About a year ago, news reports circulated about a change of arrangements at Westminster Cathedral Choir School. The choristers, who are boarders, were in future going to be sent home on Friday afternoon, returning on Sunday morning to sing Mass. This caused something of a furore, as this measure would seem to limit membership of the Choir to boys from families within striking distance of London. Many people felt that this would also have adverse musical effects, and Martin Baker, the director of the choir, resigned at the end of last year, presumably on those grounds.
The new arrangements have indeed been in place for the current school year (now Covid-suspended of course) and it can be imagined that those involved, choristers and adults, have been getting used to the revised situation, whatever the eventual musical outcome will be. When I recently met a whole lot of cathedral musicians at once, at an event hosted by the Royal College of Organists, I was particularly struck by the unique set of circumstances that each one of them had to navigate in order to keep daily and weekly musical services ‘on the road’. Their no-nonsense practicality was humbling, especially considering that all these people are very high-end musicians.
The later announcement that the Diocese was going carry out ‘ a strategic review of the role of sacred music in the mission of Westminster Cathedral’ struck me at first as possibly a way of whitewashing or justifying the changes made, or even, heaven forfend, suggesting further musical cuts. I have to say though, that when I myself attended a hearing of the review panel – it proved to be my last actual meeting before the Covid closedown – it struck me as very wide-ranging in its scope, and admirably philosophical in its way of looking at the whole subject of music and worship. I await the outcome of this exercise, in whatever form it takes, with much interest.