Archbishop now singing from the same hymn sheet as the choir is the heading of a report in one national newspaper.
The Archdiocese of Westminster has published a statement on the situation concerning the choir school and associated concerns. here.
The statement runs:
In January 2020, His Eminence Cardinal Vincent Nichols commissioned a Strategic Review of Sacred Music in the Mission of Westminster Cathedral. The Review Panel, consisting of Robert Arnott, Leslie Ferrar, Mgr Mark Langham and Andrew Reid, was asked to consider the ‘steps needed to strengthen the role played by sacred music, as well as the structures and clarity of roles required for the continued development of the contribution of music to the mission of Westminster Cathedral, within the network of relationships between the Cathedral, its Music Department and Westminster Cathedral Choir School.’
In the Report, which has been presented to Cardinal Nichols, the Panel praises the high standard of sacred music in the Cathedral, which is ‘the fruit of substantial effort spanning a range of human and organisational agents,’ including the Administrator, the Precentor, the Music Department, Westminster Cathedral Choir School, and the Diocesan administration.
The report makes a number of recommendations, addressing the following areas:
1. The issuing by the Cardinal of a foundational charter for sacred music in the mission of the Cathedral;
2. Creating a multi-year strategy for sacred music;
3. Establishing governance structure and framework outlining responsibilities, accountabilities and inter-relationships between the Cathedral, its Music Department, the School and the Diocese; and establishing a committee to coordinate efforts;
4. Addressing the urgent and long-term funding needs;
5. Addressing the complementary roles of the School and the Music Department in meeting the challenge of the provision of sacred music.
Summarising the findings of the report on behalf of the Panel, Robert Arnott said: ‘The exceptional music produced by Westminster Cathedral and its celebrated choir places it at the forefront of worldwide Catholic liturgy. The members of the Review Panel find no reason why Westminster Cathedral should not continue to sustain excellence in sacred music. Our recommendations seek to offer both short- and long-term solutions, carefully building on evidence and expert analysis. This undertaking has been made wholly possible because of the autonomy, widely-drawn terms of reference, and freedom of inquiry that we have enjoyed.’
The Cardinal today has issued a comprehensive response to the Report outlining the steps to be taken in response to the recommendations. He commented: ‘I welcome this Review. I appreciate especially its long-term perspectives and proposals for firm structures and patterns of communication. I ask all who express support for Westminster Cathedral Choir now to contribute positively to the great effort needed
for its present and future flourishing.’
Fr Sławomir Witoń, newly-appointed Administrator of Westminster Cathedral, added: ‘I am delighted to welcome the contribution of the Strategic Review to a renewed vision of the long standing tradition of sacred music at Westminster Cathedral. I am looking forward to working together with the Music Department, the Choir School and my Cathedral colleagues on this challenging but necessary task of ensuring that one of the world’s great Cathedral choirs continues to enrich the beauty of the liturgy and prayer of the Cathedral for generations to come.’
Peter Stevens, Assistant Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral said: ‘I am grateful to the Review Panel for all their hard work over many months. I hope that the implementation of their report will give us all renewed clarity and confidence in our work of making music together to the glory of God in this very special place.’
On behalf of Westminster Cathedral Choir School, David Heminway, Chair of Governors, added: ‘The Governing Body is delighted to support the Cardinal and is fully committed to working positively and collaboratively with the Cathedral and its Music Department in strengthening and preserving the tradition of sacred music.’
Reports in the national daily press say that the Cardinal has backed down over controversial changes to the timetable. To some extent this is true, but he has also refused to accept some of the recommendations of the review panel.
Choristers will now sing seven services a week instead of the proposed five, which goes some way to responding to the campaign for maintaining musical excellence. The choristers will return home on Friday as previously proposed, but the senior choristers will stay to sing at the Friday afternoon Mass. The review recommended that they return on Saturday evening in order to be rested and rehearsed before the Sunday morning Mass. The Cardinal did not accept this, and instead has maintained the return of the choristers on Sunday morning. He has achieved this by pushing back the time of the Sunday Mass from 10:30 to 12 noon, and Sunday Vespers from 3:30 to 4:30, to allow time for rehearsing on Sunday morning.
The Cardinal stresses the desirability of the choristers having a complete day of rest at home with their families, despite the fact that other residential choir schools in the country continue to have boarding 24/7, including Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral in London. The grapevine suggests, however, that the real reason for sticking firm on this point is that it enables the choir school not to have to pay staff to supervise the choristers on Friday nights and Saturdays.
None of the changes address the fact that most families living outside the London area, whose boys were previously able to form part of the choir, will still not be able to offer their sons as choristers, due to the distance and inconvenience of travelling out of London on a Friday evening and back on a Sunday morning.
The Society for the Protection of Westminster Cathedral Choir said “Cardinal Nichols is, in effect, presiding over the transformation of the choir school into a school for wealthy inner-London parents, which does seem at odds with Pope Francis’s ‘church of the poor’ agenda.” Previously, less wealthy parents have been able to have their sons educated at the school thanks to chorister scholarships.
The cardinal details the financial contribution of the cathedral to the music, and also states that contributions to the cathedral’s income have dropped by about 50% during the pandemic. It is clear that additional fundraising will be required.
Clarifying structures of management and accountability is also part of the review, and its recommendations have been accepted by the Cardinal, including producing a charter for music at the cathedral. (One wonders why such a thing never existed before.)
He also picked up on the review’s statement that “The Music Department business plan should give explicit consideration to developing musicality and musical expression amongst the Cathedral congregation, in addition to its focus on professional musicianship and the Choir” when he states that the music department’s role “includes the strengthening of the congregation’s participation in music in the Liturgies of the Church”, something which up to now has not been a major preoccupation for the cathedral’s music team.
It remains to be seen when and if the changes can actually be implemented, as currently choral services at the Cathedral are suspended during the pandemic. It is to be assumed that, similarly, no progress will be made on appointing a new Master of Music until some kind of normality returns.