Music luminaries protest as National Musicians' Church ceases to be a concert venue

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For more than 70 years, the Church of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate in Holborn, London, has been known as the “National Musicians’ Church”.

Its north chapel commemorates eminent British musicians. The ashes of Sir Henry Wood, the founder of one of the world’s foremost classical music festivals, learned to play the organ in the church’s chapel and is now lying in rest beneath its St Cecilia window. The chapel has, up to now, also acted as an important concert venue and provided welcome rehearsal space for both amateur and professional musicians.

However last month, the priest-in-charge at St Sepulchre, wrote to various musical ensembles to inform them that they could no longer make bookings from the end of the year onwards. Rev David Ingall told them there would be a ban on “non-religious hiring” of the facilities, according to the Guardian.

In an online statement on its website, the church confirmed that the hiring programme was to close from 2018. It said that “an increasingly busy programme of worship and church activities has led to ever higher demands on the church space, and the hiring space is also shared with the church administration office”.

This has taken place despite the St Sepulchre parochial church council (PCC) having raised concerns about the appointment of Rev Ingall as priest-in-charge. The council asked for assurances that the church’s role as the “National Musicians’ Church” and as a centre for traditional music and liturgy would be maintained. These assurances were given at the time by Richard Chartres, the then Bishop of London.

This has led to more than 50 leading figures from the music world signing a letter urging the reversal of this decision. The letter claims that “this move was made without consultation” and that it contradicts the assurances given in 2013.

One of the signatories, eminent composer and conductor John Rutter, stated that he felt that musicians had been “betrayed” by the decision. He also told The Telegraph that “what this current vicar seems to be saying is that music is OK so long as it’s part of a worship service. The concerts that take place in just about every church in the land, they’re not OK, and rehearsals are not OK either. That flies in the face of the Anglican tradition.”

A petition with the same aim as the musicians’ letter, entitled Save the National Musicians’ Church, has also been signed by more than 7000 people.

The church leadership has stated, on its official website:

“We do wish to reiterate that we remain committed to our ministry as the National Musicians’ Church. In the coming weeks we will reflect and pray, and consult with members of the musicians’ community about how best to fulfil that ministry moving forward.

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