Campaign for the Traditional Cathedral Choir

The wider issues

Dr Richard Walden looks at all things currently 'unfashionable'

If the traditional Cathedral choir and its music are the jewels in the crown of our heritage of sacred music in Britain, it is not so much the crown but that which supports it which we need to attend to. For if in the past girls were at a disadvantage compared to boys in their expectations and opportunities in sacred music as in other things, it is surely the other way about now. For the developing girl may have what her brother has in education and culture, as well as the option of what she had before, namely girls-only schools, if preferred. Notwithstanding the knowledge that boys need male role models, including fathers, teachers and adult male leadership and companionship, all these things are to some degree lacking for the majority of boys today. In fact, there seems to be an unspoken policy preventing the male of our species from associating together without a female presence, other than perhaps in the rugby/football club bath tub! If boys, and the situation for girls is also serious, are denied male parenting, the majority of such males will not conveniently conform to a female pattern of behaviour. Boys may well reject the imposition of female norms in one of a number of ways, none of which will be beneficial or convenient for their families or society in general.

This need of boys for male leadership and company is important not only for their enjoyment but for their normal development and preparation for future responsibilities in work and in the family. Taking the argument back a little farther, girls and boys need a constant ever-present mother, preferably the natural mother, to hold them physically and psychologically until school years and if possible beyond, if they are to develop into balanced, mature adults. All these things are known instinctively and are supported by the research and experience of psycho-analysis, in particular the work of D W Winnicott and John Bowlby.

This is our starting point. Lamentably, today's politically correct activists, spearheaded by the feminist movement, have done enormous harm to the family unit by promoting the view that the traditional family unit is either unimportant or even an error compared with the greater importance of women's rights. We now live in a time, unthinkable twenty years ago, when single parent families are encouraged by State subsidy and the divorce courts blatantly discriminate against the fathers in divorce proceedings, seventy percent of which are instigated by women when only fourteen percent are due to absconding fathers. This is a matter being tackled, so far with limited success, by several groups of people, including the UK Men's Movement, who also concern themselves with discrimination affecting men in matters of employment. There is much that could be said here but to be brief and unfashionable, there is a very good case for appointing a male to a post for which there may be an equally suitable female, in order to restore to men the purpose and responsibility required to prepare them for marriage and fatherhood and indeed leadership.

The mothering of children is not a part-time job. It is full time - especially during the child's first and formative five to seven years - and is a role of sacred responsibility for the mother. She, after all, has the power to make or mar her child in a way that no other human being has. All this may seem to be a long way from the aims and purposes of the CTCC, but perhaps the reader may judge that in fact it is not. Boys have different requirements of their own in education and other aspects of their development. They are slower to develop, as a general rule, and altogether more temperamental animals than girls before puberty. If they are to enter the world of choral music they need a great deal of encouragement. They are more likely to do this in an all-male choir from which they may continue into adult voice parts of the same or similar choirs. So the nurture of children and the differentiation between the sexes at appropriate times holds the key to the maintenance of the traditional Cathedral Choir amongst other things. As members of the Church of England are discovering, the ordination of women has complicated this issue, as it has many others.

It has been said that other factors affecting the long term survival of the traditional cathedral choir include pressure on pupils at school and parental expectations. The 1990s has seen ferocious competition in the life of a school child and, surely, the pressures of today are excessive and unnecessary. The variety of activities that some children engage in are exhausting and ludicrous.

The earlier age at which boys' voices are now breaking is reported to be a factor affecting the future of the all-male traditional cathedral choir. No doubt improved nutrition and developmental circumstances play a part here, but it is at least possible that earlier, indeed premature sexual development, provoked by the media and school sex education at too young an age, is involved.  Early sexual development will certainly precipitate the deepening of a boy's voice, but it could also lead to the premature fusion of the epiphysial plates in the long bones of the limbs, thus reducing the final height achieved. This would indeed be a regrettable side effect of our society's total obsession with sex. The sins of the fathers and mothers would then truly be visited upon the sons! It must be admitted that there is an element of speculation here, as a link between early sexual indoctrination and arousal and final height in boys is not proven, but a connection is likely.

I deeply regret the loss of parish church choirs and traditions but at least we can strive to preserve those all-male traditional choirs which remain in a few parishes and in our Cathedrals. To achieve this, we must speak up and try to tackle some of the wrongs in our society, even though at present that may be deeply unfashionable.

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