CANTERBURY, England (RNS) Canterbury Cathedral, mother church of the 85 million-member worldwide Anglican Communion, will have its first girls’ choir perform since it was rebuilt nearly 1,000 years ago.
On Jan. 25, worshippers will hear the voices of 16 girls between the ages of 12 and 16 at a historic Evensong service, which will include the music of English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.
Until now, only male voices have been heard at the cathedral’s services.
Twenty years ago, Salisbury Cathedral was the first English cathedral to allow girls to sing in choirs at services. That set the ball rolling. There are now 765 girls in cathedral choirs across England, compared with 1,008 boys.
Winchester Cathedral formed a girls’ choir in 1998, and Choirs Administrator Sue Armstrong said it is extremely popular.
The cathedral is world-famous for its magnificent boys’ choir, which has made many recordings and toured most of Europe and parts of the Commonwealth.
“I am delighted to hear that the mother church of the Anglican Communion is finally following suit,” said Armstrong.
The formation of the girls’ choir at Canterbury comes as fewer boys show much interest in singing in church choirs.
“What we need is a film that does for choral singing what ‘Billy Elliot’ did for ballet,” wrote Alan Titchmarsh, a former choirboy, in The Daily Telegraph.
Some Church of England traditionalists insist choirs in cathedrals should be all male.
The website of the Campaign for the Traditional Cathedral Choir insists it is not anti-girl but adds “ … cathedrals [that] use girls should take the opportunity of creating their own style. Their own tradition separate from the historic all-male.”
The CTCC was formed in January 1996 in response to the decline of the robed, all-male choir and the declining number of boy choristers nationwide. Its aim is to champion the ancient tradition of the all-male choir.
In medieval days, all-girl choirs flourished in convents. Italian composers Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and Claudio Monteverdi wrote for them. But those choirs never sang with men at church services, and CTCC would like to keep it that way.
“At Winchester Cathedral, girls and boys sing together at Easter and Christmas,” said Armstrong. “We haven’t received any complaints yet.”