N AUGUST 2, Andrew Leung posted an article about Colin Mawby, the former Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral, London, and suggested I might be able to add to the discussion. Unfortunately, I have never actually been to Westminster Cathedral (God willing, that mistake will be corrected before I die), but I have had a couple of email conversations with Mr. Mawby about his time at Westminster and I would like to share part of one with you here.
I am doing this for two reasons. The first is to highlight the fortitude of an incredible church musician and the second is to encourage that same virtue of fortitude in myself and all other musicians toiling in the field of sacred music. It is easy to become discouraged at the infinite challenges confronting us, but take heart, even the best of us has “been there and done that.”
HEN I BECAME MASTER OF MUSIC in 1961, Westminster Cathedral sang or recited the complete daily Roman Office and had a daily Capitular High Mass. The choir also sang daily Vespers. There were many low Masses; and when the changes of Vatican II were introduced, those went into English—but the High Mass remained in Latin. The Archbishop, Cardinal Heenan, said to me that it would be unthinkable for the Cathedral not to have a daily Latin High Mass. This was highly controversial and many clergy opposed his view, desiring the Cathedral to be at the forefront of liturgical experimentation: “giving a lead” to the rest of the country. There was also divided opinion on “participation.” Some people were happy with external participation, while others looked for internal participation. I continually stressed that one could participate and worship the Creator through listening to great music.
When the changes were introduced, many choirs—including Cathedral Choirs—were disbanded and many fine musicians were sacked (and in many cases totally disillusioned). In light of this, I decided that the Cathedral should best give a lead by preserving the great heritage of Catholic music as demanded by the Council’s Liturgical Constitution. This attitude was roundly condemned by the reformers who did everything that they could to make the Cathedral liturgy a beacon of the new.
There were many attempts made to disband the Cathedral Choir and there was one very serious threat to the continuation of the Choir School. The chorister’s parents were informed that it was to be disbanded. It was saved by the vision of Cardinal Heenan’s successor, Cardinal Hume. The professional men were even given three months’ notice on one occasion on financial grounds—the Cathedral couldn’t afford a professional choir. However, I was able to find sufficient money to keep it going and eventually Cardinal Hume ensured that the money was available to keep the professional men in place.
It was Cardinal Heenan’s unswerving support that enabled me to preserve the music and the Cathedral traditions through 11 years of extreme difficulty—I never knew from one day to the next if the choir would still exist in 6 months’ time!
Cardinal Hume, a Benedictine, understood the spiritual value of the Cathedral’s music and established it on a firm foundation.
About ten years after I left, Bishop Victor Guazelli (an auxiliary in Westminster) said to me at the large reception following George Malcolm’s Memorial Requiem: “Colin, you were completely right, we were completely wrong. We owe you a great debt of gratitude for what you did.” This honest, magnanimous, and public statement made my struggle totally worthwhile.1
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Taken from a personal email to the author on June 11, 2013.