The Real Thing


With the churches still locked down, I’ve noticed many clerics reporting that the opportunity to stream religious material in place of live services has brought in more viewers than they expected, and more than would have visited them physically under normal circumstances. In my sample viewing, quite a lot of these online offerings have a somewhat stream-of-consciousness feel. As with football and concerts, it appears that sermons and prayers gain a great deal of energy from their live audience (on earth, at least.)

But musical folk – singers, organists and bellringers – are much more concerned about when we will be able to get back into the church buildings again. Their stringent shutdown was a psychological shock to many, as was the realisation that any projected reopening, initially simply for private prayer, would have to wait until July, alongside the entertainment sector. The situation is changing fast however, and a sense of urgency is building. A recent energising example was the 90-minute webinar broadcast by RSCM, ‘What next for the ministry of music in our parishes and dioceses?”

Among many questions covered was what is I suppose at the top of everyone’s list: “is choral singing safe ?” It’s well worth watching the contributions of Dr Charlie Bell, a CofE ordinand and Cambridge scientist (who appears mostly in the final half -hour segment of the broadcast). Sensibly prefacing his remarks with a proper scientific “we don’t know”, he said there was no evidence that, in recently reported choral Covid outbreaks, singing in itself had spread the disease; the choir’s social behaviour, pre and post rehearsal, was also a possible factor. He helpfully made clear the difference between science and risk assessment, emphasising that ‘the science’ is constantly changing, and that bishops should remember this when giving out advice.

There has nevertheless been a fair bit of advice appearing on the CofE website, my favourite bit being the injunction to clean the church interior on re-entry, ‘paying particular attention to any detritus (bat droppings etc) that may have gathered’. Here, they know what they’re talking about.

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JUDITH WEIR

Composer