An Appeal for Common Sense

Choirs throughout the world face extraordinary challenges at present. Effectively silenced for several months, they have been unable to sing together in rehearsal or in the context of liturgical or concert performance. Even as countries begin, ever so cautiously, to emerge from lockdown, a considerable amount of debate has arisen surrounding the circumstances of viral transmission through singing.

This panic was initially precipitated by the spread of the virus in a choir in the USA, pre-lockdown, with the assumption that it was the singing, rather than the lack of social-distancing, which caused this. A number of preliminary studies, including two carried out in Freiburg and Munich, demonstrate that singing is perfectly safe as long as sensible precautions are put in place.

However, Britain’s choral tradition is now under major threat due to the UK government’s proposed guidance which will make it difficult or impossible for choirs to meaningfully rehearse or perform. Even though there is no scientific evidence to prove the dangers of singing, the negative narrative means that the onus is now on us to prove that singing is safe: so much for ‘innocent until proven guilty’. However in a world which seems unable to accept any risk at all, the UK government’s response is ultimately driven by concerns about liability.

Aside from the obvious impoverishment of the Liturgy and the wider cultural heritage, many professional musicians now face very bleak times. Amateur musicians will suffer too. However in the case of children’s choirs, and those which include children such as cathedral choirs, this situation is nothing short of catastrophic.

Children’s choirs are in a constant state of flux and development and boys’ voices undergo pronounced change which requires particular management. Throughout a choir, individuals are at different stages of sight-reading proficiency, pitching ability and general musical awareness. The younger ones apprentice from the older ones, with every child at a different stage on the journey. Through this process the transmission of the choral tradition itself takes place, encompassing the shared musical experiences, the collegiate knowledge of specific repertoire, and the choir’s unique sound itself, melded by the building in which it sings.

None of this can be simply put on hold; it has to be active in order to exist. This is certainly the case for the two choirs which I direct, the London Oratory Junior Choir and the London Oratory Schola, on whose behalf I wrote to Oliver Dowden MP, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to express these concerns. Over a week later his department has yet to respond; however, a number of other Members of Parliament including Sir Edward Leigh have contacted me to assure me of their support.

In my letter I wrote that, unlike adult choirs, a boys’ or children’s choir cannot simply pick up where it left off. The process of nurturing and developing cannot be put on ice and then resumed at a later date without significant consequences. It could take three to five years to recover the damage and rebuild, and a generation of singers could easily be lost. Time is of the essence, and the clock is always ticking for a boy treble.

Science is not absolute, even when preceded by the definite article. The risks to the young are absolutely minute. Will institutions such as Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College disappear from the landscape? Will there be no choir at the next coronation in Westminster Abbey? Of course not – common sense will prevail in the end, but the sooner the better.

Originally posted on New Liturgical Movement.

1 comment

Cardinal Vaughan Schola tour to the USA

The Schola Cantorum of The Cardinal Vaughan School in London will shortly be embarking on a tour to the USA, visiting Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Stamford CT and New York. In addition to the events detailed on the poster, the choir will also be singing High Mass at St Josaphat Basilica on Sunday 28 June at 10am.

Concert for Ghana in London

A concert of Italian Sacred Music sung by Scherzo will be taking place at St James’s Church, Spanish Place, London on Friday 8 May at 7.30pm. The concert, which includes Rossini’s Petit Messe Solennelle, is in aid of the Parish of St Martin de Porres in Tema, Ghana, to enable the community to build a new church. The choir’s director, Matthew O’Keeffe (a very able musician and former chorister of mine!) visited the parish for a month and taught the choir Latin, Chant and Byrd. He described it as “an eye-opening experience, particularly in terms of the universal power of the traditional music of the Church”. There is a Facebook event page here. Please support the concert if you can!

Mystery object in Indy

As readers will see from Ben’s last post, the Colloquium is well and truly underway in Indy. We look forward to our first Mass this afternoon and photos will follow over at NLM. The object in the photograph below was used this morning in a class by Jeffrey Morse. Who knows what it is and what it’s for? (In case you are wondering, nobody was injured.)

The Cardinal Vaughan Schola sings for the Ordinariate

Following on from the two highly successful Epiphany Services in London organised by the Friends of the Ordinariate, at which the renowned Schola Cantorum of The Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School has sung, the Ordinariate is delighted to welcome the choir back to its central church in London next week (Thursday 8 May).

Te Lucis Ante Terminum: a recital of choral music drawn from the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions, was devised especially for the Ordinariate by the school’s music director, Scott Price, who also conducts the Schola. The programme includes music by Victoria, Guerrero, Stanford, Walton and Balfour Gardiner.

The Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School is one of the country’s foremost Catholic state secondary schools, known particularly for its fine musical tradition and strong Catholic ethos. Besides singing at the Vaughan’s weekly Masses and Feast Day celebrations, the Schola Cantorum performs widely around London, at concert halls and churches including Westminster Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, Cadogan Hall, St John’s, Smith Square and The Royal Festival Hall. It also makes annual tours abroad and has featured in Radio and TV broadcasts, most recently on BBC Radio 4’s Sunday Worship and on Vatican Radio.

The Ordinary, Mgr Keith Newton said: ” The Cardinal Vaughan School Schola have sung for us now on two occasions, most recently, in January this year at our central church, Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory, Warwick Street. They are a wonderful choir and they have been very supportive of the Ordinariate. We are delighted, this time, to welcome them back to Warwick Street for a concert at which there will be a retiring collection to raise funds which will go towards the cost of the schola’s next international tour. This choir makes a tremendously important contribution to the Catholic musical scene and I am very happy that the Ordinariate has formed such a close association with it. I hope that Ordinariate members will come and support what promises to be a very enjoyable recital”.

The concert is at 7pm on Thursday 8 May at the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory, Warwick Street, London, W1B 5LZ. Admission is free with a retiring collection for the Schola.

Holst’s Jupiter at Westminster Cathedral

Here is something a little out of the ordinary – this morning’s organ voluntary at Westminster Cathedral was an organ duet version of Jupiter from Holst’s Planets Suite. The video includes a walk-through the Cathedral’s galleries and ends up at the Grand Organ Console with the two players, Assistant Master of Music, Peter Stevens and the Organ Scholar Ed Symington.