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Contrabombarde

Organists get honourable mention in UK Government COVID-19 rules

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Some good news at last - Government guidance issued last Friday now states that organists are now permitted to go into churches to practice the organ (provided we maintain appropriate social distancing and comply with all the other precautions). Obviously that means no page turners or registrants and still no lessons unless taught remotely via Zoom or Skype etc. Furthermore it has to be assumed that hard surfaces such as keys, stops and pistons could potentially be contaminated by someone who was playing whilst infectious,  and remain so for possibly 72 hours. So if other people are hoping to play later in the week, a safe way needs to be established to decontaminate (bleach is probably not going to do wood or ivory much good, but wiping with dilute household detergent should be a reasonable compromise). We are in uncharted territory with this pandemic and a very careful and gradual release from lockdown is imperative to minimise the risk of rebounds.

There is growing evidence that singing or shouting is an effective way of transmitting the virus to other people, so I'm afraid it looks like choirs will remain silent or practice "virtually" for some while to come.

 

From this week's guidance:

4. Guidance for individual prayer within a place of worship

Principles
...
Activities such as singing and/or playing instruments should be avoided, with the exception of organists who are able to use buildings for practice with appropriate social distancing.

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2 minutes ago, Contrabombarde said:

So if other people are hoping to play later in the week, a safe way needs to be established to decontaminate (bleach is probably not going to do wood or ivory much good, but wiping with dilute household detergent should be a reasonable compromise).

Or simply leaving the console untouched by human hand for 3 days?

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I received this email from the organists’ coordinator at one of my churches last week.  

“I concluded that if we wanted to go in to play the organ, we should wear gloves to open any door/ locks, and be aware of hand-sanitiser available in the church and of advice about limited moving about the church; we can play the organ, but at 72 hour intervals in case of keyboard contamination.  So perhaps if you would like to get back to the console, let me know so we don't all go at once!“

Obviously someone needs to co-ordinate players’ visiting times.  I strongly doubt that liquid cleansers should be used on any part of the console or that this should be necessary, but our organ builder/ tuner members are doubtless best placed to advise on that.  Probably simplest, and should be adequate, if using hand sanitiser both before and after playing.

 

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32 minutes ago, Johannes Riponensis said:

How about meths, or, better still, vodka?

 

 Only if you can find some vodka that is => 70% ABV! ( and if you can.....🙀) as 40% isn't strong to kill the virus.

I should have thought that a pack of antibacterial wet-wipes would do the trick on the organ. We've been using them to wipe down the handles on shop baskets and trollies and the alcohol in them dried very quickly and wouldn't, I should think, damage stop knobs and keys. As they say, try on an inconspicuous area first.

I've passed the note above (for which thank you) to my rector and hope to be allowed into the 3 churches at which I play soon. As I'm the only one to play the organs there won't be an issue for others.

 

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Just wondering how many church organists & DOMs have been put in furlough? My church furloughed the DOM back in March and he isn't expected to return until public services with hymn singing are approved.

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I am furloughed until at least the end of June.  I play at an RC church in the Southwark Archdiocese and the (I imagine very few) paid DoM's are paid on the diocesan payroll for tax and safeguarding purposes.  I receive regular emails from diocesan HR saying furlough has been extended a month at a time, but have no idea what is going to happen.  My church is currently closed for building and redecoration work, so is not opening for private prayer, and there is a change of parish priest next month.  I don't know what will happen when public services resume if singing is not allowed......

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I have received a communication , part of which is pasted here,  from my rector. Our benefice will open 1 of the 4 churches for private prayer for 2 hours on a Sunday afternoon with booking required and with a note of those attending been kept for Test and Trace purposes. Small funerals will be allowed but no organist or singing  will be permitted and graveside services will be encouraged. The lone working requirement risk assessment seems an awful faff for village churches usually kept locked and I shan't bother applying for permission. In fact, I suspect that the end of my playing career may be within sight. 

