Disbanding a group for whatever reason is a drastic step for any institution, let alone Sheffield Cathedral, which, back in July, decided it’s choir was unfit for purpose as it did not reflect the city’s “mixed urban community”.
Countless people online have condemned this move, arguing that the choir provided an opportunity to receive a high standard of musical education for many, regardless of their background.
In a statement, Sheffield Cathedral said: “This decision has not been easy because it will directly impact several colleagues and indirectly impact us all in our close-knit community. However, we believe that this is in the best interests of the long-term mission of the cathedral.”
A petition, called ‘Save Sheffield Cathedral Choir’, was founded to oppose this, and has seen over 8,500 people pledge their names to the cause in just two months, yet campaigners feel they haven’t received an explanation from the Dean since the petition was launched.
All of this brings into question the influence of the Church of England, which has seen declining attendee numbers in recent years, and the significance of traditional music-based groups, seen by many as the backbone of religious services around the country.
Traditionalists argue that this division of Britain’s rich musical history is part of the make-up of the nation, and that the disbandment of such an institution is a knee-jerk reaction to recent national debates surrounding the socio-economic makeup of British society.
Yet, even though they perform an important societal role, it is true that similar choirs are customarily composed of those from an upper-middle class, white background.
Debates about inclusivity are not going to disappear, and something had to be done to address societal barriers which actively discouraged people from participating in these more traditional pursuits, but is disbanding the former choir really the best option?
Music is vital to the lives and opportunities of many, and this move has shown just how great an impact musical groups have on the under-represented and less affluent members of society.
Such a rash decision is going to have a profound impact on the prospects, creativity and integration of the community for some time as yet another support network in Sheffield has been lost.
Representing a city of over half a million people, Sheffield Cathedral has previously taken steps to address the socio-economic disparity in the area through its work with music and other community projects.
Additionally, the choir had offered many opportunities for people to take part and had been actively involved with a plethora of community groups, schools and universities – making the decision to disband it such a shock to many.
The decision will have a lasting impact on Sheffield and has acted as a further blow to its diverse music scene which has already suffered dramatically since the coronavirus outbreak.
Ultimately, change is a difficult word for many – after all, it represents everything that goes against the normality of everyday life, for some against all they have known. But, inclusivity shouldn’t be about forcing change for the sake of it.
Executing a ‘quick fix’ to change a form which is so institutionalised can’t ever be right, especially as change isn’t achievable without considering the wider debates happening within society right now.
Surely, reform and improvement from within would have been more beneficial to the long-term stability of the choir, especially as they were already beginning to take action to remedy centuries of traditional rules regarding the composition of its membership.
Sheffield Cathedral’s outreach has always been significant, but this poor attempt to increase engagement has unfortunately reduced the chances of people hoping to engage or learn from this institution in the future.
After all, this decision has impacted the people who depend on it the most – its members, who weren’t even consulted about the planned reforms beforehand and will lose out on months of musical education as well as a community group so desperately needed in these trying times.
To this end, the damage has already been done to the Cathedral and this dwindling tradition, but it is not beyond repair, although plans to reinstate the choir in 2021 are still unclear.
Even if traditional boundaries turned people away before, Sheffield Cathedral had a great opportunity to modernise itself, but turning the lives of so many upside-down whilst trying to do so alienates the Cathedral from those closest to it, and all but reflects how out of touch they are.
(Image Credit: Chris Downer / Sheffield: cathedral church of Ss. Peter & Paul / CC BY-SA 2.0)