Joint statement from Bath Abbey and street musicians
In light of recent events and the consequent media interest, Bath Abbey Rector Edward Mason and colleague Claire Robson met with street musicians Jack Morgan and Ben Powell yesterday (25 September 2014).
The meeting provided an opportunity to share how distressing the last few days have been for both the Abbey and the street musicians. Apologies were given and received and both parties explored how they can work together towards resolving this issue.
Both agreed that the Abbey’s first concern continues to be the needs of the people who enter this holy place.
Both recognised the special contribution street musicians make to the life of the city.
Both recognised the need for a workable system that allows street performance to flourish while respecting those who live and work in the city.
The meeting concluded warmly with a mutual determination to draw a line under the past and foster good relationships in the future.
Earlier this week, The Rector Bath Abbey, The Reverend Prebendary Edward Mason, said:
“Last Sunday afternoon, worship at Bath Abbey for close to 200 people was stopped. The loud music from the buskers started just after our 3.30pm Choral Evensong service began and was clearly audible during the Bible reading. It was impossible to continue. The Bible reading talked quite clearly of the responsibility of leaders to care for those in their charge. I must take this seriously. Hundreds, even thousands in Bath, have their peace, prayer and remembrance blighted by buskers on a daily basis.
“This wasn’t a one-off or an isolated incident. Over the last two to three years, we have really tried. We have met with the buskers often, mostly at their meeting every day. We know many by name and have tried to build relationships based on trust. Together with the buskers, we have tried to establish a ‘traffic-light’ system with ‘reds’ indicating worship and ‘greens’ when noise is less of a problem, the majority are happy to keep to this. Although it’s a minority of buskers who deliberately flout this, it’s a very loud and unreasonable minority who ruin it for everyone. Over the last couple of years, amplifiers are used more and more, the volume has increased and we are now at crisis point.
“We have suffered long enough, at times it’s impossible for us to continue to work. We have had weddings and funerals disrupted and choir practices and services ruined on numerous occasions, not just yesterday afternoon for the 150-200 people in the Abbey who were there for the peace and solace of Choral Evensong.
“The intrusive and escalating noise of the buskers is a city-wide issue – not just the Abbey’s. It’s a deep concern for the whole of Bath. Bath and North East Council has taken a ‘permissive approach’ and this has meant that the whole of Bath city-centre is plagued from April to October by street music, without limit to the number of pitches, no limit to the noise, no control whatsoever.
“The Council Officers have always been courteous but they are under-staffed and say that the law can do nothing to protect us. A new anti-social behaviour law, enacted in March and coming in to force in October, may give the Council powers to ban amplification in certain areas. These areas will have to be agreed by the local council following public consultation.
“How do I feel? I feel like weeping. Truly. Weeping for a city ruined by the clamour of music. Weeping for choirs that are victims. Weeping for my staff subjected to music every day. Weeping that we human beings just cannot resolve conflict. (Let’s not look at Syrians and condemn them when we can’t even sort out music amicably!) Weeping for an Abbey that has had a superb ministry of peace, healing and quiet for hundreds of years and which is being subject to the violence of noise.
“Next week the funeral of teenager Sammuel Amin will be held in the Abbey. We just hope that it isn’t ruined for his family, friends and the hundreds coming to pay their respects. Why is this something we need to even be worrying about?
“Please pray for us as we try to resolve this issue.”
• Bath Abbey is one of the most visited churches in the county and around half a million people use the Abbey per year for all types of reasons. Tens of thousands come to celebrate new birth, marriage, but also to seek solace and comfort in times of crisis, trouble or loss. In joy and sorrow, all are welcome.
• Over the last two or three years, the use of amplifiers by buskers has massively increased. This means street musicians can play backing tracks loudly and the sound gets projected a long way, and so can be heard very clearly inside the Abbey.
• Being a church, there are key moments in our week particularly on Sundays when it’s important that there is quiet for prayers to be said and for services to take place, attended by hundreds of local residents and visitors.
• Although we don’t know when Choral Evensong as we know it started, there have been Choral Services at the Abbey since records began including the Benedictine Monastery and its plainsong. We believe the great tradition of English Choral Music would have begun in the 1870s.
• The Abbey’s choirs broadcast regularly on Radio 3 and 4 and the Klais organ is one of the finest in the UK. Our Director of Music, Peter King, is a dedicated and much-loved member of the music community. He and the Choirs work very hard each week to ensure they produce music of the highest quality.
• We have nearly 100 people in our choirs (about 80 children in different choirs) and have a local Schools’ Singing Programme in 17 local schools teaching singing to 100s of children every week.
• The Abbey has an extensive ministry to the city with a “homeless” drop in centre in our vaults, and acting as the cathedral of Bath for everything a cathedral would do and more.
• This is a unique church in a unique setting and we are being hounded for 8 hours a day, continuously by the same buskers, playing the same music, at the same volume day in and day out. We have had funerals, memorial services, weddings, graduations, and much more ambushed by buskers. It is simply terrible and threatening the work and the ministry of the Abbey.