Saturday, 15 August 2020

Praise Him on the Shiny Mandolin

We're busy digesting the latest advice from the Government on safe, Covid Secure worship, especially as it might relate to the Beaker Worship Group. Obviously, given this Government, the results from a different focus group will be in by tea time and all the advice will change. So for reference if that happens, and this no longer makes sense in the context of the Government website, we're particularly concerned about the following paragraph:

Led devotions

  • Small groups of professional or non-professional singers will be able to sing in front of worshippers both outdoors and indoors from 15 August. Singing in groups should be limited to a small set group of people and should not include audience participation
  • There should be no group singing by worshippers. Places of worship should take account of the Performing Arts guidance.
  • Where music plays a big part in worship, and recordings are available, we suggest you consider using these as an alternative to live singing.
  • Any instrument played during worship should be cleaned thoroughly before and after use.
Now, obviously we want to take it seriously. So we've been thinking. There's no definition of how big a "small" group of singers is. I mean, I sang in the Albert Hall once or twice with the massed choirs of Bedfordshire and to paraphrase Michael Caine: "Altos. Farsands of 'em." So would 48 be a small group? If so, given there is no definition of how big the congregation should be, we could nominate everyone except Burton Dasset and Young Keith as the choir, with a congregation of two. And given what those two sing like, frankly we wouldn't really want audience participation.

But that may take a while to sort out. There's probably a register somewhere. Or you've got to scan a QR code in Nando's to set it all up. So in the meantime we thought we'd go with an invited singing group. But then we hit a snag. 

You have a group of singers. But there should be no group singing by worshippers. You see the catch? If the singers are singing, they're fine. But if they should accidentally cross the line into worshipping, they have to stop. And given most church quires include at least one or two people who believe in God, it won't work.

So we've invited a local atheist singing group, the Christopher Hitchens Singers, to lead us tomorrow. Obviously, we still have an issue. Firstly, because if we choose some decent Charles Wesley songs, they might realise the emptiness of their pointless lives, find out that there is a God that loves them, get accidentally converted, and then they'd be worshipping and have to stop. So whatever happens, we must not convert any choir members. That would be a disaster. Secondly, what happens if they're singing some really decent worship song and a member of the congregation joins in? Against the rules, is congregational (or as the Government puts it, "audience") participation.

So they've got a very strict playlist to stick to for tomorrow:
  • God is Dead (Nietzsche) 
  • I'm too sexy for my Books (Dawkins)
  • Imagine (Lennon)
  • PZ Lover (Myers)
If that doesn't kill any joy in the Beaker congregation and stop them singing, I don't know what will.

Our other issue is around the advice to clean instruments "thoroughly before and after". And obviously this makes sense. Goodness knows what havoc has been wreaked in the past  by dirty harmonicas. But it's harder to clean some instruments thoroughly than others. Cymbals just need a bit of Mr Sheen front and back and they're sorted. Whereas you can polish up the bell of a brass instrument, but how do you thoroughly clean the insides? We've been using vats of home-made sterilizing gel. But not all worshipping communities have a Chemistry graduate on the team, and it would cost them a fortune. And even as it is, all the lacquer has come off Grinwald's euphonium. Or that's what Mrs Grinwald tells us.

And then what about the pipe organ that we discovered Hnaef had surreptitiously installed during Lockdown? He has high hopes of performing "Livre d'Orgue" in place of congregational worship. Though I worry it's needlessly Messiaenic. But how does one thoroughly clean a pipe organ? After all, some Covid 19 virus could easily have floated down a pipe and then be blasted back out during some major chord.

We've gone for training woodland creatures to crawl through the pipes with sponges strapped to them. It gives them something productive to do rather than faffing around on Aspley Heath all day, and we get a thoroughly cleaned organ. So very much a win-win.  We use shrews for the highest-pitched pipes, through voles and rabbits to badgers for the really big ones. You've got to be careful with dormice, though. They tend to fall asleep on the job. We had two went missing last Wednesday, and it was only when Hnaef cranked up the old Trumpet Voluntary that we found out where they were.

It's murder cleaning mice off the Moot House ceiling, I can tell you. And as a result the RSPCA have heard about how we're cleaning the organ. And they say they're gonna put a stop to it.

Meanwhile, Banjelika has been asking how she's supposed to clean her mandolin. It's tricky thoroughly cleaning all 8 of those fiddly strings without taking them all out and putting them back. And what about the inside? So I've dipped it in a pail of Lysol solution for 24 hours. On the down side the instrument has become unglued and unplayable. But on the up side, for the rest of us, that ain't a down side.

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  1. We've got a much simpler approach:"There will be no singing. Humming is allowed." Actually, this is only simpler if you focus on singing and leave out all the stuff about which entrances and pews can be used, how said pews will be assigned (you may have to sit near the front and not in your regular pew to maintain spacing) and so on and so forth.

    1. One church I went to many years ago actually did that. The music group as part of a skit during the sermon all got out a kazoo and (somehow without dissolving into fits of giggles) played the next song on them!

  2. "needlessly Messiaenic" - fantastic 👏 👏


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