Church musicians affected by COVID-19 Mass closures

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Surry Hills choir
St Peter’s Surry Hills Choir, among many other Church musical group sand individuals are being affected by the loss of their platform, income and devotional practice of Church music – often a focal piece in their lives. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

The livelihood of artists across the country are in dire straits due to government measures to limit public gatherings – including religious services – to curb the COVID-19 pandemic. For Catholic musicians who practice music in service of the Mass the loss is twofold: the loss of access to the Sacraments as well as for some, access to income.

The Catholic Weekly spoke to Martin Hartley, casual organist at Saint Margaret Mary Parish Merrylands and chorister at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral Parramatta, on the financial impact of COVID-19 on the livelihood of himself and fellow artists.

if we don’t play we don’t get paid

“Music for me represents between 30-40 per cent of my income in a typical month. Us musicians get paid by the job so if we don’t play we don’t get paid,” he said.

Martin Hartley (before COVID-19) at Saint Margaret Mary’s Parish in Merrylands PHOTO: Martin Hartley

“This represents a significant loss of income and as a sole trader I am not really covered by schemes by the govt to assist small businesses. The thing is this it is not  just affecting musicians – it is affecting all artists.”

For Mr Hartley however, who performs on a casual basis, the loss is not so severe. However this is not the case for full-time professional musicians who rely on gigs for their whole income.

“I live with my family and I am not supporting any dependents. But I have a quite a few friends who are professional musicians and music is their only source of income.”

music is their only source of income

For many Church musicians these abrupt changes are forcing musicians to look for employment in other areas.  “This ordeal could blow over in a matter of weeks or it could be a few months,” said Mr Hartley.  “The thing is we just don’t know. A lot of us have put in extra job applications to places like Coles and Woolworths hoping we can pick up something to supplement our loss of income.”

St Mary’s music director Thomas Wilson and the St Mary’s Cathedral Choir singing at the Ash Wednesday service in 2015 Photo: Giovanni Portelli

“The arts have always suffered in times of distress but we have always come back. We may just have to look to other lines of employment in the meantime,” said Mr Hartley.

The arts have always suffered in times of distress but we have always come back

The Catholic Weekly also spoke to George and Esterina Azzi, a young couple from Sacred Heart parish in Villawood.  Esterina is the volunteer parish organist at Sacred Heart – and has been for the last seven years. For Mrs Azzi, her musical abilities are now utilised for prayer within the family home.

George and Esterina Azzi, a young couple expecting their child, pcitured here at Our Lady of the Rosary, Fairfield in February visiting the touring relics of St Thérèse and her parents Saints Louis and Zélie Martin PHOTO: Esterina Azzi

“In lieu of attending Mass, we hope to nourish further and create our own little “domestic Church”,” the Azzi family wrote in an email.

“We had already commenced, and intend to continue as far as possible, watching live streams of Maronite and Roman Catholic Masses and devotions offered by parishes around us.”

Esterina Azzi, pregnant and playing the organ at Sacred Heart Parish Fairfield where she has been volunteer organise for the last seven years PHOTO: Esterina Azzi

“Esterina can play the hymns – on our piano at home – that she would otherwise have played at parish Mass. And we intend to read and reflect on the day’s Scripture passages and make a spiritual communion together.”

The Azzi family are expecting their newborn child in April.

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