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Bad decisions threaten music at St Anne's

It is high time that the public was given the facts about the deplorable decision of the Board of Belfast Cathedral in making the post of director of music redundant and removing from it the distinguished young musician Philip Stopford.

To date, five members of the board have resigned over the decision and most of the skilled singers have left the choir. In its public statement, the only reason given by the board was "current financial restraints".

When Mr Stopford was appointed in 2003, the board decided to give him substantial duties additional to those of his predecessors, who were mostly part-timers. As a result, Mr Stopford's appointment was full-time and the title of the post was changed from 'organist' to 'director of music'.

The post of a cathedral organist calls for a musician of the highest calibre who is familiar with, and skilled in, the canon of cathedral music which stretches from the works of the 16th century down to those of living composers.

Thus, when the board disposed of the services of Mr Stopford it deprived the cathedral of a superb musician and proceeded to advertise for his successor in the following terms: 'Belfast Cathedral - ordained colleague required with strengths in one or more of choral music, youth pastoral etc.'

So, competence in choral music is not even an essential requirement of a candidate for the post. With these requirements I compare Mr Stopford's qualifications: MA in Music at Keble College Oxford, organ scholar at both Canterbury and Truro cathedrals, assistant organist (ARCO) and budding national composer of sacred music.

There is only one word for the board's action in this matter: Philistinism, of an extreme kind. If, as it says, the board was really worried about the cost of Mr Stopford, why did it not discuss with him the possibility of changing to a part-time appointment?

In its public statement, there is no mention of it having done this, or even contemplating such an obvious move. This appalling decision must be reversed. Unless it is, the great and glorious music heard in St Anne's for more than 100 years will be heard no more.

I urge music-lovers who agree with my views to make the strongest possible representations to the board.

RT HON SIR DONALD MURRAY

Former Lord Justice of Appeal

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