Salisbury, England (AP) – David Halls is not a doctor, nurse or ambulance driver, but he wanted to contribute to the fight against COVID-19. So he did what he did best: He sat on the bench next to the historic organ of Salisbury Cathedral and started playing.
Halls is one of many people to turn the 800-year-old cathedral in the southwest of England into a mass vaccination center as the UK races to vaccinate 50 million people. His contribution to the effort is to introduce a little Bach, Handel, and even a few Rodgers & Hammerstein to the crowd as they scroll across the saucer to get their shots.
“In times of crisis, people come together and they want to listen to music; in moments of joy, people want to listen to music,” Halls, the cathedral’s music director, told The Associated Press. “So I don’t think it’s surprising that the effect of soft music has on people who may feel very stressed for various reasons.”
Home to one of the best preserved copies of the Magna Carta and the tallest church tower in England, Salisbury Cathedral is listed as a pollination center as the government expands its imaging program to football stadiums, convention centers and hundreds of local doctors’ offices to speed up delivery.
Hundreds of elderly residents rolled up their sleeves and took their shots in the large saucer, which is large enough to bring people together while also keeping them safely away.
It is a stark contrast to the year 1627, when church leaders closed the cathedral gates to ward off city dwellers as the plague spread in Salisbury. Canon Nicholas Papadopulos, dean of the cathedral, says he meditated on that episode with “deep discomfort” last year when he celebrated the building’s 800th anniversary.
Now, it’s time for a new chapter.
“If these stones speak, they will speak of moments of astonishing joy and moments of astonishing sadness,” said Holz. “It is entirely appropriate for the cathedral to play its part in trying to change things and to be part of the vaccinations … To be part of this is a privilege, such an honor.”
The UK plans to provide a first dose of the vaccine to more than 15 million people by mid-February, targeting the country’s oldest and most vulnerable populations in the first phase of the program. Younger groups will gradually follow suit, with the government planning to reach everyone over the age of 18 by September.
The need is urgent. The UK’s healthcare system is amazing as doctors and nurses fight the most contagious type of COVID-19.
While new infections appear to have peaked, the number of people hospitalized continues to rise. More than 39,000 patients are being treated in UK hospitals, an 80% increase from the first peak of the epidemic last April. Britain has reported 93,463 coronavirus-related deaths, more than any other country in Europe and the fifth-highest toll worldwide.
The effort at the cathedral is a community effort, in which many participate. The organists took turns playing the massive “Father Willis” for two hours – making sure to sterilize the two.
John Challenger, 32, assistant music director for Salisbury, said many of the people getting the shots are isolated seniors who haven’t been able to hear live music for months.
In addition to playing soft music, Challenger used his time at the organ to entertain memories and spark memories by playing songs like Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March”.
He said, “And in the most trivial moments, I played the song” I love being by the sea, “because, you know, we all want to go on vacation and we couldn’t go where we wanted.”
Among those who listened on Wednesday was Sylvia Barkin, 82, who came along with her husband David, 86. They had to stay home a lot for the past 10 months, which wasn’t fun.
“It’s today’s trip, isn’t it?” She cheerfully said. “It’s a great place to inject.
Although it might take a long time to get to the organ loft, people were able to get their orders.
Holz played Handel’s “Largo” and “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” Bach for an 80-year-old neighbor who sent an email asking to play his favorites precisely at 10:45 am Saturday, just as the needle was moving in.
When Halls finished, he glanced at the screen that showed the player what was happening on the floor below and saw his neighbor waving madly – wiper style – and offering his thanks.
“He sent me an email later and said that was the best part of his entire life other than his wedding day,” said Halls. “I think being # 2 in that is a really good thing.”
Kearney contributed from Salisbury, England.
Follow all AP coverage of the epidemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemichttps://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine And https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak