Organists offer soundtrack to vaccinations at medieval UK cathedral

Jan 21, 2021, 5:55 AM | Updated: 5:57 am
People are reflected in the 'Refection Pool' inside Salisbury Cathedral in Salisbury, England, Wedn...
People are reflected in the 'Refection Pool' inside Salisbury Cathedral in Salisbury, England, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, as they leave after receiving their Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination. Salisbury Cathedral opened its doors for the second time as a venue for the Sarum South Primary Care Network COVID-19 Local Vaccination Service. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

SALISBURY, England (AP) — David Halls isn’t a doctor, nurse or ambulance driver, but he wanted to contribute in the fight against COVID-19. So he did what he does best: He sat down on the bench beside at Salisbury Cathedral’s historic organ and began to play.

Halls is one of the many people who have turned the 800-year-old cathedral in southwestern England into a mass vaccination center as the U.K. races to inoculate 50 million people. His contribution to the effort is offering a bit of Bach, Handel and even a little Rodgers & Hammerstein to the public as they shuffle through the nave to get their shots.

“At times of crisis, people come together and want to listen to music; at moments of joy, people want to listen to music,’’ Halls, the cathedral’s music director, told The Associated Press. “And so I don’t think it’s any surprise the effect of soothing music on people who probably are feeling quite stressed for various reasons.”

Salisbury Cathedral, home to one of the best preserved copies of the Magna Carta and England’s tallest church spire, has been enlisted as a vaccination center as the government expands its shot program to football stadiums, convention centers and hundreds of local doctors offices to speed delivery.

Hundreds of elderly residents have rolled up their sleeves and got their shots in the great nave, which is big enough to gather people together while also keeping them safely apart.

It’s in stark contrast to 1627, when church leaders locked the cathedral gates to keep townspeople out as plague swept through Salisbury. Canon Nicholas Papadopulos, dean of the cathedral, says he reflected on that episode with “visceral discomfort” last year when he celebrated the building’s 800th anniversary.

Now, it’s time for a new chapter.

“If these stones could speak, they would talk about moments of incredible joy and moments of incredible sadness,” Halls said. “It feels thoroughly appropriate that the cathedral is playing its part in trying to turn things around and to be part of the vaccinations … To be part of that is such a privilege, such an honor.”

The U.K. plans to offer a first dose of vaccine to more than 15 million people by mid-February as it targets the country’s oldest and most vulnerable residents in the program’s first phase. Progressively younger groups of people will follow suit, with the government planning to reach everyone over 18 by September.

The need is urgent. Britain’s healthcare system is staggering as doctors and nurses battle a more contagious variant of COVID-19.

While new infections appear to have peaked, the number of people hospitalized is still rising. More than 39,000 patients are being treated in U.K. hospitals, 80% more than during the first peak of the pandemic 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 one, involving many. Organists took turns of two hours playing the massive “Father Willis” — making sure to sanitize in between.

John Challenger, 32, Salisbury’s assistant director of music, said many getting the shots are older people who are isolated and haven’t been able to hear live music for months.

In addition to playing soothing music, Challenger used his time at the organ to entertain and spark memories by playing songs like Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March.”

“And in the more frivolous moments I played ‘I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside,’ because, you know, we all want to go on holiday and haven’t been able to go where we want,” he said.

Among those listening Wednesday was Sylvia Parkin, 82, who came with her husband, David, 86. They have had to stay home a lot for the past 10 months, which has been no fun.

“It’s a trip out today, isn’t it?″ she said cheerfully. ”It’s a wonderful place to have an injection.″

And while it may be a long way up to the organ loft, people have managed to get their requests in.

Halls played Handel’s “Largo” and Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” for an 80-year-old neighbor who had sent an email asking for his favorites to be played precisely at 10:45 a.m. Saturday, just as the needle was going in.

As Halls finished, he glanced at the screen that shows the organist what’s happening on the floor below and saw his neighbor frantically waving — windshield wiper style — and offering his thanks.

“He emailed me later and he said that was the best part of his entire life other than his wedding day,” Halls said. “I think to come second to that is quite good, actually.”


Kearney contributed from Salisbury, England.

How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronaviruses transmitted from person to person. It is a virus that is similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Wear a mask.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet)
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.)
  • Get a flu shot.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A

Utah’s Coronavirus Information

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States


Today’s Top Stories

All News

The short range missile was fired early Sunday morning local time from the Taechon area of North Py...
Yoonjung Seo, Junko Ogura and Larry Register, CNN

North Korea fires ballistic missile into waters off east coast of Korean peninsula

North Korea has fired a ballistic missile into the waters off the east coast of the Korean peninsula, according to officials in both South Korea and Japan.
1 day ago
Anderson was arrested the morning of Sept. 24, 2022, by West Valley Police on felony child sexual a...
Waverly Golden

First grade teacher in Magna arrested on felony child sexual abuse charges

Elk Run Elementary first grade teacher Dale Anderson was arrested this morning on felony child sexual abuse charges.
1 day ago
The Nephi City Police said in a Facebook post that a man was luring children to his vehicle yesterd...
Waverly Golden

Be on lookout for suspicious vehicle in Nephi

The Nephi City Police said in a Facebook post that a man was luring children to his vehicle yesterday afternoon.
1 day ago
Aaron Fotheringham, aka "Wheelz" from Nitro Circus taught and performed tricks at Wheelchair Palooz...
Waverly Golden

Wheelchair Palooza at Woodward Park City

Aaron Fotheringham, aka "Wheelz" from Nitro Circus taught and performed tricks at Wheelchair Palooza in Park City.
1 day ago
Semi CAX...
Simone Seikaly

Two-vehicle crash involving a semi closes Highway 138 on Friday

A two-vehicle crash involving a fuel truck on Friday morning closed Highway 138 in Tooele County.
1 day ago
WWE Essential...
Zoe Sottile, CNN

John Cena breaks Make-A-Wish record after granting 650 wishes

Actor, wrestling legend, and perpetual meme subject John Cena has completed a new accomplishment: breaking the world record for most wishes granted through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

a worker with a drill in an orange helmet installs a door in the house...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

Home improvement tip: Increase the value of your home by weatherproofing doors

Make sure your home is comfortable before the winter! Seasonal maintenance keeps your home up to date. Read our tips on weatherproofing doors.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
A paper reading IRS, internal revenue service is pictured...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Organists offer soundtrack to vaccinations at medieval UK cathedral