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.

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.

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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.

Leeds Minster.

Leeds Minster.

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

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 Rev Canon Sam Corley, Rector of Leeds.

The Rev Canon Sam Corley, Rector of Leeds.

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 the choir remains a key pillar of the minster but that its role, in offering musical education and daily performance opportunities to young people, has proven too much for a limited pool of singers.

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

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

Traditional YEP Christmas celebration set for minster

Leeds Minster will host the traditional Yorkshire Evening Post Christmas Carol Service next week.

The annual event will see the Rev Canon Sam Corley conduct a service to celebrate the Christmas story and the Yorkshire Evening Post Brass Band perform on Thursday December 3 from 7pm.

Every year visitors are encouraged to bring small new gifts or toys to be distributed to under-privileged children in West Yorkshire through the YEP-backed Mission Christmas toy appeal.

All donated gifts should be clearly labelled with the age and gender of who the gifts are intended for.

Call 0844 2920216 and select option 5 for tickets.

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