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Playing in a Place of Worship, Including Organists

Guidance for organists and other musicians who are restricted from performance and practice in places of worship during the coronavirus outbreak.

Last updated: 12 July 2021

Please note that lockdowns across the UK mean that in many places, performances in front of a live audience are not able to take place. See our latest guidance on the Government’s Covid-19 restrictions.

At this time, we are aware that all places of worship have been highly restricted.

We know that this impacts, for example, Organists whose only possible means of practice is by having access to the church in which the organ sits.

Practicing in places of worship

Further to the advice we posted in April, as things have begun to change and ease the Government have released new guidelines for places of worship in England. We are pleased that with the right measures in place the Government have made the exception for organists who need to practice. This can now take place provided the ‘appropriate social distancing measures’ are in place.

See the Government’s full guidance. You may also find the Church of England's detailed FAQs helpful.

Streaming rights for church musicians

In some cases, places of worship are beginning to opt for the use of streaming technology to broadcast services to their congregations. Naturally, this will include the use of either pre-recorded or live organ playing, however the consent of rights around this is not always automatically given within the existing contract.

The MU recognises that like so many institutions, places of worship have suffered financially, and has devised a reasonable set of affordable rates to allow the purchase the rights required. (Note: the fees below are to clear limited term rights and are in addition to regular organists fees).

The rates are:

  • One-off or limit to 24 hours period streaming (no further ability to view) – Live performance fee only
  • Up to 30 days streaming – £60 per musician
  • Up to 3 months streaming – £75 per musician
  • Up to 6 months streaming – £100 per musician

For the full explanation of how these rates can be applied see our Covid-19 special rates for streaming.

Note that these rates are currently only valid until 31 July 2021.

Employment rights for musicians in places of worship

We are aware that some churches and places of worship are offering remote services to congregations or organising online worship sessions to keep their congregations in touch with each other.

If you are employed by a church or place of worship as a musician and paid via PAYE, then you may qualify for the government furlough scheme but then you would not be able to keep working during the period of furlough. 

If you are a self-employed musician and you undertake paid work for a church or place of worship, you might want to explore the option of delivering your performances online.  If you are undertaking your usual role, performing as part of a religious service for which you would normally be paid, then we would expect you to be paid at your usual rate.

Let us know how you’ve been impacted

If any member has queries or experiences they can share with the Union in this area, we would be happy to hear from you.  If you have taken part successfully in paid musical performance for a church or other place of worship during the Covid-19 crisis, please let us know by getting in contact with your regional office.

We also encourage all musicians who have lost work and income due to the coronavirus outbreak to complete our short survey – help us represent your needs by letting us know how you’ve been impacted.

Advice from the Church of England is updated regularly on their website.

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