Wednesday, 17 June 2020

I Have a Song to Sing? No!

Last Thursday the eminent Organista et Magista Choristarum of Westminster Abbey, no less, successor to Henry Purcell, Orlando Gibbons, John Blow (and Osborne Peasgood!) was a guest on BBC Radio 3's In Tune, talking to Sean Rafferty about what desperately frustrating times these are for singers everywhere, not least in this country's great abbeys and cathedrals.

Yesterday The Guardian published a letter from eminent vocal and choral musicians, composers and conductors claiming to 'give voice to the millions of people who sing in choirs in this country' and lamenting the 'uncertain future' we all now face.

Both argued strongly that church leaders, and the government, should take action. Abbey organist James O'Donnell referred to current restrictions as 'ridiculously risk-averse' and The Guardian's correspondents argued church leaders should now 'speak out so that we can make singing together in churches work' and that the government needed to 'show how we can restart singing together on an equal footing with opening theme parks, shopping and kicking a football around.' They added 'It is imperative that we find a way for choirs in this country to resume as soon and as safely as we can.'

No-one could argue with that. But I get the impression that phrases like 'within certain guidelines' are sometimes added as a sop to the 'ridiculously risk-averse' among us who - while bitterly regretting the current situation - might be a little less keen to come back anytime soon to choral singing.

Yes, 'Singing in a choir is not only about communality, social cohesion and harmony...' There is no doubt that is provides a 'source of emotional wellbeing and positive mental health.' It is important and needs protecting. But not at the cost of people's lives.

Like many recent relaxations of the lockdown restrictions, such calls are not only disappointing, but scientifically misleading. Earlier this month the New York Times published a article which seemed to show that, far from being 'ridiculously risk-averse' the current restrictions might actually be inadequate for singers.

Of course, much is not known. But as such, is it right to begin thinking of relaxing restrictions which may silence cathedral and concert halls, but save lives? I am as frustrated with the current situation as anyone. As a former cathedral lay-clerk and active singer I miss the opportunity to make music terribly. But with underlying health conditions, and having received a shielding letter, I am also acutely aware of the need to stay safe.

The risks of relaxing the restrictions too soon are too great. And until we know better, choir practice for me will look like this for a lot longer...

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