Britain’s choral tradition is under “major threat” due to government guidance on reopening churches, a leading choral director has said.
Charles Cole, who directs two world-renowned Catholic choirs, accused the government of making it “difficult or impossible” for choirs to rehearse and perform despite there being “no scientific evidence to prove the dangers of singing”.
In an article for New Liturgical Movement, Cole writes: “Aside from the obvious impoverishment of the Liturgy and the wider cultural heritage, many professional musicians now face very bleak times. Amateur musicians will suffer too. However in the case of children’s choirs, and those which include children such as cathedral choirs, this situation is nothing short of catastrophic.”
Cole explains that boys’ voices undergo rapid change and require particular management. “None of this can be simply put on hold,” he says, adding “The process of nurturing and developing cannot be put on ice and then resumed at a later date without significant consequences.
“It could take three to five years to recover the damage and rebuild, and a generation of singers could easily be lost. Time is of the essence, and the clock is always ticking for a boy treble.”
Cole, who is director of the London Oratory Junior Choir and the London Oratory Schola, says he has written to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to express his concerns, but has yet to receive a response. However, a number of MPs, including Sir Edward Leigh, have expressed their support.
“The risks to the young are absolutely minute,” Cole adds. “Will institutions such as Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College disappear from the landscape? Will there be no choir at the next coronation in Westminster Abbey?
“Of course not – common sense will prevail in the end, but the sooner the better.”
Writing in May’s issue of the Catholic Herald, musical director Matthew Schellhorn also raised concerns about the treatment of church musicians during lockdown, particularly freelancers.
“Along with money worries, many are distressed by a breakdown of communication with the churches where they have been working, and where they have found a kind of second home. The consequences could last well beyond the pandemic.”