Westminster Cathedral Choir School saga continues

It appears from reports in the national press that Cardinal Vincent Nichols and the diocese turned down two substantial donations that were offered to save the choir school, which is now said by some to be facing closure, at least as a school from which choristers are drawn. (The diocese denies that this is the case.) The first donation, offered by a choir school alumnus, which would have heavily subsidised all the choristers, was made in June 2019. The second offer of funds, which would come in the form of a bequest, stipulated the restoration of full-time (seven days a week) boarding instead of the reduced five days a week schedule as a pre-condition of the school receiving his multi-million-pound donation; but the diocese on behalf of the cardinal said they could not accept that.

Both former choristers and parents of former choristers are now airing their views in the national press. One criticism levelled at the current headmaster by a former headmaster, writing recently in The Tablet, was that the school had pursued size as a goal instead of remembering what it had been founded for.

The most recent revelations show that six current and former staff at the school have signed and been paid for Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs), a polite term for gagging clauses. It is believed that the former Master of Music may also have been paid to prevent him from speaking out in the aftermath of his departure in January. His silence has certainly been eloquent.

The diocese claims that requests for voice trials have gone up under the new reduced timetable, with seven new probationers in September 2019, a figure which they describe as the highest number for at least 12 years. They also state that the number of families living more than an hour away has been falling for a decade, and was only four families before the timetable change. With those families gone, it is difficult to see the rationale for retaining boarding at all, which fuels the fears of those who believe that the existence of this top-class class choir is under serious threat.

There does not seem to be an easy end in sight, nor indeed any kind of end as yet. Although the dateline for contributions to the strategic review of school and choir has now passed, there is still no sign of the results of the review being available, even though the affair continues to boil away on a daily basis in the national press.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *