Belfast Cathedral disbands professional choir and director due to ‘financial circumstances’

29 July 2022, 12:42 | Updated: 29 July 2022, 14:24

St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast
St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast. Picture: Getty

By Kyle Macdonald

In a sudden announcement, Belfast Cathedral will end almost all of its professional music-making at the end of next month.

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A 115-year tradition in Northern Ireland is at risk, following a decision to end professional singing in Belfast Cathedral. The full-time music director post at the Church of Ireland cathedral will also be disbanded.

The announcement was made on the cathedral’s website on Wednesday. It indicated financial considerations were behind the decision.

“It is with considerable regret that, owing to the difficult financial circumstances in which Belfast Cathedral continues to find itself, the Dean and Board will now commence a restructuring of the Music Department at Belfast Cathedral,” the cathedral’s Dean and the Honorary Secretary of the Board of Belfast Cathedral said in a statement.

“This will include a move away from a paid, professional adult choir to a voluntary adult choir. In addition, the full-time role of Director of Music will be made redundant and will be replaced by a part-time Cathedral Choir Director. These changes will come into effect from 1 September 2022.”

Read more: ‘I owe my entire career to my years as a chorister’ – Alexander Armstrong

Highly-regarded organist, composer and conductor Matthew Owens had taken up the post of director of music at the cathedral in September 2019.

Inside St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast
Inside St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast. Picture: Alamy

Peter Allwood, Chair of the Cathedral Music Trust, responded to the announcement saying that it will be “impossible” to maintain high musical standards with a part-time director and voluntary singers.

“The decision to disband the professional choir at Belfast Cathedral is a real blow for the cathedral, its musicians and the local community,” he wrote in a statement on Friday.

“Over recent years, the choir has gained a reputation for musical excellence in Northern Ireland, not only through sung cathedral services but also concerts, broadcasts and recordings. Experience shows that this level of musical success will be impossible to maintain under part-time leadership and voluntary singers.”

Allwood also noted that the cathedral’s recently formed Children’s Choir will suffer from a lack of professional support and direction, with the loss of an opportunity to develop musicians of the future.

Music has played a central role to worship and church life ever since the consecration of the cathedral in 1904. Since 2019, the cathedral had two choirs, an all-adult, fully-professional choir, and the Belfast Cathedral Children’s Choir of boys and girls aged seven to 13.