Campaign for the Traditional Cathedral Choir

The Case for CTCC

The Campaign for the Traditional Cathedral Choir was formed in 1996 as a direct response to the perceived decline of the robed all-male choir, and in particular to the dwindling number of boy choristers nationally. Why, some might ask, should this matter? Times change; the liturgy has been revised; women priests administer the sacrament; girls already sing in cathedral choirs. So what is so special about the Traditional Cathedral Choir?

The United Kingdom boasts over 40 Anglican cathedrals which, together with historic parish churches, are the most visited of all our ancient buildings. In addition to those attending services, they attract around 12 million visitors a year. Even in this largely secular age their presence still acts as a cultural and spiritual magnet.

Cathedrals didn't just happen. Immense resources of time and money were invested in their design and construction. But the architectural legacy which we have inherited is not merely visual. It is also acoustic. The unique sound of the genuine English cathedral choir and its music is inseparable from the buildings in which it is housed. It explores and gives contextual meaning to the vast acoustic spaces which cathedral builders chose to incorporate into their design. Nevertheless, the significance of this attention to sound is often overlooked. For example, how many of us know that resonating jars were sometimes incorporated into the fabric of a building to enhance particular pitches? Or that the west front of Wells Cathedral contains apertures, through which boys, men and trumpeters performed to the assembled crowd outside on Palm Sunday? These glimpses into our past give a fascinating insight into some of the practical considerations of cathedral design, and their implications for the performance of the musical liturgy in its appointed context by a specific kind of choir.

Because sound is by definition ephemeral, its significance is frequently side-lined in favour of the visual. Nevertheless it is sound, and the music embodied within it, which instantly brings a cathedral to life and which invests in it an immediate spirituality. How many of us, entering during a service or choir practice, have been stopped in our tracks by that very special sound of the English cathedral choir which impacts on our senses long before we begin to respond visually?

The Traditional Cathedral Choir is an essential part of a continuum which stretches back to the Reformation and for centuries beyond. Its unique sound - particularly that of the boy treble and the countertenor - spans the centuries with an immediacy that only music can provide. Those who argue that it is an anachronism and should move with the changing times are therefore missing the point.

So how can we maintain the Traditional Cathedral Choir without accusations of being dinosaurs, or attempting to stop or turn back the clock?

CTCC therefore sets out to address a vital issue. While it in no way advocates a choral monoculture, neither is it prepared to see the erosion of a unique and much loved musical tradition. It is perhaps something of an irony that as the choral tradition has expanded, so the Traditional Choir has contracted - to such an extent that it is now becoming an endangered species. Like any endangered species, therefore, it requires additional help and support if it is not to die out. The particular challenge facing CTCC is to ensure that, by advocating a balance between tradition and innovation, this cornerstone of our heritage does not merely continue to survive, but flourish.

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