The Cathedral of St. Anne in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Leeds, England, like many other cathedrals in the western world prior to the Second Vatican Council, was home to a renowned sacred music program steeped in the Church’s tradition of plainsong and polyphony. This fell apart when the axe fell during the turbulent 60s and according to the cathedral’s website, its music program sank lower and lower until the late 1980s, when the bishop at the time took the bold step of hiring a full time music director whose task it was to create a cathedral choir of 24 boys to be drawn from throughout the diocese. (This should serve as a constant reminder to our prelates and clergy of the impact they can have on sacred music in the Catholic Church.)
In 2003, the cathedral’s commitment to worthy sacred music led its music staff to create the ambitious Schools Singing Programme, a musical outreach ministry providing quality music instruction to children from all over the diocese. The program’s goal is first and foremost to form all the young people in the diocese. From these foundational programs, the cathedral then draws singers to its own choirs. I have followed the program for a number of years and remember thinking it incredible when the program worked with 2,500 students each year throughout the diocese. Now that number has has almost doubled. According to the program’s website, it currently serves 4,000 children each year, many from the most economically depressed areas in England, and it has provided choral instruction and singing opportunities to 25,000 young people over the last 16 years. This is the fruit of only 1 diocese!
There are 9 full-time and 9 part-time staff at the diocese who work in 53 schools and more than 40 after school choirs, not to mention the 6 cathedral choirs that rotate to sing Holy Mass and Vespers almost every day of the week. All the cathedral’s choristers receive private vocal tuition and there are 45 places for organ students currently available to musicians throughout the diocese, all of which are full.
Readers can browse a number of articles about the program here or listen to the quality of the Cathedral Choir recorded at Midnight Mass in 2017 (the Mass Ordinary is Haydn’s Nicholas Mass).
In 2009 the Cathedral even partnered with a local Catholic School to found a Cathedral Choir School, now celebrating its 10 anniversary.
If there is a valuable piece of advice I would like readers to take away from this post, it is that Catholics HUNGER for great music in their churches (and quite frankly, the Sacred Liturgy demands it) and they are willing to financially support it if they are confronted with a great vision for sacred music being implemented and carried out. We need a vision this big and this bold! What a gift to the Church it would be if some of our cathedrals and growing number of truly Catholic colleges and universities in the United States would be willing to take on this work.