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EDITOR’S LETTER

‘Someone has to do it’

On 28 November I was at Merton College, Oxford, to celebrate the centenary of Oxford University Press’s music department. The publisher’s new Carols for Choirs book 6 was showcased by three choirs: the Choir of Merton College, conducted by Benjamin Nicholas; London Voices, directed by Ben Parry; and schoolchildren, directed by Rachel Bowen, who are on the Oxford Bach Choir (OBC) Schools Choral Programme. The quality of singing was sublime – something I would perhaps take for granted with these two excellent adult choirs. But the children were equally impressive, singing tunefully, wholeheartedly and with evident enjoyment, completely immersed in the experience. The OBC Schools Choral Programme was launched just before the Covid pandemic struck, yet it is already working with half a dozen schools, offering children the chance to sing with their peers from other schools, and with the OBC itself, and – crucially – giving training and support to the choir leaders. This is laying a solid foundation for the continuing development of singing in schools. As Benjamin Nicholas, who is also director of OBC, said to me afterwards, ‘Someone has to do it.’

Indeed, this is a reflection of the growing urgency to save music in education, to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to engage with music. The benefits of music-making are well documented and have been rehearsed here many times. Long-standing readers of this magazine may recall an article of 2009 in which the then Bodleian Library music curator, Peter Ward Jones, related that ‘by the end of the 19th century schools got an extra sixpence per child if they could sing competently from tonic sol-fa’. That was a society that believed in the importance of music. How the UK has regressed to its present state of insidious erosion of the arts raises huge questions about the values of our society today, in which music is undermined at every level from primary school to university and beyond, and in which professional musicians face increasing difficulties due to the ongoing impact of Brexit, the pandemic, and the cost of living crisis – the organisation Help Musicians reported that 97 percent of musicians say rising costs are hitting their careers, with more than 80 percent worried about paying for food, mortgages or rent, and energy bills. Reversing the tide feels like a task of Canutian proportions, but we cannot simply lie down and acquiesce to the current mores. Ben Parry talks to David Hill about the imperative to ‘make new pathways’ (p.14) for everyone to sing, as well as getting to grips with questions of diversity and inclusivity – another major issue. Every positive initiative is a glimmer of hope, a statement of non-violent resistance to the forces of ignorance and negativity that are so prevalent in Britain today.

See you on the barricades. After 21 years at Choir & Organ I am moving on, with 21 December 2023 my last day. It has been a real pleasure to know you, whether in person or remotely, and I take with me a treasure chest of memories – moments of inspiration, beauty, stimulation, and shared experiences, conversations and laughs. It only remains for me to offer my warmest thanks to you all for your valued support of the magazine, as subscribers, feature writers and reviewers, New Music partners, organ builders and organists, composers, choir directors and singers, advertisers, events organisers, agents and PR teams, record labels and distributors, publishers, and work colleagues. I wish you all well for the future, and hope that our paths will still cross often.

Choir & Organ shines a global spotlight on two distinctive fields of creativity, celebrating inventiveness and excellence in all their forms.

We aim to inspire our readers through giving a platform to conductors, organists, composers, and choirs of every kind; and by showcasing the imaginative craft of pipe organ building across the centuries, critiquing new organs and tackling ethics in restoring historic instruments.

Specialist writers appraise new editions and recordings of standard repertoire and works fresh from the composer’s pen, while our news and previews chart the latest developments in a changing world and present opportunities to become involved.

Choir & Organ is an invitation to engage with two unique areas of music – to explore the new, and look afresh at the familiar.

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