Dahlias et al

Firstly, the dahlias have started blooming.


This was taken yesterday by Robin (I can’t do classy photos with out-of-focus-backgrounds like this on my phone). And today the rain looks well set in, but I’ve been out and many more blooms will be out shortly. I really haven’t put a great deal of effort into keeping the slugs and snails away, so I feel very fortunate that there has been minimal damage so far – touch wood.

Good news seems to be on the horizon. Boris says we can re-start church services, but I’m still waiting to hear whether anyone at the Church of England was awake when he said that. I’m keeping my fingers crossed hoping that we will have a service at St Michael’s this Sunday. Even if it happens, it seems probable that there will be no hymn singing, so I’ll be playing ‘filling-in’ music and hopefully making the event musically (and spiritually) satisfying.

There was an interesting article in The Sunday Times describing some testing with Salisbury Cathedral Choir to assess the dangers of singing.

Let us spray — Salisbury Cathedral choir sings out in hymn safety test

Scientists are measuring the spittle produced by top choristers to see whether it’s safe to perform religious songs amid the coronavirus pandemic

Government scientists are measuring the spittle and spray from singers to judge if hymns can be sung in church from next Saturday.

If the answer is no, they may have to be hummed.

Choristers from Salisbury Cathedral have performed under laboratory conditions as scientists from Public Health England (PHE) capture the flight of their spray. Cathedral choirs have been silent since March, when churches closed their doors in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Although churches have been told they can reopen for public worship on July 4, government guidance says singing should be avoided, and organs only played for practice. The restriction also affects professional choirs and amateur choral societies.

Roxanna Panufnik, a composer who has created an anthem for a virtual evensong to be held on YouTube on July 28 to help cathedral choirs in dire financial straits, said: “This is a precious tradition that must not be squandered. Choristers need to practise and sing continually, and it’s vital they do so in churches again.”

According to Hugh Morris, director of the Royal School of Church Music, an alternative is the congregation switching from hymn singing to “hymn humming”. “That is being discussed as an option,” he said. “It depends on what we learn about the research now being done urgently into singing. Humming might be safer.”

Choirmasters say that unless the choirs get back into church soon, Christmas music, including carol concerts and the famous Nine Lessons and Carols, beloved of cathedrals and chapels such as that of King’s College, Cambridge, might have to be scrapped. Peter Allwood, composer and chairman of the Friends of Cathedral Music, said: “Choral singers build their repertoire by singing day in, day out, and when you lose that it is hard to regain.”

There is also concern about the ban on organs. David Price, organist and master of the choristers at Portsmouth Cathedral, who has been involved in talks with the Church of England and government departments about plans to restore church music, said: “The organ has been swept up in guidelines based on past research that showed the dangers of wind instruments.

“The government has been very fearful because of headlines about choirs in the Netherlands and America with outbreaks of the coronavirus, but those were huge choirs with more than 100 members each, who also rehearsed and ate together. The situation in cathedrals is very different. We operate in large, draughty buildings and we can easily distance choristers from one another.”

The Church of England is preparing national guidance on music and singing. Its recovery group, led by the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, is awaiting government advice, but it is understood that it is looking at returning to music in steps. First an organ would be played alone, then with a soloist singer, and then a group of choristers. PHE would have to endorse such proposals — which will in turn depend on the singing experiments it has organised.

Among recent experiments carried out into singing was work done by Munich Armed Forces’ University. Its institute of fluid mechanics and aerodynamics carried out experiments with professional singers and orchestral musicians from Munich and Salzburg to examine “both the spit-like (ballistic) propagation of larger droplets when singing and speaking, and the flow-related spreading of small droplets (aerosol) when singing and playing music with wind instruments”.

The tests showed that air was only disturbed during singing for up to half a metre in front of the mouth, irrespective of the volume or pitch, and far less than when sneezing or coughing. The Munich scientists concluded that virus transmission beyond this distance was “unlikely” but recommended that a safe distance for a choir in a church would be 1.5 metres in a staggered formation.

What the experiments did find was that the flute is the musical villain, propelling air furthest, followed by the bassoon. Until now in the UK, though, government guidance banning music lumped together all instruments, including church organs, and singers.

The decision of PHE to conduct its own experiments has been welcomed by church public health advisers. Jim McManus, director of public health for Hertfordshire county council and adviser to the Catholic bishops on public health and the coronavirus pandemic, said: “The German study was useful but needed to be confirmed. The best thing to do is conduct experiments here, and PHE is being very sensible.”

I know there have been plenty of developments and articles written regarding the future of our amateur choral music making. I don’t really want to add to the discussion myself. Like the rest of us, I eagerly await firm news.

There’s lots of music making being done online. I particularly enjoyed this performance of The Sixteen singing Sheppard: Libera nos on Youtube. I love the neighbour asking the singer to ‘shut up’, the tenor Mark Dobell in his bath; and our local (Lewes) Alex Kidgell in her bed; all making the most wonderful sound.

And I’m grateful to Anne Bonwit (Brighton Singers) for sharing a performance of Sussex by the Sea played by the Adur Concert Band with her starring on cymbals. Actually she’s playing saucepan lids because, she tells me, her cymbals are locked in the band’s store cupboard.

Finally, you may be interested in this. We may not singing together officially yet, but starting from 1st August  there will be 10 concerts on Saturday evenings, streamed live from London, given by ensembles such as Voces8 (who are organising it), I Fagiolini, The Sixteen, Stile Antico, etc.  See https://voces8.foundation/livefromlondon
This sounds great – all the small professional vocal ensembles you want to hear, but I do wonder if all these online performances might not distract from our need to get ‘live’ again!
Have a great week.



  1. Thanks Nick. Love the Dahlias!!

  2. Hi Nick
    I am sure lots of us from The East Sussex Community choir read it Nick! Please keep it up.
    Looking in my continuous diary I see that last Saturday was the anniversary of our wonderful Carmina Burana Concert in Lewes Town Hall. Happy days-lets hope they come again soon.
    My feeling about restarting in September is that i would be much happier about singing if we could have a larger room. The college hall perhaps?

    1. Author

      Hi Leonie. Thanks for your comment. Yes, Robin reminded me of the anniversary of our memorable performance of Carmina Burana. Can you imagine that many people in the Town Hall any time soon? I like your suggestion of a larger rehearsal space and will investigate it. Best wishes. Nick

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