Famed Leeds Minster boys’ choir suspended after nearly 200 years of music

The boys' choir performing at Leeds Minster in 2013. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.
The boys' choir performing at Leeds Minster in 2013. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.
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It has been a tradition stretching back nearly two centuries, providing visitors to one of Yorkshire’s ancient places of worship with daily choral songs.

But now choral services by the boys’ choir at Leeds Minster have been suspended due to a lack of members, casting the future of the institution into doubt.

Leeds Minster.

Leeds Minster.

A “wholesale review” of the boys’ choir, at its pomp a collective of around 30 Leeds youngsters aged eight to 14 that performed daily at the church, and the girls’ choir, which performed on Saturdays after being founded in 1997, is now being undertaken in Leeds.

The Rev Canon Sam Corley, Rector of Leeds, insists that the review of children’s choirs at Leeds Minster is intended to strengthen them for the future – pledging to change the way children are recruited.

“It’s an absolutely key and crucial part of the minster, the city and the region,” he said. “But there are low numbers. There just aren’t the numbers of boys singing with us currently to make them deliver what’s expected of them.

“There used to be 30 boys and we were down to nowhere near that – as low as five at some services.”

The Rev Canon Sam Corley, Rector of Leeds.

The Rev Canon Sam Corley, Rector of Leeds.

He continued: “I’ve not ended the choir, far from it. It’s in order to secure its future.”

Canon Corley, who was only licensed as Rector Designate of Leeds Minster in October, made the decision shortly after his tenure began and hopes the review will see stronger children’s choirs built up to relaunch in September next year.

A special service of thanks took place on Sunday to pay tribute to members of the latest children’s choirs at the minster, which will be replaced at most services by the remaining adult choir.

The boys’ choir has history dating back to 1818 when Richard Fawcett, then Vicar of Leeds, organised a robed choir at what was then Leeds Parish Church – a religious institution that dates back to the 7th Century.

Walter Farquhar Hook, Vicar of Leeds from 1837, was however credited with reviving its fortunes and establishing traditions that have continued for generations including scheduling choral services on weekdays as well as Sundays.

Canon Corley explained that right up until the present day the choir remains a key pillar of the minster, as well as the region as a whole.

But the role of the choir, which offers musical education to children and young people that might not be able to access it, and the commitment to daily services has proved too much for a limited pool of singers.

Canon Corley said: “The current arrangement was unrealistic and unsustainable – just the number of boys and the number of services we were expecting them to sing at with that demand.”

The suspension of the choirs has seen the start of a comprehensive review of their organisation and where young singers are drafted from, with many choristers more recently being signed up from the nearby St Peter’s C of E Primary School.

A large-scale recruitment drive is promised to begin so that the long-term future of the historic choir is secure for many more generations to come.

Canon Corley added: “We are looking to extend the offering to as many children and young people in the district as possible.”

The current Rector of Leeds replaced the Rev Canon Tony Bundock, who retired after nine years in the position. During his time at the church he saw the city centre church upgraded from Leeds Parish Church to Leeds Minster.

The minster title was given in 2012 to mark the church’s importance to the city and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Visit www.leedsminster.org for details.