St Sepulchre’s, a church in the City of London, was in the headlines this summer. Known as the National Musicians' Church, it houses the Musicians’ Chapel with the grave of Sir Henry Wood, founder of the BBC Proms who started his musical career at the church, and keeps the Musicians’ Book of Remembrance. Annual services are held to commemorate British musicians.
The church was a highly popular venue for musical rehearsals and performances by a vast range of ensembles, but this is now in the past: it has closed its door to further musical hirings from January 2018, despite protests ranging from a flashmob to heavy-weight articles and letters in the national press.
Of course this is not the only church available to musicians in London but it is a particularly flexible space as there are no fixed pews. And what especially sticks in one’s throat about this case is the discrepancy between St Sepulchre’s continuing to call itself the National Musicians’ Church and its refusal to actually welcome living, practising musicians into its building.
The campaign may not have succeeded, but it has highlighted the crucial role church buildings play in offering suitable (in terms of size and acoustics) and affordable space in every community in the land to musicians.
A further outcome is that the Rt Rev Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden and Acting Bishop of London, Dr Andrew Earis, Director of Music at St Martin–in-the-Fields, and others have collaborated to launch a new website – www.musicianschurch.org – intended to let musicians know about and book great church spaces available for hire in the City of London. Might this be a template for other dioceses?
The site currently features seven churches at the moment, but is considered a work in progress, so do get involved and contribute comments and information