A Grim Old Time for Community Choirs (A Reblog)



A reblog from my choir blog: harmonye4.wordpress.com

This lockdown has brought challenges for so many people in so many ways. Slowly, restrictions are lifting and life is showing glimpses of normality. And this week, choir leaders everywhere allowed themselves a small smile as the government announced the return of outdoor gigs from 11th July.

Yet it’s 11th July and we are not performing. It was meant to be Highams Park Day today, which is always the finale to our summer season but there was no Highams Park Day and no summer season. We’ve known that would be the case for some time but always held on to the hope that something would be possible later on in the summer.

The announcement this week has all but scuppered that hope. While gigs are back, singing is limited to small groups of professionals. You can read the original text here. I went from a place of optimism on Thursday afternoon to a slough of despair on Thursday evening as all the implications sunk in. The line between amateurs and professionals is nonsensical from an infection point of view – we all have to breathe out when we sing, however much voice control we have – and it leaves amateur choirs stranded without the support and momentum of the professionals behind them. I understand that we need to get the Arts Industry moving, but keen amateurs support the pros. We’ve sung with a professional soprano at the Highams Park Proms every year since we started and choirs all over the country lend their free support to professional singers all the time in normal times. And how are the next generation of professionals going to learn their trade without school choirs to sing in?

Amateur choirs are about so much more than performing. It’s a community and a support network. When we first came up with the idea of starting a choir, I was working in a job where I was isolated all day and choir was a blessed lifeline. Others came to us because they had small children and were looking to try and restart their social life. More recently we’ve had people who have just retired or who are just recovering from long illnesses….all coming together to sing because that’s what has connected humans since the dawn of time.

I’ve always loved to sing. I’ve never been more than an adequate singer myself but the joy of having a choir to sing for me is that they cover up my patchy notes and realise my maddest musical visions. I’ve sung to myself a lot during lockdown but there isn’t the joy you get when you harmonise with other people. I am extremely bored of the sound of my own voice, it’s fair to say.

I know the research so far into the dangers of singing and Covid. I know the case studies. I’ve read it all. So please don’t respond with a pile of links me to plough through. I am fully aware of what we know so far, even though we actually know very little. But in a world where you can go to the pub and sing there but not sing sober in a controlled outside environment….well, it’s hard not to be a little downbeat. The months of silence about singing, followed by this one announcement has proved that community choirs are not high on the restart agenda and we shouldn’t expect to be.

It’s a grim old time alright.

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