Westminster Cathedral music administrator resigns

In a dynamite letter recently posted, Madeline Smith lifts the lid on the behaviour of headmaster and clergy, the inexcusable treatment of the Master of Music, misleading of parents, a toxic atmosphere, and more.

The entire resignation letter will be found


      1. There is a free trial, but you have to give them all your personal information, including credit card details, and then remember to cancel before the 30 days are up. I prefer not to go down that route.

      2. Much as I’d love to, I think that may not make the IP gods too happy. The only additional news other than extracting heavily from the letter, is the School amd Diocese saying that the letter was written by a bitter former employer and is “replete with inaccurate and baseless claims” without specifying a single case of either an innacurate or a baseless claim. It’s a shockingly un-Christian response from them (possibly defamatory too), really nasty. The fact of Martin Baker walking out, the father of 3 choristers speaking out against the way they were forced out, etc etc all clearly give a solid foundation to this whole matter, and to impugn the Music Administrator’s integrity in this way is low indeed.

      3. Thank you, Alex. A friend sent me a copy of the article. It does indeed make grim reading.

        In addition to the points you raise, the diocese talks about Ms Smith having a personal grudge, and maintains that “Westminster Cathedral Choir School and Westminster Cathedral, with its music department, are working closely together”. Given that Ms Smith only left her position on 31 August, that seems manifestly untrue. She effectively was the music department until her departure.

  1. Indeed Paul. Peter Stevens is still there, hanging on for grim life no doubt. It’s very sad. The School has just sent a letter to all parents accusing the Music Admistrator of spreading calumnies. It’s astonishing, especially in circumstances where the various parties have been asking the School and Diocese to provide the supporting information for their own claims. For over a year, they have refused to do so, as it would expose their claims to be suspect at best. It will all come out in the wash.

    1. More from the Times, quoting the Choir Schools Association and Friends of Cathedral Music casting doubt over the School’s claims about boarding and the consultation the School says it undertook just before it announced the changes (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/chorus-of-disapproval-over-changes-to-renowned-westminster-choir-jv62ld36s). Remember as well that as soon as the School did announce the changes, saying they consulted all and sundry including parents, a number of parents said (I paraphrase) ‘you not certainly did not consult us’. For the School to be accusing the Music Administrator in the way they are is not only innacurate but very sinister indeed. How can these people be allowed to remain in post?

      [Mr Inwood, hopefully someone can send you a copy of the story]

      1. Sorry for the typo in your name Mr Inwood. I’ve tried to edit the comment but it doesn’t seem to carry through.

      2. I, too, have not been able to edit posts recently. There may be a glitch. If a moderator reads this, perhaps they could get on to the tech people and ask them to sort it out.

  2. I also hasten to add that a great many people have asked the School to provide the specific data about recruitment at the School over the last 10 years, but the School refuses to provide this data. The requests for this began in March 2019 and continue to this day. The School prepared a report “Strengthening the Chorister Tradition for 2019 and Beyond” which it refers to in its letter to parents in March 2019 as supporting the boarding changes and reduction in services the choristers sing at, and in rehearsal hours.

    Some parents have been asking for this report (as have other stakeholders), saying that by not consulting them prior to the changes amounted to a contractual breach by the School (which the School denies). What is undeniable is the School refusing to release this report or any of the data contained within it. The logical question to ask is: what have they got to hide? If tbe report is an honest and accurate account of the state of affairs, and does indeed support the changes and the urgency in implementing them, then just show it to the world, and all opposition would likely fall away pretty quickly, wouldn’t it?

  3. The School never provides any substantiation for its claims. It simply expects the world to accept that the choir faced an existential threat to its very existence due to a collapse in demand for boarding. So imminently was this catastrophic demise, that the changes had to rushed through on a term’s notice only. We are expected to have gratitude that the School acted, and that it has thereby saved the choir from certain collapse.

