From next Monday, 19th July, we will be able to meet indoors to sing in a group of more than six. A whole choir can sing together again without wearing waterproofs. I’ve been looking forward to this for so long. So why am I not ecstatic?
Here are the current statistics on Covid. You can see the numbers for yourself. Those lines look a bit like smiles – the red smile, the green smile, and that blue lopsided one in the corner. They are bad news, though, nothing to smile about at all. They show the rising rates of infection, serious illness and death.
The government has decided to, as they would put it, “grant us our freedom”. We can now make our own decisions about how close to stand to each other, whether or not to wear a mask, how many people we can squeeze into a venue, and whether to open the windows or not.
There may be new Performing Arts guidelines coming along – but nobody knows for sure. Maybe they are considered unnecessary. We will just have to work on “common sense”, which is open to multiple definitions.
Passing the buck, putting the responsibility for decisions on to individual organisers, is predictable behaviour for this government. Choir directors and committees now have to each plough their lonely furrow, working out for themselves what a safe and responsible rehearsal looks like.
We have a lot of factors to consider. First and foremost, we want to ensure the safety of our group members. The science says that singing is no more risky than loud talking, but the simple fact that singing in a big group has been banned makes it seem like a dangerous activity.
People with chronic health conditions are particularly worried about catching the virus. They will be more vulnerable if existing limitations are scrapped, and many will retreat into a self-imposed isolation, because there are no statutory measures in place to protect them.
I worry that some singers with health issues, or family members whose health is vulnerable, will start to feel that nothing will reassure them. They will not trust any gathering outside their immediate family to be safe. This is very sad.
We are all craving the sound of voices close together. It is a very different sound, hearing twenty voices, each two metres away from the next, and twenty voices coming from people standing side by side. The essence of choir is the individual voices blending into one complex sound. Being outside adds another level of distance between the voices. If people have come to one outdoor rehearsal and then no more, is it because the musical experience was less than they wanted?
The bums-on-seats question, of course, is also at play. We have to have enough people coming to sessions for it to feel like a choir, and for us to pay the room hire and the director’s fees.
For my part, I think we should move forward cautiously. Hooray to being able to sing indoors again (why does it always rain on Monday evenings?) but when we do, we will still acknowledge that there is a pandemic happening.