Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Guest Blogger: Choristers and the Royal Wedding

My friend Grayston Burgess of the Campaign for the Traditional Cathedral Choir to which I belong sent me his thoughts on one aspect of the recent royal wedding. As it's germane to the topic of this blog and I fully agree with him, I'm happy to publish it here.


Like the vast majority of the population I like to take Saturday mornings at a nice easy pace; in fact so easy that I try not to wake up until 9 o'clock at the earliest. I have to tell you that I fail every time to meet my target even though I refuse to open my eyes when I put the radio on in the early hours in the hope that the drone of the morning Overseas News Service and Weather Forecast will send me straight back to sleep again. From then on it's a toss -up whether I snooze, meditate, ruminate or contemplate.

On this particular Saturday I was thinking about the recent Royal Wedding, its colour, its pageantry, its beauty, the crowds, the music – ah the music! Having been Head Chorister at Canterbury and eventually going from there into the profession (indeed I had been a member of Westminster Abbey Choir itself), I have played my part in previous Royal occasions. Like those young choristers I was brought up to perform to high standards of discipline and technique, and was thus able to appreciate the hard work that must have gone into their performance whilst not forgetting the influence of the Master of the Choristers James O'Donnell. With their clear voices still ringing in my memory my subconscious took over and I was suddenly very much awake - “what a stupid thing to say” I declared out loud, opened my eyes and sat up in bed.

I was referring to a piece I had read about the Royal Wedding which rightly praised the wonderful choirs of men and boys of Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal but then added “It's probably time for the Monarchy to rectify this ancient bias, perhaps by inaugurating a parallel girls choir”. The next day a different writer added “O what a pity....things would have been even better with female singers”!!

With my background you would hardly have expected me to go along with that kind of thinking, but I have never seen such a deliberate dollop of insane political correctness and frustrated feminism! Most of us are fed up with political correctness just about as much as with some of the the ridiculous Health and Safety rulings which spoil so much of the fun and challenges in our lives, particularly those of our young children.

It is the same political correctness that insists that whatever boys do, girls must do the same, and that a male institution must have its female equivalent however unsuitable that may be. Of course we are all agreed that girls should sing as often as possible, and let us hope the present interest in Choral singing and singing in small ensembles becomes an educational and cultural requirement for all.

However, let us also remember that the sound of a boy's voice is different from a girl's, lasting a mere 5/6 years, before developing into a Counter-tenor, Tenor or Bass. Whereas a girl's voice lasts well into maturity. There is real concern that by mixing the voices of boys and girls, the unique sound of the boy's voice will be lost. Moreover, since we are also denying girls the possibility of developing their own particular style, we are in danger of reaching a creative stalemate.

We should not underestimate the benefits of creative stimulus at an early age and the positive influence that this has in later life. The tragedy is that the opportunity for building lasting self-esteem is being denied to many disaffected young people in our society. The good news is that the potential for artistic and creative success is not merely a bolt-on for those with money and privilege. There are countless musicians, artists, writers and sportsmen and women for whom social disadvantage has not been a handicap. But at some time or another these people will have been inspired to pursue their own particular excellence by their teachers or role models.

The boy chorister is no exception. He is uniquely placed to carry forward a long and distinguished tradition into 21stcentury Britain. He is making and enjoying music – often to very exacting standards – with boys of his own age, whilst at the same time being part of an adult world. We must not deprive him of the opportunity to scale his particular heights, or the evocative “Once in Royal David's City” and “Oh for the wings of a Dove” will be lost for ever.

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