 

CAN ORGANISTS ENTER CHURCH BUILDINGS FOR ORGAN PRACTICE AND MAINTENANCE?

Yes, from 13 June this is allowed under government guidance.

Organists must get permission to enter the building from the incumbent or Church Warden, and their access must be coordinated with those responsible for cleaning. If the organist will be on their own in the building then a lone working assessment should be done. An example can be found online.***

 

***   https://www.ecclesiastical.com/documents/lone-working.pdf

 

 

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The risk assessment is to be made by the 'employer' which I suspect could be either the incumbent or a churchwarden.  Note the mention of "5 or more employees".  The same risk assessment would apply to any other person also authorised to visit the church.  The answers to those questions (they emanate from Ecclesiastical Insurance Group) aren't too difficult, some simply being "not applicable".  I guess most organists carry a mobile 'phone.  It's up to the church - not the organist - to co-ordinate visits and to permit who may be in the church and at what times, again all simply done by telephone.  The safeguarding questions are easily overcome if the organist is to be alone in the building.  It's already established that he/ she cannot have a page-turner or assistant - there is no safeguarding issue!  So don't be deterred.  If you have a key, and someone coordinates and keeps a record of your visits I don't see any problem.  The guidance quoted above from my church is sensible and sufficient.

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Thank you Rowland.  I went to the village in question this morning to buy vegetables from the churchwarden's farm's tiny farm shop, operated on an honesty box basis. He was there putting out cabbages he'd just cut and we had a long chat about the whole thing. He says that the rector clearly has to put out just the official messages but that he thinks there will be room for local pragmatism. He is the sole keyholder for the church (there's only one anyway, a massive iron thing virtually requiring a wheelbarrow to move it) and I can have it, let myself in, lock the door and sanitise my hands  before and after playing. The mobile phone issue is tricky as the signal in the village is very variable and inside the church with its lead roof and yard-thick 13th century stone there is an effective radio wave-free zone. Even the BBC can't penetrate very well  - I took a portable radio in once to try it and a lot of moving around and standing on things was needed to find Radio 4.

I shall have a word with the rector next week and see what we can sort out. The organ is ancient, fragile, of poor and doubtful heritage and near the end of its life but I like it...

On a brighter note work is currently ongoing in Stratford-upon-Avon's Guild Chapel where Geoffrey Coffin is completing work to make the fixed console moveable so that the player can be seen during recitals. It's a good job that it was fixed when I played there whilst at school. The Head would not have approved of my reading material for use between hymns; usually a copy of Angling Times or the Railway Magazine.

 

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On 16/06/2020 at 12:40, Johannes Riponensis said:

How about meths, or, better still, vodka?

 

I realise this was intended to lighten the situation - and presumably internal consumption was the idea for the vodka? - but emphatically do not apply any liquid to keys which could filter down between them to the key beds, or on tab stops with electric contacts.  I think hygiene of the organist’s hands is the way to tackle this.

This homily was written before seeing handsoff’s reply above.  We must both have hit the ‘save’ button at more or less the same time.  But the ‘do not use liquid’ message was for general circulation.  From handsoff’s description it seems unlikely that there are any electric contacts on his organ, except the blower switch, perhaps?

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In view of the Government's announcement today that with immediate effect people are urged to wear face coverings in all enclosed spaces including churches, and that this will become mandatory from next weekend, it's good to see that one organ is already taking this seriously.

rdkMroDW.jpg

(Disclaimer - no-one is seriously recommending the use of masks on organ pipes as protection against coronavirus but I couldn't resist sharing the image. COVID-19 is a serious global health problem that we all need to work together and support one another on.)

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On 15/06/2020 at 23:07, Contrabombarde said:

There is growing evidence that singing or shouting is an effective way of transmitting the virus to other people, so I'm afraid it looks like choirs will remain silent or practice "virtually" for some while to come.

