CATHEDRALS are, or should be, trendsetters. It should be possible for the clergy and laity of any Catholic diocese to look to their mother church for good musical tradition, and a stimulating liturgy.
In practice a number of England's Catholic cathedrals have not been able to do this. Many are simply parish churches with a bishop's throne. But good musical traditions are spreading, and the future could see more of our cathedrals competing for quality with those of our Anglican brethren.
In this article I looked at musical traditions in three of our Cathedrals: Westminster, Liverpool and Clifton. I am very conscious of others I could have chosen, so before a host of choirmasters and organists reach for their pens and complain 1 have cast a slur on their reputations by avoiding them, time and space necessarily restricted me, Not surprisingly, Westminster Cathedral has the most established musical tradition of any cathedral in this country. Its choir sings Mass and Divine Office daily.
It represents, in fact. the nearest equivalent to an Anglican cathedral the Catholic church in England can offer.
But things have changed since the days before Vatican II, when Westminster Cathedral and Westminster Abbey kept away from each other's traditions.
Stephen Cleobury, who became Master of Music at the Cathedral in January 1979 is an Anglican, and his previous position was suborganist at Westminster Abbey.
At Westminster Cathedral Mr Cleobury found a musical tradition which had been established as far back as the cathedral's opening in 1903. Cardinal Vaughan, well aware of the Anglican tradition of singing Matins and Evensong, was determined that the full divine office should be sung at Westminster. Though negotiations with the Benedictine abbeys of Downside and Solesmes to have a resident contingent of monks singing the full liturgy never came to pass, his idea paved the way for a first rate choir that was to inspire such composers as Benjamin Britten and Lennox Berkeley to write specially for it.
At Liverpool and Clifton I found newly budding traditions taking account of the need for at least part of the office to be performed as w;c11 as Mass. Both cathedrals offer sung Vespers on Sundays and hope to extend this • to other days.
Interestingly enough, as the two most recently built cathedrals in England. Liverpool and Clifton have quickly developed choirs of a professional standard, and in both cases the choirmasters concerned admit this was partly due to a desire to establish good traditions. As Christopher Walker, Choirmaster at Clifton cathedral put. it: "We're forming traditions. not getting into ruts".
The choir of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral was founded in 1960 by Archbishop Heenan. Philip Duffy and his brother Terence, were appointed Master of the Music and Organist respectively, shortly before the new cathedral was opened in (967.
Liverpool is the only catholic cathedral in the country, other than Westminster. to run its own choir school. The choirboys are educated at St Edward's College West Derby, about four miles away.
Both Westminster and Liverpool see the training of boys for the choir as an integral part of their musical offerings.
The boys train for 15 hours a day, Stephen Cleobury explained. "It's a training for life, employing the physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual aspects of the person. There can be few activities that employ all these activities at the same time," he said.
"It's a family commitment. and we expect that commitment for 45 weeks a year" said Philip Duffy. Clifton has developed a different tradition. Women take the parts traditionally assigned to boys. But Christopher Walker, who has been in charge of the choir since the opening of the new cathedral in 1973, is adamant that this is not a disadvantage.
"Boys would have to be rehearsed every day, and they need some form of parental training. I rely on intelligent adults".
Like Philip Duffy, Christopher Walker's full-time commitment to music is split between teaching and some composing for the BBC.
All three cathedrals include as much variety as possible in their repertoires, encouraging new music, in English as well as preserving the best of the Catholic Church's Latin tradition.
Looking to the future, Stephen Cleobury said: "If there is to be a flourishing fund of new music for Catholic liturgy it requires composers of the highest order, and capable choirs. "If you want a good choir you must have musical singers in it. If you give them third rate music they will soon drift away and join a choir with better music. It would be idle to suggest this hasn't happened"..
Christopher Walker is very optimistic about the way things are going at Clifton. He has recently been joined by Paul Inwood, who fulfils the post of organist while continuing to work with the St Thomas More Centre for Pastoral Liturgy in London, and doing some publishing work.
He was one of the editors of the popular Catholic hymnal "Praise the Lord".
"Now that we have Mgr Crispian Hollis as the new administrator, and Paul Inwood as organist, if we can't get one of the best liturgies in the country. God help us" said Christopher Walker.
He has no doubts about the quality of up and coming music in the Catholic church. "The Anglican church comes to us for new English congregational musiche said, adding that about a third of such music is now sold to the Anglicans.
It is not without significance that Philip Duffy and Christopher Walker were key composers in the music for the National Pastoral Congress.
Philip and Terence Duffy acknowledged the tremendous boost the Congress gave to their work. and they paid tribute to the moral support they have had from Archbishop Worlock since his appointment to Liverpool, in 1976.
Five years ago. Liverpool introduced a scholarship for organists. The first scholar, David Saint. is now choirmaster at St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham.
Now they have introduced six choral scholarships to male students of Liverpool University and local colleges. In this way, Liverpool, hopes to contribute to the building-up of good musical traditions in other Catholic cathedrals and churches throughout the country.
I would like to close with a footnote on a piece of equipment virtually indispensable to each of these cathedrals — a good organ.
Westminster Cathedral's famous Willis organ is maintained by Harrison's of Durham, a company with a high reputation and the builder of many of England's cathedral organs.
Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral commissioned J W Walker to build their pipe organ. It cost £35,000 in 1967. Terence Duffy estimates £300,000 as its replacement value today.
Clifton Cathedral struck a bargain with Rieger's of Australia who installed a pipe organ for £18,500 in 1973. Replacement would cost about £ I 00,000 for what Christopher Walker called "one of the finest organs in the country".
In a feature surrounded by advertisements for electronic organs, it is worth noting that the cheapness of such organs is making even large churches think again when a pipe organ needs replacing, though none of the three Cathedrals I visited has any plan for "going electronic" in the foreseeable future.