THE Church of Ireland Cathedral Choir in Belfast is to be disbanded and replaced by volunteers, in a bid to save money.
The decision to replace the professional choir was announced in a statement by the Dean and Board of Trustees of St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, due to the cathedral’s ‘difficult financial situation’.
The cathedral has had a musical tradition since its consecration in 1904. For three years, the cathedral has run two choirs: a professional choir for adults and a choir for boys and girls aged 7 to 13.
The cathedral statement said the music department will be restructured and the position of music director, currently held by organist, composer and conductor Matthew Owens, will be replaced by a cathedral choir director at part-time. The change will take effect next month, on September 1.
The professional adult choir would be replaced by a voluntary adult choir, he confirmed.
The statement paid tribute to Mr. Owens’ work over the past three years. “The Dean and Board of Belfast Cathedral would like to express their sincere gratitude and thanks to Matthew Owens, who has served as Director of Music at Belfast Cathedral since September 2019.
“Along with the founding and development of the Belfast Cathedral Children’s Choir, Matthew’s leadership and vision has enabled the Belfast Cathedral Choir to reach new levels of excellence in supporting the life of worship of this place and to enjoy a considerable international reputation thanks to his Resonus Classics recordings.”
Peter Allwood, who chairs the Cathedral Music Trust, described the restructuring as a “real blow to the cathedral, its musicians and the local community”.
He continued: “Over the past few years, the choir has gained a reputation for musical excellence in Northern Ireland – not only through singing services at the cathedral, but also through concerts, broadcasts and recordings. Experience shows that this level of musical success will be impossible to sustain under part-time management and volunteer singers.
The newly formed children’s choir would also suffer from a lack of professional support as a result of the decision, he said. “We are aware of the financial challenges facing Belfast Cathedral and will do everything in our power to work with the Cathedral to help establish a sustainable path to musical excellence, which will benefit all who serve there. live and worship there.”
The Trust had given the cathedral’s music department £25,000 in emergency funding during the pandemic.
The dean and board did not respond to questions about whether other departments would face cuts due to financial difficulties.