Trust News


December 7, 2022

On the Future for Cathedral Music by Alexander Armstrong

Read the latest news from Cathedral Music Trust

On 15 November we gathered together with many friends and supporters, and our Ambassadors Alexander Armstrong and Anna Lapwood at Southwark Cathedral for Evensong and a celebration of the future for cathedral music. And what a bright future we witnessed together that evening. The choir and musicians were on tremendous form, and it was inspiring to witness the work being done to ensure a thriving cathedral music tradition for generations to come. As part of the evening, Alexander Armstrong gave a short address which we are pleased to be able to share with you now:

“How utterly wonderful it is to be here and to come together with so many people who share my passion for our remarkable choral tradition. As with all rich heritages, this one also requires careful upkeep.

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to be making a programme for BBC1 that took me to the Pantheon in Rome, where I got to interview a rather wonderful architectural historian. I was marvelling that a structure built by Agrippa should still be in such good nick. And he said with a shrug, ‘No, not that remarkable really. Anything that is in constant use generally stays standing forever, and not just because of constant monitoring and running repairs. In purely structural terms,’ he explained, ‘the effects of human warmth and moisture work like a miraculous preservative on this ancient Roman concrete.’  Human warmth and moisture. I rather loved that.

But here’s the thing: for anything to be in constant use, everyone has to know how useful it is. And so we have two jobs to do at the Cathedral Music Trust – we have to make sure our choral institutions ARE being as useful as they can be and then we have to let everybody know about them. We have these regional engines of musical excellence, and yet so many people who would adore to come and hear them, haven’t been in the habit of it and don’t really know how to. At New College Oxford where one of our boys has been a chorister for five years, I’ve loved watching how undergraduates there have discovered the extraordinary beauty of a candlelit evensong and have become regular attendees. Evensong, in the parlance, has become a ‘thing’. The stalls are sometimes so full, on Sunday evenings you have to queue to get in. Across the wider country though this great jewel in our heritage is, I fear, under-trumpeted. Can you imagine the benefits to our collective mental health if everyone took 45 minutes once or twice a month just to listen to some beautiful responses, a psalm, a couple of canticles and an anthem.

And talking of things that are under-trumpeted. It is time to shout from the rooftops about choristership; it’s time to go right out into all our communities and find the promising singers of tomorrow from everywhere and anywhere and let them in on what for too long has been kept a secret. Choral training in our cathedrals is a key that unlocks a thousand doors. I’ve dwelt elsewhere on the benefits of choristership so I won’t rehearse them now. But we must make them known – and open – to EVERYONE.

Wearyingly often one hears people saying our cathedral choirs are elitist. I find this deeply upsetting because I don’t happen to believe they are elitist, but I do think we have to go a lot further out of our way to ensure – demonstrably – that they are not. What we must never apologise for though, is the demanding high standards that are asked for in our cathedral song rooms. The ensemble singing of our cathedral choirs at their best, comes only from hard work and commitment over a long period of time. And we must sustain that. Being part of that sublime level of performance is why we all do it. It’s why probationers want to get their surplices. It’s what makes tired choristers and clerks concentrate to the end of the long Friday practice. It’s what makes our choral tradition the envy of the world.

The Cathedral Music Trust has been set up to fight cathedral music’s corner. And we have assembled the best possible team, and tactical approach, to do that. We will continue to provide meaningful financial support to cathedral choirs and musicians to ensure access is available to all, and we will keep up a programme of research and education to ensure all levels of this beautiful ecosystem perform at the peak of their powers and inspire future generations of musicians and music lovers alike.  Whether you’re new to our organisation or a part of our history as a Friend or supporter, thank you so much for being here! Your country’s cathedral music needs YOU!! Because we have to go out and bring in all the human warmth and moisture we can get to ensure this mighty heritage stands forever.”

Since the event, we have been very moved by the generous response to Alexander Armstrong’s call to action, with many individuals and organisations getting in touch to share support and advocacy for our cause. If you would also like to donate at this early stage of our campaign, then we would be enormously grateful. You can make a donation online or speak with our Development Director Natasha Morris on [email protected] and 0203 151 6096.