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What is a choir for?

September 10, 2014

Canon Clammer.

Canon Clammer.

WHAT is a cathedral choir for? What is its purpose? Why bother? What are all of you for? And I’m not just looking at the year 8s here, but all of you choristers, and the chaps as well. What are you for? Let’s get a bit existential on this final service of the chorister year.

An easy answer is that you are here to safeguard the English choral tradition. And there’s a lot of truth in that, but it doesn’t really get the work done because then you have to get behind that question and say, “well what is the English choral tradition here for?” We’ll come back to that. The choir are certainly not here primarily to raise money for the cathedral. Sometimes that happens, and Alleluia for that, but anyone who has looked at my budget knows that the choirs of this cathedral are one of our greatest expenses. So again, why bother? You’re not here primarily to attract tourists to this place either, though that happens too, and praise God that people come here from all over the country, and far beyond it, to hear the most exquisite singing and music. The Southern Cathedrals Festival these last four days proved that. But that’s not what you are for either.

In our second lesson this afternoon we hear of Peter and John witnessing before the high priests and the elders of the Jewish community as to why they are proclaiming the word of God. Look again at what Peter says towards the end of that reading: “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather that to God you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

We cannot keep from speaking.1

When men and women, and children, encounter the divine, when we meet face to face with God, when we find ourselves as it were banging up against holiness, we cannot keep from speaking, from singing, from proclaiming. Our lives are overwhelmed with the need to pray and praise, to lament and cry out, to protest and to question and to adore. And the word we use to describe all of that, is worship. Worship is why you are here. Worship is what cathedral choirs are for. Worship is what Christians do, and we need help and inspiration and the words to say when no words will come, and the harmonies that will lift us up or console us, or help us to deal with all the anger and frustration, all the adoration and wonder and all the bits in between – everything that bubbles up from the heart in that great outpouring of whatever it is that outpours when we recognise that God is here and we are here, and that we need to do something about it.

excerpt from a sermon preached at Evensong
by the Revd Canon Tom Clammer
Trinity V, 2014
Salisbury Cathedral

1. Acts 4:20

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