Perivale broadcasts in the pandemic – a questionnaire survey – May 2021


We have now broadcast 128 concerts from an empty St Mary’s Perivale in less than a year, since June 2020. They have provided performing opportunities and financial support for musicians through the lockdown, and have enabled St Mary’s Perivale to remain an active concert venue through these unprecedented times. This has only been possible because of the superb video broadcasting system installed by our excellent technical team, led by Simon Shute, and comprising George Auckland, Andrew Whadcoat, Rob Jenkins and Truus Bos, ably supported by Roger Nellist, Andrew Goodhart and Richard Norris. More information on the events of the past year is available here. After so many concerts we need feedback from our viewers, so this short questionnaire was distributed by email to about 1480 people on 14 May 2021, and replies were received from 190 people. Although this is an indifferent response rate, the survey gives a useful qualitative assessment from some of our keenest supporters.


What do you particularly LIKE about our broadcasts ?

The most frequent response, from 63 people, was the consistently superb quality of the musicians, and (from 45) the excellent choice and variety of the music. Twenty one liked the ‘live’ nature of our broadcasts, and 7 also mentioned the option to watch the concerts later on. Twenty mentioned the informal ambience and conviviality of the concerts, and 12 the beautiful setting. Seventeen praised the sound and vision quality of the broadcasts, and 7 mentioned the interesting camera angles, particularly for pianists’ hands. Fourteen mentioned our support for young musicians. In other responses, 5 liked being able to enjoy the concerts from home, 5 liked ‘everything’, 4 thought the concerts were a good length, 4 enjoyed hearing performers talk about their repertoire, and 3 appreciated the 4 pm timing of the broadcasts.

It is gratifying that the amazing quality of our musicians and the variety and quality of music on offer are rated so highly, and we are pleased that our informal and relaxed ambience transmits so well through the ether. The positive remarks about our sound and vision, and camera angles, are a tribute to our superb technical team. It is interesting that our viewers enjoy watching ‘live’ events rather than the millions of recorded events available to view instead.

Is there anything you do NOT like about our broadcasts ?

76 respondents declared that there was nothing they took exception to. The most common fault was the occasionally ‘flaky’ internet, with ‘glitches’ in the live transmission, mentioned by 21 (16%) respondents, although some noted that these were becoming less frequent. 12 stated that the sound quality was indifferent, at least on some occasion, and 4 complained of the relatively poor visual quality of the livestream broadcasts. Other points raised by more than one respondent included criticism of the quality of our piano (3), the strangeness of having no audience (3), the inconvenience of live broadcasts at 4 pm (3), too many piano recitals (2) and too much standard repertoire (2).

The occasional internet problems relate to our old telephone line which extends over a golf course, and cannot cope with high definition broadcasts. British Telecom are currently installing a fibre connection which should solve these problems in the near future. And we are installing more microphones and sophisticated audio software to improve the sound quality of our broadcasts.

How often do you watch them ?

50.8% less than once per week

41% once or twice per week

8.2% 3 or more times per week

Do you watch them LIVE at 4 pm or later ?

30% LIVE

41% both

29% Later

Comment: We upload a better quality (high definition or HD) version of each concert later, but obviously there is a special ‘frisson’ in watching a LIVE event as it happens, from 4 to 5 pm, even with slightly inferior visual quality, with all the uncertainty which that can provide

Do you watch them on a TV, a computer or a phone ?

Desktop 23.5%

TV 25.1%

Laptop 29.4%

Tablet 17.1%

Phone 4.8%

Comment: This is important information for our technical team, since the quality (particularly the sound) on most laptops, tablets and phones is sub-optimal and we will to adjust our system to cope with the various different devices.

Have you any suggestions re the choice of musicians and music ?

63 respondents declared that they were happy with the current balance of music and musicians. 10 emphasized the need to maintain the current variety in our programming. 10 were enjoying the jazz concerts. 8 wanted more chamber ensembles (trios, quartets etc) whereas 5 wanted more solo piano recitals. 7 suggested some vocal items, 4 wanted more 20 th century music, 3 requested more unusual instruments, 3 more lectures and 2 more wind music.

Comment: The varied responses seem to support the current mixture of music and musicians. Viewing figures are significantly higher for piano recitals and lower for big chamber ensembles, so we have tended to increase the proportion of piano music, but we will maintain the variety (including jazz concerts) and include some unusual instruments and occasional lectures, as requested, as well as some more adventurous repertoire.

We hope to resume concerts with an audience in the Autumn, depending on the Covid regulations. If so are you likely to come to them ?

Yes definitely 48.1%

Possibly 38.6%

No 12.7%

If you replied ‘Yes definitely’ or ‘Possibly’ would you still come if you had to wear a face mask during the concert ?

