St John’s College Cambridge now has control over the SJV choir’s social media

The petition to save the mixed choir is supported by the former archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams

St John’s College Cambridge now have control over the social media accounts of its mixed choir following a petition against the college’s decision to abolish the group.

The petition to save St John’s Voices (SJV) has gained a lot of traction, with over 9,000 signatures and numerous high-profile supporters such as the former archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and the conductor, Sir Simon Rattle.

However, in the wake of the petition’s popularity, St John’s asked the SJV to hand over access to its social media, which it was using to campaign against the disbandment.

A source has informed The Cambridge Tab that the SJV were instructed to hand over its social media account details, after which the passwords were changed and the choir lost access.

“We feel unnecessarily silenced when all we wanted to do was raise awareness about a decision the college made,” a choir member has told The Cambridge Tab.

On Monday last week, the college announced that its mixed gender choir, St John’s Voices, will be disbanded at the end of next term, along with the redundancy of its musical director, Graham Walker.

The abolishment was justified with the reasoning that, since the SJV was founded to give choral opportunities to women, it is no longer a necessary addition now that female choristers and altos can be admitted into the college’s main choir, The Choir of St John’s College Cambridge.

The decision, however, has faced backlash due to the implication that female sopranos will no longer be able to sing in college chapel services, since the main choir only admits female altos, with younger boys and girls singing the treble line.

The mixed choir and its supporters have since set up a campaign to “Save St John’s Voices.” In an open letter, they asked St John’s to “Stop cutting opportunities for female singers in Cambridge,” pointing out that the college’s main choir has only one student member who identifies as female.

Since the SJV lost access to its social media, choir alumni have created a new Instagram account called @save_sjv, which they are using to promote the open letter and share the experiences of past and present SJV members.

Image credit: Krystian Data

Connie Parker, a former SJV member, reflects on how the choir “radically transformed” her experience at St John’s and “provided a much-needed space for learning, creative expression, mindfulness and worship.” She argues, “To disband the choir would be a devastating loss for individuals and for community life at St John’s.”

In an official statement on the abolishment of the choir, St John’s College said: “This decision has been taken in the context of the relative levels of support provided to different student co-curricular activities in the College and the choral opportunities already available in the university.

“While St John’s College Choir is not able to offer opportunities for soprano singers, talented classical singers of all voice-types are exceptionally well provided for across the University of Cambridge.”

The statement also claims that the college aims to offer “enhanced support for sopranos from St John’s as well as students of other voice-parts who secure places in other College Choirs.” However, the “Save SJV” campaign is critical of the lack of detail in what this support might entail.

The open letter complains that the students were only consulted two weeks ago about the decision which “will cut the number of female students who sing in the chapel from 15 to one.” Although the college appeared to listen to the thoughts of students at a meeting which the Johnian members of the SJV had to request themselves, it was learnt afterwards that “the College had already decided to disband the choir by this date.”

Co-Presidents of the SJV, Scarlett and Mary, told The Cambridge Tab how “devastated” they are at the college’s decision: “It’s incredibly disappointing to see what has been a remarkable step forward in the choral world, namely the admission of female singers into the College Choir, being weaponised against the very existence of another ensemble to ultimately reduce access to high quality music making and drastically reduce the participation of women in the life of the chapel.”

Over its 11 years, St John’s Voices has achieved worldwide musical acclaim. It has completed three recordings with Naxos, a broadcast on BBC Radio 3, performed regular concerts and international tours, and has amassed over 2.3 million likes on social media.

St John’s College has been contacted for comment.

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