This blog is always my personal opinion, but I don’t usually get emotional. I have not used this platform before to have a full-on red-in-the-face rant.
However, there’s a first time for everything. There is only one thing on my mind to write about this week, and I am furious.
Ever since the road map was announced in February, choir leaders have believed that from May 17th, with risk assessments in place, Covid-secure venues, physical distancing and good ventilation, we would at last be able to sing in the same room as each other. All the leaders I know have been working hard to get everything organised for a return to hearing each others’ voices. We have prepared our singers for limited numbers and a strict booking system. We are responsible people who like to get things right.
On Monday 10th May, Mr Johnson announced that easements planned for Step 3 would go ahead on May 17th.
On Tuesday 18th May, without any hint of this in advance, we were told that non-professional singing could only take place indoors in one group of six.
That’s the DAY AFTER Step 3 came into force. The timing of the announcement, together with it being completely out of the blue, adds insult to injury.
This delayed announcement makes me feel simultaneously that singing is a Cinderella activity that is only thought about at the last minute, and that we have been singled out for an undeserved punishment. Indoor sports are allowed, as long as they are organised by a charity or official group. Brass bands can play indoors again. Compared to a dozen sweaty people running about in a sports hall, I think our plan for 19 people to stand still and breathe in and out in a large church is reasonable.
Is it that we don’t generate enough income for the economy? The money involved in community music is paltry compared to pubs and football matches, but not insignificant to me and my fellow choir directors. Nor, in fact, to many professional singers, who rely on paid engagements with amateur choruses. This feeds into my suspicion that too many people think that anyone who can bash out a tune can lead a choir, and that running music groups mostly done by volunteers.
There is no good reason for this change in the rules. Government-funded research was undertaken last summer, and as a result, singing was allowed again in August. Many choirs rehearsed safely in the autumn, following strict guidelines. We never managed it: by the time we had a venue and had done all the risk assessments, infection numbers were on the rise and we felt it unwise to go ahead.
Singing in a choir is the most wonderful remedy for depression and isolation. It brings people together across political and social divides, bringing proven benefits both physically and psychologically. Creating beautiful music with others brings an unbeatable sense of joy and belonging. It means a great deal to the people who take part.
We have all been longing to sing together again. The sense of disappointment and betrayal is palpable. Keep the faith, singers. Write to your MP. When we raise our voices in song at last, it will be very sweet indeed.