Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Choral Revolution in the North of England

Ben Saunders, the Director of Music at Leeds Cathedral in the North of England said, after he was appointed a number of years ago, that if if inner-city children were not going to come to him, then he was going to send a choral director to them. He was fortunate enough to have a supportive Cathedral Dean and Bishop behind him, so he did just that! Initial funding was arranged and a number of singers were sent into the local schools to encourage singing and form new choirs.

Now the Cathedral has a full-time music department, one of only three in Catholic cathedrals in England, and a whole host of professional choral directors who travel about the Diocese teaching children to sing and forming new choirs in the schools around Leeds and Huddersfield. There is now no longer just one cathedral choir but a whole legion of singers forming a vast number of choirs who sing the daily services in the Cathedral and who frequently broadcast on the BBC and the independent UK broadcasters.


Ben and his assistant, the supremely gifted and talented Chris McElroy, have launched this new venture and created a 21st Century, inner-city choral foundation. It has transformed music and liturgy at the Cathedral, and in the City of Leeds, beyond all recognition. Children living in working-class areas, deprived for so many years of music and, in particular, singing in schools, are once more raising their voices to God. With over 26 native languages spoken in the Cathedral parish alone, the common language is now Latin! Even the local state primary schools are amalgamating to create the UK's first non-fee-paying Cathedral Choir School, an initiative blessed by the former Secretary of State for Education. The children are taught Gregorian Chant, polyphony, classical masses and new, quality works composed by 20th Century and contemporary composers, proving beyond a shadow of doubt that children appreciate and rise to a challenge.

The final jewel in the crown of this musical renaissance is perhaps the newly rebuilt organ – Orgelbau Klais of Bonn has recently reinstalled the completely rebuilt Cathedral Organ, which has been silent for over 30 years. The blessing and formal inauguration of the new organ took place on the 16 May 2010. Further details of the Leeds project can be found at www.dioceseofleedsmusic.org.uk.

The work undertaken by Ben, Chris and their dedicated, talented team of singers and choral directors is a lesson to us all and other cathedral musical directors would do well to follow their example!
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