In 1956 an organisation named Friends of Cathedral Music was launched. Its remit was to support the provision of music in cathedrals but later also in larger-sized parish churches with choirs. Partly because choirs had either been relocated (particularly the treble lines) during WWII or because the back rows (the altos, tenors and basses) had been called away for war service and had either not returned or not been replaced, choral music in churches and cathedrals across the country was in a general state of decline. Many enthusiasts joined the founder, the Revd Ronald Sibthorp, precentor at Truro Cathedral, in support of his aim, to improve the quality of the music in cathedrals.
Over the years, grants worth over £4m from money raised from subscriptions and legacies were given out to cash-strapped music foundations. The Friends of Cathedral Music began to meet regularly across the UK and sometimes abroad to celebrate and enjoy the outstanding beauty of one of the nation’s greatest treasures, cathedral music.
A magazine, Cathedral Music, was launched to present in-depth articles exploring the repertoire and practice of music making in choral foundations and our newsletter Cathedral Voice became a vehicle to share news and views from the world of cathedral music.
In 2016 the Diamond Fund for Choristers was launched with a major concert at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, featuring young singers drawn from 62 cathedrals across the UK. As well as raising money to support recruitment and training of choristers, the Diamond Fund seeks to highlight the opportunities and benefits of being a chorister to children of all backgrounds, and how this formative educational experience benefits society more widely.
The pandemic in 2020, a body blow for the economy worldwide, has of course affected every musician, but through the cancellation of all forthcoming cultural events not only do cathedral musicians not earn their regular freelance fees but income for cathedrals has decreased so radically that the future of our cathedral choirs is in many places in severe peril of extinction. So cathedral musicians may lose their entire livelihoods if insufficient support is provided. Some choirs have already been disbanded, and all are struggling and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Friends of Cathedral Music joined forces with The Ouseley Church Music Trust and the Choir Schools’ Association to set up The Cathedral Choirs' Emergency Fund, all of which pledged a substantial sum to start the fundraising ball rolling. Liaising with the Church Commissioners has brought the promise of match-funding of up to £1m, and donations, flooding in through various portals, raise the total on a daily basis.
Friends of Cathedral Music has embraced the challenging situation presented by the global pandemic by broadening its potential impact, streamlining its organisation and founding a new umbrella charity, the Cathedral Music Trust. A professionally run and forward-thinking organisation, we became a charitable incorporated organisation in 2020.
Building on the work of the Friends, the Trust’s aims are to increase public awareness and appreciation of cathedral music, support and encourage all those involved in making cathedral music, and extend its range of grants to individuals, choirs and choral foundations. It is especially committed to enabling children from a diverse range of backgrounds to experience the many benefits that come from being a chorister.
Existing Friends have become part of the Cathedral Music Trust, and continue to be known as Friends of Cathedral Music. The work of the Diamond Fund for Choristers, which operates under the patronage of HRH The Duchess of Gloucester, continues as one of the Trust’s development activities.
Professional staff have been appointed to help drive the Trust’s aims, broaden the range of its supporters and donors, and respond swiftly to challenges as they arise.
Cathedral Music Trust has recently appointed Harry Christophers as its first president. Having been a patron of the Diamond Fund for Choristers since 2015, he follows Friends of Cathedral Music's several distinguished past presidents, the most recent being the late Sir Stephen Cleobury, whose support and encouragement were invaluable.