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The Forth in Praise Organists' Blog

The personal views of a Catholic parish organist

May 24, 2019

Health and safety in the organ loft

evelyn @ 4:00 pm

Organ galleries in older churches can be hazardous, and these days health and safety is taken very seriously indeed. Our present priest has restricted choir numbers, replaced the set of ancient wooden chairs which had been there since well before my time, and banned all children from the area.

Our gallery runs the full width of the church, but a quarter of that has been taken up by the organ since 1988. The stairwell itself takes quite a bit of room on the other side, so perhaps it is fortunate that there are only about a dozen in our choir, with everyone having a seat. Once a visiting choir of 30 or so wanted to stand up there like sardines, but this was vetoed by our priest, and they sang from the side-chapel instead.

Children are forbidden because of the dangers of the spiral staircase, but especially because the spaces in the decorated wooden rail at the front are big enough for a small person to fall through. The door from the porch is kept firmly shut, so that obstreperous toddlers who have been taken out for crying won’t try to climb the gallery stairs.

Forty years ago attitudes to safety were not quite the same. Our organ then was a smallish electronic, and organist and choir consisted entirely of young mothers, or mothers-to-be. We had found a couple of old doors to cover the gaps in the rail and all our infants were up there with us. There was even some discreet breast-feeding and nappy-changing, and the only real problem occurred when one or two of the older children started dropping bits of paper on the heads of people below.

But times keep changing, of course. A few decades earlier, attitudes were even more cavalier. This is a photograph of work going on at Stonehenge in the 1950s. Not a hard hat in sight. And is that someone’s lunch box on the upright stone to the right?

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