Soar­ing girls’ voices

For the first time in 1,000 years, an all-girls choir sang at the Can­ter­bury Cathe­dral in Bri­tain, break­ing an age-old tra­di­tion.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - WOMAN - By JILL LAW­LESS

THE pure, high voices of the choir soar to­ward the vaulted ceil­ing of Can­ter­bury Cathe­dral as they have for over 1,000 years. Just one thing is dif­fer­ent – th­ese young cho­ris­ters in their pur­ple cas­socks are girls. Their re­cent pub­lic de­but at Even­song will end cen­turies of an all-male tra­di­tion.

Can­ter­bury is not the first Bri­tish cathe­dral to set up a girls’ choir, but as the mother church of the 80 mil­lion-strong Angli­can Com­mu­nion – one strug­gling to de­fine the role of women in its ranks – its move has spe­cial res­o­nance.

That is not lost on the 16 girls, aged be­tween 12 and 16, who have been cho­sen to make this bit of his­tory.

“That’s an amaz­ing thought in the back of your mind – no girl has sung in this cathe­dral over an amaz­ingly long pe­riod of time,” said 12-year-old choir mem­ber Abby Cox. “I’ve al­ways liked singing, but I think this is the ma­jor event that has hap­pened in my life and I’m so ex­cited to be part of it.”

The cho­ris­ters at­tend sev­eral lo­cal schools and were cho­sen at au­di­tions in Novem­ber. Un­like mem­bers of the Can­ter­bury boys’ choir, who live at the cathe­dral and re­hearse ev­ery day, the girls come to­gether just once a week.

De­spite their lim­ited re­hearsal time, choir di­rec­tor David New­sholme said the girls are fo­cused and en­thu­si­as­tic about the psalms, an­thems and re­sponses they have to learn.

“We’ve had to learn it very quickly, but it’s just so fun to be in here, you don’t re­ally think about that,” said Cox. “You are mak­ing mu­sic with girls that are as pas­sion­ate as you are.”

Girls’ choirs are not a com­plete nov­elty in the Church of Eng­land – Sal­is­bury Cathe­dral es­tab­lished one in the 1990s and sev­eral other cathe­drals have fol­lowed. Fe­male voices have oc­ca­sion­ally been heard in Can­ter­bury Cathe­dral as part of vis­it­ing choirs. But they still at­tract no­tice in an in­sti­tu­tion that val­ues its tra­di­tions and changes slowly. Angli­cans are still seek­ing an elu­sive con­sen­sus on the di­vi­sive is­sues of fe­male bish­ops and gay clergy. Singing girls have their op­po­nents, too, in­clud­ing one group called the Cam­paign for the Tra­di­tional Cathe­dral Choir, set up to “cham­pion the an­cient tra­di­tion of the all-male choir”. Tra­di­tion is es­pe­cially im­por­tant at Can­ter­bury, about 100km south-east of Lon­don, whose arch­bishop heads the Angli­can church. Founded in the sixth cen­tury – al­though most of the spiky Gothic build­ing dates from later in the Mid­dle Ages – it has been an im­por­tant place of Chris­tian pil­grim­age since Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury Thomas Becket was mur­dered here in 1170 by knights loyal to King Henry II.

Dean of Can­ter­bury Robert Wil­lis said mu­sic has been sung in the cathe­dral since it was founded – first by monks, then by a choir of men and boys set up more than 1,000 years ago. He stressed that a fe­male choir was “a nat­u­ral de­vel­op­ment” that adds “diver­sity and rich­ness” to the cathe­dral’s tra­di­tions.

“Noth­ing of the old tra­di­tion is dam­aged,” he said. “It’s be­ing en­riched, en­livened and de­vel­oped.”

The girls’ choir will per­form ini­tially when the boys take a break each term, but Wil­lis said the girls will even­tu­ally play a big­ger role.

“And oc­ca­sion­ally, I’m sure in the fu­ture, both of the choirs will sing to­gether on fes­ti­val oc­ca­sions,” he said.

That is mu­sic to the ears of 16year-old cho­ris­ter Poppy Braddy.

“I think this is just the be­gin­ning of some­thing new,” she said.

“I think it will en­cour­age the church for­ward. I don’t think there is any­where that women should

Cho­ris­ters Chloe Chawner (cen­tre) and Abby Cox (cen­tre left), get ready as the first allfe­male choir at the cathe­dral re­hearses prior to their de­but.

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