Yes definitely 63.1%

Possibly 26.8%

No 8.9%

Comment : This is a heartening response, and important information in planning the next few months. Most of those replying ‘no’ will be respondents living too far away to travel to the church. The wearing of face masks during the concert doesn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm of our local supporters. It is too early to plan our re-opening in detail, since it depends on the Covid situation and the regulations in force later in the year, but we will be addressing these issues over the summer.

Have you any other comments or suggestions on our concerts ?

There were many kind and generous comments from viewers which are very gratifying for our team. A typical one is thus – Apologies for not coming to the concerts but I am a bed bound 92 yr old and you have my heartfelt gratitude for letting me hear such glorious music making! 12 emphasized that we must continue the broadcasts after we have resumed concerts with an audience, and 19 stated that they lived too far away to attend in person. 5 expressed some reservations re the Covid situation in the Autumn, and 2 mentioned concerns about inadequate ventilation in the church.

Comment : We are very grateful for the tremendous support conveyed in so many warm messages. We will indeed keep the broadcasts going indefinitely, and we are investing considerable resources to optimize their quality. Future concerts, whenever life returns to ‘normal’ will be aimed at both the audience in the church and our virtual audience around the world. As for the Covid risk, we will adhere to the regulations re social distancing and masks etc, and it will then be for everyone to assess any residual risk in coming to the church. This is likely to be vanishingly small in a vaccinated person, but no-one can predict whether this might alter over the summer. 

Conclusions : We are grateful for all the positive responses and kind messages of support from our viewers, particularly re the quality of music and musicians. The occasional problems with the internet connection and sub-optimal sound are being actively addressed at the moment. When BT have completed the fibre link to the church, our broadcast quality will be markedly improved, and the extra microphones and audio software will produce improved sound quality. Otherwise our concerts will continue as before until the summer. Later in the year, we hope to re-admit our local supporters to the church, but it is too early to be dogmatic about this, because of the changing Covid situation and regulations. Ultimately it will be everyone’s personal decision as to whether they wish to attend a concert in person, rather than watching the broadcast at home. In any case, our broadcasts will continue as before, with at least 3 concerts per week planned throughout the Autumn.

St Mary’s Perivale in the pandemic – an update

A brief resume of the past eventful 12 months.

Hugh Mather

The Covid pandemic has adversely affected every arts organization in the UK. However, at St Mary’s Perivale we have survived by transforming ourselves into a broadcasting centre, using our excellent video facilities and thus have been able to continue supporting musicians and providing solace and entertainment for our many supporters, living both locally in Ealing and around the world. We have now broadcast 100 LIVE concerts and an additional 53 concert recordings in the 12 months of the lockdown. This probably exceeds any other classical music venue in the UK and we seem to be a unique facility supporting classical music in these strange times. We have paid over £27,000 to musicians in the past year. This article explains the service in detail.

St Mary’s Perivale is a tiny, Grade-1 listed medieval church, only 6 miles from Marble Arch, which is redundant and now functions solely as a classical music centre. Our lockdown success has been entirely dependent on the remarkable video system installed in the church over a period of several years by Simon Shute (R), aided by George Auckland (L) shown in the photograph above. Both were friends living in Ealing who had retired from distinguished careers at the BBC. Initially recordings were made to provide musicians with a momento of their performances, in standard definition video. High-definition cameras were installed in 2016, and we now have 7 such cameras, and since 2018 we have live streamed all concerts on Youtube, from our digital broadcasting facility situated in the 15 th century tower. This was regarded as an adjunct to the main focus of the concert, which was the experience of the audience gathered in the church, until the pandemic in March 2020.

During the first total lockdown in April and May 2020, we streamed 53 recordings from our library of about 400 previous concerts since 2016, on successive afternoons. An archive is available here. Few other organizations were streaming concerts at that time, and we found ourselves in competition with the Berlin Philharmonic and the New York Met for our virtual audience. We paid a total of £6500 to musicians whose concerts were broadcast, and asked the viewers to donate towards the cost of paying the musicians.

Following the partial relaxation of restrictions in June 2020, we restarted LIVE concerts in an empty church, with strict adherence to Covid protocols. Since then we have held 100 LIVE concerts in an empty church without an audience, as also detailed in the lockdown archive.. These have included 42 solo piano recitals, 17 violin and piano duos, 8 piano trios, 7 cello and piano duos, 4 jazz piano concerts, 3 string quartets, 3 piano quartets, 3 wind concerts and 2 song recitals. Our musical highlight was the Beethoven Piano Sonata Festival in October, when 32 pianists played all the sonatas over a weekend – one of the few major festivals celebrating the composer’s 250 th anniversary. We have also held lecture recitals by Norma Fisher, Leslie Howard, Mark Viner and Murray McLachlan.