 

 

This is not the evidence I am reading. Shouting caries the droplets much further, but singing (properly, and I'm not saying all choirs do so) does not send them as far as loud speaking, such as reading a lesson. However, it is developing science!

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12 hours ago, Jonathan Lane said:

This is not the evidence I am reading. Shouting caries the droplets much further, but singing (properly, and I'm not saying all choirs do so) does not send them as far as loud speaking, such as reading a lesson. However, it is developing science!

I agree.  'Marge' and some of her choir members have experimented with a candle. 
Er... please bear with me.  😉
A lit candle is held in front of the mouth.  With normal speech, the flame is extinguished.  Singing, however, does not extinguish the flame.  I think that must prove something.

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On 01/08/2020 at 22:34, John Robinson said:

  😉
A lit candle is held in front of the mouth.  With normal speech, the flame is extinguished.  Singing, however, does not extinguish the flame.  I think that must prove something.

Might be worth doing that candle test singing the lower voices parts from the second movement of Chichester Psalms.

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I don't doubt that an experienced singer singing an open vowel will create little air movement (although lots of vibrations - see "Concerning Pipes & Sound" thread). However the fricatives which are formed by turbulent airflow in the throat, mouth and lips are more likley to pick up microdroplets of saliva.

How singing differs from speech in this respect is as yet unproven by the scientific community. The direction that people should wear masks in enclosed public spaces applies to all, not just singers. We could, perhaps, listen to muffled choirs, but I don't suppose the sound will be as moving as that of half-muffled bells.

I'm hoping that, at least in the interim, some allowance is made for choirs to practice with face masks and perhaps some minor distancing. The value in singing together will be immense after such a long hiatus, both to get people back into practice musically and also fostering community.

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At the moment the situation in Wales is somewhat different in that the Welsh Government has banned the use of the pipe organ in church services in Wales! This is based on the amazing assumption that as a wind instrument the organ will spread the virus on the air.  Of course that leaves us with the small problem of drafts from windows, central heating, and even opening the door to get into the church on a windy day! :-)

I'm not aware of any clergy colleagues who have spoken out about this, but I've sent a message to all my friends in Wales to get on to their Welsh Senedd members to get the ban overturned and hopefully the sounds of the merry organ will return to our places of worship in Wales.  

Here is the content of my letter to our Senedd member - I am pleased to say that he responded in a most positive manner.... (see below)

If there are any other folks on this forum (or if you know of anyone living in Wales) who would write to their Senedd member,  I'm sure that would be a great help to us in getting this ridiculous ban overturned.

Canon Q

 

Along with many clergy and church musicians, I am a little bemused at the fact that the Welsh Senedd has apparently banned the use of pipe organs in churches.  The explanation given for this is that as an organ is a wind instrument it may blow the Corona virus throughout the building.   Frankly this is ridiculous and it has organists and church members up in arms – especially when (I’m fairly sure) no such restriction exists anywhere else in the world. 

Already the singing of hymns is forbidden in Christian worship right now (which is quite unbelievable), and it seems almost deliberate spite against Christians to say, “Oh and by the way you can’t use your church organs either”.

Please could you find out for me if this bizarre ban on the organ will be lifted any time soon?

Many thanks

Quentin

=  = = = = = = = = = =

Hello Quentin,

 Thank you for your email and for bringing this matter to my attention.

The Welsh Government has instead issued guidance which prevents the use of church organs during worship. I can assure you that there has been no vote on this issue in the Senedd.

 I agree with you that the ban is extraordinary. Having checked both the UK Government and Scottish Government websites I can see that they have only restricted the use of wind instruments that require breath to be operated and that church organs are specifically permitted.

 I will raise this issue with the Welsh Government and report back to you.

 

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On my side of the River Severn we have a ban on singing hymns but I attended the service in my local cathedral and, IIRC, we had organ music before the service.

Dave

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