In the autumn of 2013, a new shiny organ was unveiled at Llandaff Cathedral. Built by organ builders Nicholson & Co of Malvern, the new instrument had taken 6 years to be completed at a cost of £1.5 million. Three months later, the entire adult choir was made redundant as the Cathedral had run out of money and needed to save £45,000 a year. In fact they were actually about £80,000 a year short, so some secretaries and a few vergers had to go as well!
Despite all this doom and gloom, roll forward 5 years and there is high praise for the choir of Llandaff and only last month a new choir was formed. This new group, to be called Cathedral Consort, is designed to be an auditioned group of adults who join together to sing for services, concerts and other events at the cathedral and further afield.
However, just a few days ago we learnt that St Asaph’s Cathedral have decided to do away with their music team. The director and assistant director of music at the Denbighshire cathedral have been made redundant and thanked for their “high standards”. The Dean says temporary changes will be implemented to “properly look after” the singers in the cathedral’s choir.
In many ways this seems even more insane than the business at Llandaff. The implication from the clergy appears to be that the music team are in some way not related to the choir. How can you keep the choir, but not have an organist or anyone to run it? I’m guessing the ‘temporary changes’ mean someone in the choir having a go on the organ and someone else nipping out the front to do the waving around – after all neither of these things are particularly difficult. Surely anyone can run a choir?
I should qualify this post by saying I do not have all the facts – only those which are reported in the news. I’m well aware that Cathedrals, like any institution, have to balance the books. And let us remember that, as Veronica Hope Hailey mentioned in her sermon last week at St Thomas a Becket in Bath, the church is merely an institution. An organization founded for a religious, educational, professional, or social purpose. As such it, like any business, is subjected to the realities of the modern world.
If people stop attending churches or stop donating, then at some point those institutions will not be able to continue. Nevertheless, my issue with St Asaph’s is the fact that the entire music team was made redundant but with the expectation that the choir would continue. Once again, it seems that musicians are expected to work for free. If professional musicians cannot do this, they will be replaced by an amateur monkey, who will be lured under the pretext of ‘great exposure for your CV’.
If the Cathedral is short of money, then why not reduce the music team to a Director of Music who is also the organist – not ideal running a choir, but better than no one. It would then be feasible to reduce the clergy by one. After all you only actually need the one priest to run a service. And anyway, the chances are one member of clergy would save the equivalent of the entire music team!
At this point I should probably stop ranting. I may have got the wrong end of the stick with this one – indeed I hope I have. We can only hope that, in the same way Llandaff seems to have turned things around and continues to produce a fine choir, something can be done to either save or somehow develop the music at St Asaph’s.
Jules Addison runs 3 choirs. One is A Capella so has no accompanist. Another requires Jules to direct proceedings from the piano. The third one has an actual music team comprising of Jules as the windmill out front and a pretty French girl playing the piano.