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Musicians make urgent plea for help

17 July 2020


Choristers of King’s College, Cambridge, rehearse for the annual carol service aired on Christmas Eve, last year

Choristers of King’s College, Cambridge, rehearse for the annual carol service aired on Christmas Eve, last year

THE Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) has appealed to religious leaders to save the jobs of church and synagogue musicians during a crisis that threatens to “engulf” them.

The ISM represents hundreds of musicians working in churches and other places of worship around the country. It made its appeal in letters to the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, and the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, which were made public on Wednesday. Its chief executive, Deborah Annetts, used “shocking” news of disbanded choirs at St Margaret’s, Westminster, and Holy Trinity, Sloane Square, to warn that the loss of professional music in churches was happening already.

The letters acknowledge the need for everyone to help to limit the spread of the virus, but take issue with the “precipitate” dismissal of many individuals in the middle of a pandemic. They warn: “A glorious musical tradition — of which the Church is the custodian — will be lost forever unless there is immediate, practical action to save jobs and support musicians.”

The Church of England “should be drawing on its considerable resources to support all professional musicians during this stage of the pandemic, and to ensure that their posts will survive. Recorded music is no substitute for the choir, the soloist or the organ: this is to deny the huge power of music in spiritual settings, and to fail to serve congregations appropriately.”

They call for the leadership of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church to take a co-ordinated, UK-wide approach, and for the Government to take into account, when issuing guidelines, the range of reduced-risk options being presented in scientific research. Recorded music, they reiterate, “while perhaps a reasonable temporary measure in a crisis, can never be allowed to become the permanent default in our places of worship”.

To the Chief Rabbi they quote the “eloquent summary” given by the former Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, of the significance of music in the context of Jewish prayer: “Music is the pulse of Jewish spirituality — song charts the biorhythms of the Jewish soul.”

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