Around 2004, I went on a 6-week course in an arts centre in Islington called “Confidence to Sing”. I revisited that same arts centre last year as it happens…in those BeforeTimes when we could wander about and take in arts shows as we wished. Anyway, Nathan mocked me a little for going on this course because confidence in singing has never really been an issue for me – he said it should be called “Opportunity to Sing”.
Anyway, it turns out that in 2020 I lack both the confidence and the opportunity to sing. Not that I’m not confident about singing to the internet because, heck, I’ve had to do a looot of that lately. What I’m not confident about is getting my choir back together and singing again. And that’s not my fault – the guidelines have been crafted in a way that have consumed hours and hours of choir leaders’ time poring over them trying to work out whether we’re officially Allowed to Sing.
And that isn’t what any of us want! We don’t want to find a loophole, to have to reimagine ourselves as a protest or a frisbee team in order to be able to gather and sing. We want to be told that yes, we can go ahead. We are choirs, a legitimate segment of culture that shouldn’t have to shoehorn itself into “education” or “exercise” in order to sneak by.
If it’s not safe to sing together, that’s fine too. We spent months waiting patiently for the results of the research and during those months, we adapted and ran choirs on Zoom or Facebook Live, even though remote singing is far from ideal. We shed members at every turn and we grimaced and carried on. Then at the start of July, professional singers were allowed to sing again and we amateurs again just had to deal with it and keep going. And then on 14th August, a thrill ran around the amateur choir community as we were finally told that singing probably wasn’t going to bring in the apocalypse after all. The new guidelines were ambigous and there were some implicaiton that we could still only sing in groups of 6 but clarification was on its way. On 21st August, the OneVoice Campaign published an interview with Barbara Eifler, CEO of Making Music, and she finally gave us all that certainty we needed. We didn’t need to limit numbers, we just needed to risk assess and plan and clean and we could then we could finally get our choirs back together.
So that’s what we started doing. Risk assessing, planning and cleaning. And, well you probably know the latest. Exactly one month after amateurs were given the greenlight, it flipped hard to amber. We’re back to a state of confusion with mismatched guidelines and the number 6 hanging over our heads as if the Devil himself had put it there. Our clarified Performing Arts guidelines still stand, we’re told, but then the guidelines for the hire of community facilities specifically name choirs as a group that might not be able to stop ourselves mingling. We’re in a world where choirsters can’t be trusted to distance but toddlers can. What kind of madness is this?
We have done our share of waiting and we shouldn’t now be forced to hide away, singing quietly in case someone catches us out. We want to have the confidence that we are doing the right thing. Some of the bigger choirs came out straight after the “Rule of 6” statement and confidently stated that they were exempt, for various reasons. But the exemptions list came out and, where sports teams and exercise classes sat, choirs did not. So while I’d love to have that confidence, it doesn’t feel like it’s a confidence that’s well placed right at the moment.
But we did have a sing! After all that risk assessing and planning, we had something in the diary for 13th Sept. So, we were distanced, limited and outdoors but we sang for an hour or so the day before the rules changed and it was glorious. Just wish I knew when we’d be free to do it again…