CTCC Document Archive

In early October, the Campaign found its views being sought widely on the question of choirboys' voices breaking early. The Sunday Telegraph seems to have initiated the topic with an article on 9 October entitled Choirboys struggle to hit high notes. Dr Peter Giles suggested diet might be a possible explanation and added that there was "a good argument for boys starting in the choir a little earlier, arguably from about six."

Dr Giles was also asked to contribute an article as part of the debate, and this appeared as a Sunday Telegraph blog.

In a supporting editorial, the Director of Music at St Paul's Cathedral, Andrew Carwood, was quoted saying there was a "magic period when the voice flourishes, just before it changes".

The two articles and the editorial can be found at:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/8052873/Choirs-in-deep-trouble-over-voices-breaking-early.html

Swiftly following the Telegraph articles, the 3AW Breakfast show in far away Australia invited the Campaign to take part in a live radio interview. We said little reliable research into the various aspects of the changing voice had been undertaken, and so a degree of caution was needed when discussing the matter. Despite the problems some choirs might be experiencing, the reality was that a varied and demanding repertoire continues to be sung in our cathedrals.

No sooner was the interview request from Australia received than Morning Report, the New Zealand equivalent of the BBC's Today programme, was in touch, requesting an interview to discuss research in this same area. The obvious person to comment in this case was Dr Arthur Saunders, who readily agreed and went on air.

Since then, the BBC has been in touch, and an article, Diet blamed for silencing treble sound has appeared in the Church Times. Dr Giles told the Church Times that "if boys are maturing slightly earlier, then they are maturing in their minds, too, and can tackle complex music."

The full article can be found at: www.churchtimes.co.uk/content.asp?id=102354

On the 22nd October, Lynda Collins got in on the issue of breaking voices with a letter to the Church Times.

18th October 2010
Sir,

Such evidence as we have of choirboys' voices breaking earlier than heretofore is sparse and largely anecdotal. It therefore needs to be treated with a degree of wariness. Likewise, it would be folly to engage too closely with theories unsupported by facts which purport to explain what is happening.

The reality is that the choristers in our great cathedral choirs still manage to sing with flair and feeling music of sometimes terrifying complexity - sing it as though it were the most natural of activities. That is indeed something to rejoice the heart.

One way round the problem of earlier breaking voices is for choirs to enrol their choristers from an earlier age - say, from about six. Indeed, a number of choirs have already started doing this. It is also what the famous Thomanerchor of Leipzig has been doing for at least ten years. Such an earlier introduction to the choral repertoire has resulted in many of today's younger choristers achieving the same level of skill as their older predecessors.

While I do not dismiss genuine concerns over untimely voice change and the issues raised, I think it right to point out that there are many other matters increasingly impinging on our ability to keep the choirboy singing. These, too, need serious consideration if we are not eventually to lose a tradition to which no other nation on the face of the earth can begin to aspire.

Yours faithfully,
Lynda Collins

 

Press Release

The future of the English choirboy is increasingly in doubt. At present, he clings to survival in cathedrals, famous college chapels and a handful of churches, but the questioning by the well-meaning, the politically correct and the downright ignorant of the 1000-year-old choral tradition of which he is an essential part could spell its end. Campaign for the Traditional Cathedral Choir is alone in fighting to protect our choirs of men and boys. Over the last two decades, girls' choirs were set up in cathedrals on the grounds of equal opportunity, though it was somehow unremarked that, outside cathedrals, scarcely a boy is singing any more. Most "children's" choirs are now overwhelmingly composed of girls.

Proponents of these new cathedral choirs are equivocal as to the difference between the voices of young girls and boys and say there can be no reasoned objection to having girls as choristers. Academics who have lent learned support to such views have done so while casually ignoring the many other issues involved. The media, too, generally ignored them, concentrating, instead, on the fact that it had been "proved" that there was little difference between the voices of young girls and boys and sometimes going on to declare that raising doubts about the place of girls in cathedral choirs was simply unpleasant and unacceptable prejudice.

The flimsiness of such views needs exposing. The fact is that the sound of the singing boy has been felt for century upon century to be very special and particularly appropriate for worship. Indeed, it is a sound which would have fallen soft upon the ears of Christ Himself as He prayed in the Temple. It is a sound, too, which has entranced composers both major and minor and for which they have written. Richard Seal, the former Organist and Master of the Choristers at Salisbury, who set the ball rolling for girls' cathedral choirs, declared in a debate on the issue in 1997: "I am tired of people saying, 'Ooh, you cannot tell the difference.' You can!"

In recent times, however, a few statistical studies have queried such received wisdom. In the accompanying article, Dr Arthur Saunders of Bournemouth University now analyses the published research, challenging its methodology and taking issue with its conclusions. If his analysis is correct, that can only mean one thing: the academics who carried out this research must acknowledge their errors as publicly as they have asserted their claims, and where prejudice has been imputed to those who see things differently, the accusation must be withdrawn forthwith.

Simon Lindley

 

Articles

The articles are published in an easy-to-print format.

Ichabod: The glory is departed
The late Dr Bernarr Rainbow reflects on upheavals in Anglican church music and unexpected developments in France.

Laudate pueri
Edward Higginbottom of New College, Oxford, and Bernarr Rainbow, the Campaign's first President, take issue with remarks of Peter Phillips of the Tallis Scholars who had cast slights on the singing ability of boy choristers.

Dischord in the choir
These days, cathedral closes reverberate to more than the sweet sound of heavenly voices; the advent of girl choristers has unleashed a chorus of opposition. John Cunningham of 'The Guardian' hears both sides of the argument.

Our Unique Choral Heritage
Hugh Curtis, a choirmaster with many years of practical experience behind him and with insight gained from that experience, makes a passionate plea for keeping to tradition.

Psalm 49 - This is the way of them – this is their foolishness
Peter Giles has spent a professional lifetime in cathedral and church choirs. The step-by-step disappearance of the choirboy he describes here is what he has witnessed on countless occasions. This article can be usefully read in conjunction with the articles on the Research page by Dr Arthur Saunders.


Obituaries

Bernarr Rainbow 1914-1998

Michael Howard 1922-2001

John Sanders 1933-2003