Sacked Sheffield cathedral choristers start ‘choir in exile’

Choristers of Sheffield cathedral who were abruptly dismissed in June to make way for a “completely fresh start” are launching a new choir led by the cathedral’s former master of music.

The Steel City Choristers, which describes itself as a “choir in exile”, says it will be inclusive and reach out to diverse audiences across the city. About three-quarters of the children and young people who were in the cathedral choir are joining the new choir, along with three professional musicians and a number of choral scholars.

In a statement on a crowdfunding page aimed at raising £25,000 for the new group, the campaign organisation Save Sheffield Cathedral Choir wrote: “The Steel City Choristers will take Anglican choral music beyond the doors of the cathedral out into the city of Sheffield to reach wider and more diverse communities. The new choir will continue to have inclusivity at its core and seek out new and exciting locations to sing. It will share its music with a range of congregations to enrich the worship of churches in every corner of the city.”

The choristers were stood down in July, with the cathedral citing the need for “significant change”. The cathedral’s governing body, the chapter, had decided on “a new model for Anglican choral life here, with a renewed ambition for engagement and inclusion”, it said.

Peter Bradley, the dean, said church music was sometimes “presented in a way that can be seen as elitist”. He later stoked controversy over the choir’s closure by saying the quality of its singing was not thrilling.

The parents of some choristers said the cathedral’s decision, made during the Covid-19 lockdown, was brutal, and one said there was a “completely dysfunctional culture of bullying and intimidation, and absence of pastoral care” at the cathedral.

The day after the announcement to dismiss the choir, the cathedral disclosed that it was being investigated over allegations of bullying and harassment.

Since then, more than 8,400 people have signed an online petition calling on the dean and chapter to reconsider the disbanding. Save Sheffield Cathedral Choir said the cathedral authorities had refused to explain their decision. “Our door remains open, and we remain hopeful that Sheffield cathedral will fundamentally reconsider their approach to this fiasco in the coming weeks,” it said in a statement.

Joshua Stephens, who resigned as the cathedral’s master of music in June and is now founding director of music for the Steel City Choristers, said: “It’s an incredible privilege to still make music together. In recent rehearsals the choir is sounding outstanding, and it’s exciting to have the opportunity to take our singing out into the city to support worshipping communities.”

A cathedral spokesperson said the dean and chapter wished the new choir well. “As the dean has previously said, there are plans for a complete restructuring of all the music and worship at the cathedral. This will include a cathedral choir singing a full range of traditional Anglican choral music.”

The Guardian

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