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Cathedral choirs facing sustainability crisis, report warns

by Kelly Valencia

A new report is warning cathedral choirs are facing a serious long-term sustainability crisis. 

Commissioned by the Cathedral Music Trust, 'A future for cathedral music' found choirs are becoming more expensive to run and are in need of more diversity and involvement from young people.

The reduction of footfall as a consequence of the pandemic and the current cost of living crisis, have led to a reduction of budgets for the cathedrals' music departments. 

The report said: "Supporting choristers, and in particular, the practice of linking a cathedral choir with a fee-paying choir school (as half of Anglican cathedrals do) is especially challenging financially. 
"Cathedrals will need to grapple with this issue when formulating their future strategy, seeking to balance cost, quality, and inclusivity of their choirs."

Widening participation is another area of concern. The report found efforts towards gender equality, socio-economic and ethnic diversity should continue in order to keep choirs running in the country. 

While progress has been made towards gender equality, there's less evidence that cathedral choirs are reflecting the communities they serve by being ethnically diverse, the report found. 

"The lack of diversity in cathedral music is tightly bound with the dwindling presence of music in schools. This report should serve as a rallying cry; for cathedral music to survive, we all must work to make this world and its traditions accessible to everyone and appealing to the young people of today.

"Elite sport is a point of pride for our nation, steeped in history with roots running deep in schools across the country. Elite music should be just the same; not something to be feared, but something to celebrate, enhancing the lives of all involved," Anna Lapwood, Ambassador for the Cathedral Music Trust said in a statement. 

According to the report, access for young people should also improve. At least 81 per cent of those who took part in the research said getting younger generations involved is critical for the future of cathedral choirs. 

For Peter Allwood, chair of the Cathedral Music Trust, the problem is not that young people aren't interested but that opportunities are not being properly advertised. 

He told Premier: "What we find is that young people are hugely interested in it. When they have the opportunity of being involved in it, they absolutely adore it. 

"And if you see our choruses at work, you find that they just so love what they're doing. They love the discipline of it, they love the team spirit of it, they love the fact that they're working alongside professional adults as well. But just not enough people know that it's happening."

The report recommended cathedrals to develop partnerships across the sector "to equip church leadership with the necessary expertise to address these critical challenges", to "focus financial and educational resources" and  "encourage learning and sharing of best practice, especially from choirs which have successfully recruited young and adult musicians from a wider population than has historically been the case". 

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