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Westminster Cathedral launches urgent review after music master's sudden resignation

by Premier Journalist

The Catholic Church is launching a review into the role of sacred music at Westminster Cathedral after its music master suddenly resigned.

In a statement, the Diocese of Westminster said it would be assessing “the steps needed to strengthen the role played by sacred" as well as structures and “clarity of roles." 

The statement added that the choir of Westminster Cathedral was "recognised as one of the finest in the world."

"Since its foundation in 1901, it has occupied a unique and enviable position at the forefront of English church music, famous both for its distinctive continental sound and its repertoire," the Diocese noted. 

The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, added: "Our musical heritage is precious and this strategic review is an opportunity to strengthen this heritage and look forward to the next 10 years with confidence.”

The review, which will be conducted by a four-person panel, is set to be completed in April. It is thought that the action was sparked by the resignation of the cathedral’s master of music, Martin Baker, who had been in the role since 2000. Baker supposedly took issue with changes made to the choir school timetable, which altered the pupil's boarding arrangements. 

From September of last year, the school has required boarding choristers to be collected by parents at 4pm on Friday evenings. They were then to be returned at 9am on Sundays in preparation for mass. Previously, students boarded for seven days a week so that they could sing at mass on Friday and Saturday. 

Some parents and alumni believe that these changes risk jeopardising the cathedral’s highly acclaimed musical heritage. 

In a letter addressed to Cardinal Nichols, a group of concerned parents argued that the changes would be “a critical blow to an important part of our national, international and Catholic heritage and tradition," and would "actively damage the world-class standing of the choir." 

Colin Mawby, a late former master of music, warned that the new arrangements would “gravely affect standards and repertoire." 

In addition, former Westminster cathedral chorister Michael Berkeley - now a composer and peer - told the Daily Telegraph that Baker’s resignation was nothing short of a "disaster." 

Lord Berkeley continued: “Martin is an absolutely wonderfully gifted conductor. I have heard him conducting not only my music but also all the greats in the repertoire and they are losing him because they really, I think, made his commitment to the job redundant by what they have done."  

As a result of the changes, the peer noted that Baker had "essentially been forced out" of his role. 

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