Cambridge college says upset is ‘regrettable’, as thousands petition over axed chapel choir

22 March 2024, 14:23

St John’s Voices
St John’s Voices. Picture: YouTube

By Kyle Macdonald

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and some of the biggest names in classical music sign a petition demanding St John’s College Cambridge reverse a decision to cut its mixed-voice choir, St John’s Voices.

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St John’s College Cambridge issued a statement on Thursday, as a campaign against a decision to cut one of the country’s finest mixed-voice church choirs gains thousands of supporters.

On Monday night, the singers of St John’s Voices were informed of the decision to close the choir. The highly-regarded vocal ensemble was formed in 2013 to support and complement the singing of the college’s main chapel choir. It sings regular Monday Evensong services and has made two acclaimed commercial recordings.

Read more: ‘Devastated’ St John’s Cambridge mixed choir abolished, with music director made redundant

On Wednesday, an open letter and petition from the choir and supporters was published, with signatories including conductor Sir Simon Rattle, violinist Hillary Hahn, organist Anna Lapwood and former Archbishop of Canterbury Rt. Revd Dr Rowan Williams. St John’s Voices and supporters are calling on the college to revoke its decision.

“On Monday night, after a three-day-long recording session, St John’s Voices received written notice from the college that the choir will be disbanded in June 2024,” the petition reads.

It continues: “We are devastated by this decision, which we believe is a fundamentally regressive move for the college, the choral community in Cambridge, and the wider arts provision for women in the UK.”

𝐎 𝐓𝐞𝐛𝐞 𝐑𝐚𝐝𝐮𝐲𝐞𝐭𝐬𝐢𝐚 | 𝐏𝐚𝐯𝐞𝐥 𝐂𝐡𝐞𝐬𝐧𝐨𝐤𝐨𝐯 | 𝐎𝐩.𝟐𝟓, 𝐍𝐨.𝟏𝟏

The petition highlights that soprano undergraduates at the college no longer have the opportunity to sing in chapel choral services. The chapel’s main choir, the Choir of St John’s College Cambridge admits only female altos, with younger boys’ and, since 2021, girls’ voices singing the treble line.

The Petition says the current St John’s Voices choir has 14 woman singers. The say all will be losing their opportunity to sing in the College chapel.

In a statement published on Thursday, St John’s College Cambridge said that after a recently completed review of music, the St John’s College Council made a unanimous decision to “pursue a broader approach to other co-curricular opportunities in music”.

The College said that new schemes for student music lessons, opportunities for non-auditioned singing, and outreach programmes are all proposals within the review. They also propose extending musician-in-residence schemes to include different genres of music, with the examples of jazz and pop.

“The upset this decision has caused to the St John’s Voices community is regrettable,” the statement said.

“The decision is in no way a reflection on the high standards achieved by the choir and its director, Graham Walker.”

The college also offered to “provide support to members of St John’s Voices who wish to identify and secure alternative choral and accompanist opportunities.”

Music-making at St John’s College Cambridge can be traced back over 500 years to 1511, and the present main choir began in 1670. The Choir of St John’s College Cambridge, widely regarded as one of the finest church choirs in the world, is unaffected by the review and proposals.