Over 130 musicians have performed at St Mary’s Perivale in the lockdown since June 2020, and they have been paid over £20,000. Each of the concerts has been viewed either on Youtube or Vimeo by an average of 500 viewers, with a peak of over 3000 viewers for the Beethoven Festival, and viewers from over 50 countries. The total views in the past year on Youtube is over 96,000, with many additional views on Vimeo. All concerts have been freely available, with no ‘paywall’, and we have been entirely dependent on donations from viewers, with no external sponsorship or public funding. These have been remarkably generous, and have kept up with our payments to musicians. Our supporters realize that we are a team of unpaid volunteers, so all funds go directly to the musicians or to maintain our historic building rather than providing administrative support or paying salaries.

So our video and streaming facilities, which were developed as an interesting adjunct to our concerts, have unexpectedly proved to be a lifeline for our organization over the past few months, and we have been able to support musicians with performing opportunities and financial help. Instead of physical audiences of around 30-60 local people from Ealing, our concerts have been viewed by thousands of people around the world, and our tiny suburban venue has assumed an important role in providing concert opportunities for many musicians, and cultural entertainment and solace for the viewers.

We are possibly the only organization undertaking such a busy classical music programme in the lockdown, and have achieved this without any public funding, being run entirely by volunteers. The only other centre with so many regular livestreamed classical concerts is the Wigmore Hall, but they have received a grant of £1 million from the Culture Recovery Fund, and they concentrate more on both vocal and baroque concerts, which we purposely avoid. Their concerts are streamed at 7.30 pm or 1.00 pm whereas ours are at 4 pm, so there is no direct clash or competition.

As for the future, we hope to resume concerts with a physical audience in the church later in the year. However, our small venue makes it difficult to comply fully with Covid regulations on a socially distanced audience, so it may be several more months before this happens. Meanwhile, we hope that viewers will continue to enjoy our ‘virtual’ concerts, as a substitute, and that we can continue to provide performing opportunities and financial support for our musicians in these difficult times. We are inundated with requests for concert opportunities, and are booked up until the end of the year. Highlights include a Chopin Festival on July 4 th and a repeat Beethoven Sonata Festival in October, with 32 pianists playing all the sonatas. Huge thanks are due to our technical team, which comprises Simon Shute, George Auckland and Andrew Whadcoat, and to other key members of our organization, notably Roger Nellist and also Andrew Goodhart, Richard Norris, Gill Rowley, Rob Jenkins and Truus Bos. Finally, thanks to all our on-line supporters who have made this possible, and of course to our huge pool of superb musicians.

1000 concerts at St Mary’s Perivale – An overview of 2004 to 2020

Background before 2004: St Mary’s Perivale is a small Grade-I listed building dating back to the 12 th century, and it functioned as an active church until being declared redundant in 1972. In 1976 our charity, the Friends of St Mary’s Perivale, was founded by Alan Gillett and friends, and a 99-year lease was granted by the Church Commissioners in 1979. Thereafter, a varied programme of concerts, exhibitions, plays and social events was held. I first became involved when I gave a piano recital in June 1986, and thereafter gave occasional concerts at the church, as well as running weekly lunchtime concerts at Ealing Hospital, where I was a Consultant Physician. By 2003, audience numbers at Perivale had dwindled alarmingly, and I was asked to help. I initiated the purchase of a new Yahama grand piano, and commenced organizing concerts there in September 2004, taking over as Chairman of the Friends in 2005, and retiring from my medical post in 2006.

1000 concerts summary : The first concert of the new era was on September 11 2004. Since then, we have held over 1000 concerts, detailed here.. For the first 10 years we held about 40-50 per year, on Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons. The former were double-concerts, with two contrasting halves to provide more performing opportunities for musicians, and the latter became well-known for the tea and home-made cakes, provided by Caroline Waldes, Rena Stewart, Hilary Swift, and Felicity Light. By September 2016 the total of concerts had reached 500. That year, at the suggestion of Roger Nellist, we introduced weekly piano recitals on Tuesday afternoons, whereupon the annual number of concerts rose to over 100, and thus we are about to reach concert number 1000 on Tuesday November 24, when I will step out of my musical retirement to give a celebratory recital. The list of musicians is here, and includes about 380 pianists and 160 violinists, as well as 40 piano trios and 80 other ensembles. Average attendances in the church before the pandemic were around 50 for many years, so our 1000 concerts represent about 50,000 separate concert attendances. We have always paid our musicians, and we developed our system of free admission and a retiring collection, which with Gift Aid has served us very well. We pride ourselves on never receiving any sponsorship or public funding. We are all unpaid volunteers, and we do not pay rent, so our rather unorthodox financial model has stood us in good stead for over 15 years.

