By a Staff Reporter The announcement that Westminster Cathedral's professional choir is to be disbanded on the grounds of cost has been met with an outcry from leading figures in the world of music. A letter to The Times signed by Benjamin Britten. Yehudi Menuhin and Andre Previn, among others. says that although the decision is primarily the concern of .Catholics it, may well affect a wider circle.
"The high standard of this choir and its specialised and authoritative performance of plainsong — and of the polyphonic niusic of the sixteenth century in particular — form a part of our national culture, and represent a musical tradition that must not be allowed to disappear," says the letter. In reply. the Cathedral Administrator, Canon Francis Bartlett, said it was gratifying to see how much the choir was appreciated. But despite economies the cathedral could not pay its way. "It is obvious that we cannot continue to employ professional singers unless we have the resources to pay them. If your correspondents have any proposals to make which would enable us to keep the present choir in being, we shall be most grateful to receive them."
Westminster Cathedral has the only full-time professional Catholic choir in the country. It
consists of seven professional male singers who were given notice when they asked for their annual salary to be raised from £1,200 to £1,380.
Mr, Colin Mawby, Master of Music at the Cathedral, has pointed out that to keep the choir intact for another two years will cost £20,000. He suggests that an independent inquiry should be made to see if the choir could be financed nationally, as is the National Shrine at Walsingham.
But Dr Anthony Milner, Principal Lecturer in Music at Goldsmiths' College, expresses doubt about the liturgical value of the Cathedral Choir. In a letter to The Times he says it is not the main business of church choirs to act as musical museums but to serve the liturgy: "Westminster has lamentably failed in what should be one of its main concerns, to set an example in promoting the reformed liturgy so admirably begun by the Second Vatican Council."
Dr Milner quotes from Church documents to show that it is the duty of a choir "to care for and foster the active participation of the faithful in song." He says he is "dismayed" at the Westminster choir's "narrow repertoire" and its infrequent performance of contemporary works.
Editorial — P4