”

A girls’ choir has been supported, and musicians have led outreach work including the Sing! Project involving 2,000 children from 30 primary schools, they added.

“Through this work, cathedral musicians connected meaningfully with schools from some of Sheffield’s most disadvantaged areas,” they said.

Several lay clerks – paid adult members of the choir – face redundancy because of the closure. Rev Canon Farrow said the move was not linked to the coronavirus crisis, while adding: "Clearly the Covid situation focuses one's mind on the core things we are about.”

The choir has not met since before lockdown but Ms Cahoe said there had been ‘Zoom parties on the theme of different composers each week’.

Very Rev Bradley is expected to preach about the matter on Sunday. The church aims to appoint a canon precentor in August who will lead the recruitment of a new music team.

A spokeswoman for the cathedral said: “We are aware of the comments being made on social media and of the distress some parents are expressing. There has been a meeting with parents at which it was made clear that we hope the current choir children will want to be part of the ongoing music of the cathedral as and when it is redeveloped. We are not in a position to comment on any reason for people's departures from their role.”

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