Cichoki, a choir school graduate who worked at the school for 27 years, was let go due to long-simmering tensions between the famously temperamental conductor and school administration, which came to a head following a disagreement over the program at the St. Michael’s Choir School annual Christmas concert at Massey Hall.
Several sources told The Catholic Register Cichocki objected to a decision to end the concert with Matt Dusk singing “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer” instead of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.” Dusk, a successful jazz singer and school alumnus, was featured at the concert.
In a Dec. 28 letter to students and parents, school director Stephen Handrigan announced Cichocki is no longer employed as senior choir conductor, although he remains an employee of the Toronto Catholic School Board. St. Michael’s Choir School teacher Peter Mahon has been appointed interim senior choir conductor.
An upcoming spring tour of Germany, extra-curricular activities and Sunday morning choir duties at St. Michael’s Cathedral will all continue, said Handrigan.
The decision to replace Cichocki was made by the Pontifical School of Sacred Music, the body which oversees the sacred music and choir aspects at the choir school and is chaired by Cardinal Thomas Collins.
With the student body, alumni and parents in an uproar, Collins wrote to the choir school community, asking all to respect “the confidential nature of personnel matters.”
In his statement, Collins asked those connected to the choir school to “prayerfully and respectfully support all those who are diligently working to nurture a healthy learning environment for the students entrusted to our care.”
The decision to fire Cichocki was made after “personnel issues were brought to the attention” of the board, said the statement.
Cichocki did not respond to requests for comment.
In a petition posted to ipetitions.com, Grade 12 student Jeremy Tingle claims “there was a confusing and questionable lack of information in the announcement.”
According to Tingle, “Dr. Cichocki is by far the most qualified candidate to fulfill this noble mission (of the choir school), having had a connection with the school from the age of eight and possessing three graduate degrees in music.”
The Victoria Scholars Men’s Choral Ensemble, made up mostly of choir school alumni, has decided against commenting directly on Cichocki’s dismissal, but ensemble president Filipe Morgado said his choir “unanimously supports Dr. Jerzy Cichocki in his capacity as our music director.”
Support for Cichocki is not universal. A Class of 1990 St. Michael’s Choir School alumnus told The Catholic Register he is hopeful the school can set a new direction and recover some of the spirit of the school under its founder Msgr. John Edward Ronan and his successor Msgr. Barrett Armstrong.
“It’s the right decision,” said the alumnus who wish to remain anonymous.
A volunteer music director at a parish, he questions whether Cichocki’s methods are appropriate to an educational setting.
“He might be good (as a conductor) with professionals — not when you’re trying to teach little kids,” he said.
St. Michael’s Cathedral rector Fr. Michael Busch said he has “every confidence” the choir school will continue to provide excellent liturgical music at the cathedral Sunday mornings.
“The school remains committed to upholding the sacred music of the Church and to preparing young men of the choir school to be leaders who help us create the prayerful worship of our community,” said Busch in an email.