Improvements to the church: Our financial success has enabled us to continually improve the church as an ideal venue for small-scale concerts, building on its innate beauty, superb acoustics and excellent piano. The most crucial improvement was the re-laying of the chancel floor at a single level in 2010, enabling the piano to be moved forward to the front of the chancel. Previously, there was a step in the chancel, leaving the piano permanently marooned at the back, away from the audience. Our architect in 2010, John Hummerston, deserves huge credit for pushing this vital project to conclusion. Other improvements over the years included an improved heating system and electricity supply, cleaning of the wall monuments, regular re-decoration of the church, new carpet and chairs and much else. The churchyard was an unkempt wilderness in 2005 with many vandalized memorials but since then about 40 monuments have been re-erected and it is now a scene of tranquil beauty, thanks to our gardening team, led initially by Camilla Newbegin and now by David Brown.

Video and live-streaming facilities: The other crucial advance has been the installation of high quality audio and video recording and live-streaming facilities. The combination of ‘high-tech’ facilities within a building dating back to the 12 th century might seem rather anachronistic, but has proved to be very fortuitous. In 2006, we introduced a sound-recording system, with high-quality microphones installed by Richard Partridge. Subsequently, Simon Shute became closely involved at the church, and he has, almost single-handedly, transformed our ancient venue into a high-quality broadcasting centre. The first camera was installed in 2007, and the second and third appeared in 2010 and 2011. These produced standard definition recordings on DVDs which were sent to the musicians. From 2009 onwards we started to upload some of the best performances to our YouTube channel for public viewing, organized by George Auckland, who had previously built our website. In 2016 we upgraded all our cameras to High Definition, and we now have 7 such cameras arranged around the church. Since then, high quality digital video recordings have been made of all concerts, and stored in our on-line cloud-based archive. In December 2018 we undertook the first concert live-stream, of a piano recital by Asagi Nakata which was viewed by her parents in Tokyo. Subsequently we have live-streamed most concerts, although until the pandemic this was regarded as an interesting adjunct to the main focus of the concert, namely the live experience of the audience in the church. None of this remarkable progress would have been possible without our superb technical team, led by Simon Shute, and including George Auckland, Andrew Whadcoat and Patrick Magill, Truus Bos and Rob Jenkins. Some had retired from distinguished careers at the BBC, and our organization has profited hugely from their combined technical prowess, always given free of charge.

St Mary’s Perivale in the Pandemic Thus we have been able to continue our activities over the past few months.. During the first lockdown, we broadcast 53 edited recordings of previous concerts (not included in the 1000 total) in April and May. We restarted live concerts, broadcast with no audience present, in June and have subsequently held 39, including a Beethoven Piano Sonata Festival in October, with 32 pianists. In normal times, the concerts would have attracted an audience of around 50-70 local people drawn from a small area around Ealing, but the festival was watched on-line by about 3000 people, and the average number of views of our concert broadcasts is now around 400, and we have supporters in at least 50 countries. Generous donations from viewers have enabled us to pay all our musicians, and we have received countless warm messages from around the world. We haven’t introduced a small socially-distanced audience because it would be practically difficult in such a small venue, and we think that the wearing of masks would negate any enjoyment of a concert. This lack of a physical audience has enabled us to continue, even in the second lockdown. It may be several months, or even years, before we can return to normal, and pack the church with 70 local people in close proximity. In the meanwhile we have become, in effect, a broadcasting studio ! This is less than ideal, and we long for the opportunity to welcome our local supporters back into our beloved building, but at least we are providing performing opportunities and financial support for musicians, and cultural entertainment and solace for our many supporters, and have kept our building alive.

Conclusion So we continue past the 1000 concert mark at St Mary’s Perivale. On a personal level, this is in addition to a further 656 concerts which I organized at St Barnabas Church Ealing between 2007 and 2020, and about 800 organized at Ealing Hospital prior to 2006. When the Perivale concert series started in 2004, I was aged 59, and am now 75. Perhaps we will reach 1500 Perivale concerts by my 80 th birthday. As stated at the beginning of this blog, it has been a joint effort by a large team of volunteers, including all those mentioned above, particularly Roger Nellist, Simon Shute and George Auckland, and also Richard Norris, Andrew Goodhart, Stanley Klar, Sherry White, Eileen Eden, Judith Price, Gill Rowley, David Brown, John Newbegin, Michael Lewis and others – and most of all, my wife, Felicity Light. Our ultimate purpose, laid down in the Trust Deed, is to preserve this wonderful building for future generations to enjoy, and our concerts, whether for an audience in the church or at home throughout the world, are simply a means towards that end. Long may St Mary’s Perivale continue to flourish.