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Green light for church choirs over Easter, if they proceed with caution

27 March 2021

© Sint-Baafskathedraal Gent, www.artinflanders.be, foto Dominique Provost

The Ghent Altarpiece (detail) by Jan and Hubert Van Eyck. The altarpiece was unveiled in its new location in the crypt of St Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent, in Flanders, on Thursday

The Ghent Altarpiece (detail) by Jan and Hubert Van Eyck. The altarpiece was unveiled in its new location in the crypt of St Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent, ...

NEW Government guidance on safe music-making in church allows small choirs — professional or amateur — to rehearse and sing from Palm Sunday.

Congregational singing is also allowed again outdoors, on church grounds or the outside space of a place of worship. Wind instruments may now also be used in worship from tomorrow. The RSCM has given clarification on the guidance, while emphasising that the responsibility rests at local level, with cathedral chapters and PCCs, incumbents, and churchwardens.

Singing should take place only as part of an act of worship or as preparation for one. It remains subject to gathering limits, i.e. the instruction not to “mingle with anyone outside of their household or support bubble”, and serious consideration must be given to Covid-secure mitigating measures. In line with guidance concerning schools, there must be no children’s choir activities that involved mixing of children from multiple schools.

Singers still need to be two metres apart, so the number of singers and musicians has to be determined by a risk assessment of the space available. There can be no sharing of copies: these must be ready in place before singers arrive, or singers can use their own.

Robes can be worn, provided they are taken home by choir members after their first visit back to church. The RSCM advises: “The name of the game is to have thought through all your steps to safe return carefully. The guidance is predicated on perhaps smaller premises, and the need to make sure that the whole choir is not entering a small space and hanging robes at the same time.”

Again, if space allows, choirs can process in singe file. Choir members need to wear masks on arrival and departure from church but may take them off for singing. Choir stalls should be used only if the choir can be appropriately distanced: “choirs should aim to sing in a wide semi-circle if at all possible, and certainly avoid singing face to face,” the RSCM advises.

There must be a significant gap between choir and congregation, though distances can potentially be adjusted if Perspex screens are employed.

“As ever, think carefully about your own church environment, ventilation, and practical matters when considering what constitutes a small choir,” the RSCM emphasises.

“This is a temporary situation — there is a light at the end of the tunnel as vaccination programmes begin. Provision in this period needs, therefore, to bear this in mind. With the prevalence of the new, more-transmissable Covid variant, all risk mitigations need to be reviewed and strengthened as appropriate.”

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