Female musicians break cathedral tradition

Photo: Alto choral scholar Helen Vincent and Assistant Organist Claire Innes-Hopkins

Two musical appointments at Lincoln Cathedral have not only broken history, but has also gained some criticism from traditional choir campaigners.

The cathedral appointed two women to become members of its 2010 to 2011 choir.

While it is now common for women to be in the front line of choristers (since 1995), this is the first time a female organist and alto choral scholar have been a part of the all-male team.

Assistant Organist Claire Innes-Hopkins (25) and choral scholar Helen Vincent (22) join two other new choristers at the cathedral.

Innes-Hopkins is a Cambridge music graduate, and had worked at both Peterborough Cathedral and Magdalene College, Oxford.

She said: “Music is what I love most, so the opportunity to be able to do it for a living is a real privilege. But I didn’t know there hadn’t been a female organist here before.”

In the back row of choirs, the are three lower voices — alto, bass and tenor. The higher note, Alto is usually more common for women to be able to reach. Men are able to do alto however using the falsetto technique.

Vincent studied at the University of Leeds, while singing in the choir of Leeds Roman Catholic Cathedral.

Vincent said: “I’m quite apprehensive about what everyone will think. But I’m absolutely delighted to have been given the chance.”

However, the decision has met opposition from groups such as Campaign for the Traditional Cathedral Choir.

Spokesperson Lynda Collins said: “The alto voice is a male voice, and the sound is subtly and importantly different from that produced by a female.

“Simply to disregard this fact is to betray their intentions.

“If the Lincoln Director of Music believes a mixed line of altos can blend successfully, then one wonders what will be next.

“There seems to be an inordinate desire to push the boundaries, to go for change, whatever the cost.”

Directors of other cathedral choir groups have defended Lincoln Cathedral’s choice, such as Andrew Reid of Peterborough Cathedral, pointing out cathedrals are not museums.

“I feel that in the absence of good male alto candidates it is far preferable to have a good musical line than make do without singers or have singers not up to the required standard.

“Men and women do not on average make the same sound, and should not be made to, but I wonder if Cathedrals are the place for historical accuracy per se in any case.

“They are dynamic churches, not museums and mausoleums.”

Source, Photos: Diocese of Lincoln