    It’s like the script of a great satire. And it would be comical if not for the fact that this has had a devastating effect on sommany lives (most tragically on so many children within the School’s care). Listing some of these in no particular order:

    – four choristers were forced against their will to leave last year as they lived outside London

    – three more choristers have left prematurely in 2020 (leaving the choir effectively broken / diminished and with hardly any experienced trebles)

    – the great Master of Music Martin Baker was forced out

    – the Music Admistrator has now left (leaving the Music Department consisting of 1 permanent staff)

    – parents of some current chorister initially went public with their outrage over the changes and the way they were implemented (since having been eloquently silent, and who can blame them knowing how viciously the School reacts to justified criticism)

    – the choral music world is almost universally appalled by the School amd Cathedral’s conduct

    – there are lingering questions over why the School is lumbered with obligations to pay the Diocese £13.5 million over 30 years for the purchase of an historical building to house a new pre prep school.

    1. I fully agree with the comments of Madeleine Hopefully the next Cardinal will be a lover of good music and sort things out o a new Headmaster

  4. I’m unclear about why all this is happening. Who are the villains here and what are they trying to accomplish?

    Without access to the Times article I feel we are in the dark concerning the motives and even the names of the instigators of all this chaos.

    Is it the archbishop? The cathedral rector? Some diocesan official? The parish council? Perhaps someone who has followed this story closely can recap the essential story. Initially I thought it was just a muddled attempt to save money, but it looks now like some sort of hostile takeover.

    1. The primary villain of the piece appears to be the headmaster of the choir school, Neil McLaughlan, whose primary concern is getting children into Eton and other top-line schools and for whom the choristers appear to be an impediment. The grapevine says that he would prefer to be running a normal preparatory school without choirboys (though he denies this). The way things are going, he may get his wish. The secondary villain is portrayed as Cardinal Nichols, the ultimate authority who has been appealed to by many but has not apparently heeded their pleas.

  5. As one who served on the Cathedral Parish Council 40 years ago, I would expect responsibility to be totally opaque, it certainly was then. Legally the Cathedral is governed by Dean and Chapter, and staffed by a College of Chaplains. The Administator died in June, he was the only chaplain who was a Canon. The Chapter normally meets only once a month, so they don’t do much active governing. Madeline Smith explicitly says the chaplains, incuding Fr Daniel Humphreys – the Acting Administrator – are the good guys. The Parish Council, if there is one, has no responsibilty, it is merely a discussion group or sounding board for the Administrator.

  6. I am a former chorister of Westminster Cathedral (1980-84) – under Cardinal Hume, Peter and Pamela Hannigan (Headmaster and his wonderful wife), Stephen Celobury, David Hill and David Hill’s then Deputy, James O’Donnell. I am 49 now, and, although a lawyer, I have conducted many choirs and sung with many, and been nominated for a Grammy. I say this, not to boast, but to say I firmly believe I would have done none of this without the start I had in life as a chorister at Westminster Cathedral. I went on to a ‘prestigious’ public school – this is not incompatible with being a dedicated chorister.

    More importantly, my spiritual life has been enriched immeasurably by the grounding I was given. What is happening at the school is tragic. I am sad upset and angry that something so unique is being desecrated for seemingly no good reason. All I can do is pray, unless there is anything else anyone can think of.

    Sadly, the ‘buck’ stops with Cardinal Nichols, and if not then the Vatican. This has to somehow reach the highest level.

  7. The buck does indeed stop with the Cardinal, and in that sense he is the primary antagonist of this sorry tale. It’s his name pinned to the decision to scale back the chorister programme, and his imprimatur has been given to the manner in which the changes were carried out. All the sorry consequences are therefore attributabke directly to him. Time and again distressed parents, the music department, alumni and countless others pleaded with him to at least slow things down and take stock. He, the governors and the headmaster were unmoved, unsympathetic and even perturbed that anyone would dare question their motives, despite warning bells sounding at every turn. And they have jealously protected the documents that would settle all this one way or the other.

    Yes the headmaster most likely masterminded all this, yes the chairman of governors has obediently carried it all into effect, but at the end of the day, this will be the Cardinal’s dismal legacy. He owns this chaos, and it is only with him that the power lies to make the proper restitution. I’m not holding my breath.

  8. On the RCDOW website you can see the response by the Cardinal to a “strategic review of sacred music”. The review can also be found there. As far as I can see the authors regard the school as for the diocese rather than as a national service and so regard the weekly boarding as the right arrangement. See paragraphs 100 and 115.
    It seems to me that, as no other English diocese is likely to be able to offer anything comparable, this is unfortunate.

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