Distraught choirs forced to return to Zoom after late change of Covid rule in England | Coronavirus

There was a moving atmosphere in a large modern church in Guildford, Surrey last Monday evening as members of the Vivace Chorus sang together for the first time since March 2020. Savoring their reunion, they focused on favorites such as Bach and Mozart.

“There was a real sense of camaraderie and connection,” said Gill Perkins, an amateur choir soprano. “It’s a shared experience that we took for granted before and missed so much. One person said she felt she had regained her life.

The choir was delighted to resume rehearsals for concerts and performances this summer. After 14 months on Zoom imposed by Covid, the Vivace Chorus was back.

At the same time, nearly 200 miles to the north, the Rotherham Tuneless Choir was also meeting. Made up of people who love to sing but are not very good at it, the choir was delighted to find five new members as well as local MP Alex Stafford in its first session in months.

“It was a very good evening. People were happy to be back and said they couldn’t wait until next week, ”said conductor Becky Power. The choir sang Que Sera Sera and Glad All Over by Dave Clarke Five.

But the next day the Vivace Chorus, the Rotherham Tuneless Choir and thousands of other amateur choirs across England were disappointed.

Without warning, the government updated its guidelines to say that in England unprofessional singing could only take place in groups of no more than six people indoors. The new rules – released the day after a significant easing of Covid restrictions and violating musicians’ expectations – have been met with anger and desperation.

“I was absolutely pissed off,” Power said. “It’s contradictory and confusing and has completely ruined all the hard work we’ve put in. Perkins reported a “deluge of anger and anger.”

Anna Lapwood, Music Director of Pembroke College, Cambridge, tweeted: “This is ridiculous and another blow to our industry… why are people allowed to eat in crowded restaurants when choirs cannot meet socially at a distance in well ventilated rooms? “

Glen Dempsey, Assistant Director of Music at Ely Cathedral, job: “10,000 football fans singing in football stadiums, dozens singing in pubs, but only six non-professionals are allowed to sing in our cavernous cathedrals, churches, theaters and concert halls.”

Dempsey told the Observer it was the last blow for professional musicians who lead amateur choirs or are hired to perform with them. “It’s hard to see what dangers there are about amateur singers that don’t apply to professional singers.”

Gill Perkins, a Guildford-based Vivace Chorus soprano. Photography: KerryJ Photography

He was forced to cancel a rehearsal of the choir of 60 cathedral volunteers on Friday. “It’s back to Zoom,” he said. “It seems like all other parts of society are opening up, but the choirs are facing a retrograde stage. “

The Royal Choral Society, one of the oldest and largest amateur choirs in the country, continues rehearsals for a performance of Handel Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall in London next weekend. “Our view is that although our choir is made up of amateur singers, it operates in a professional environment with a paying audience and therefore is within guidelines,” said General Manager Richard Reeves. “We are 100% with the other singers who are being gutted by government advice, and we will push for that to be changed.”

The Association of British Choral Directors said on its website that the opinion “diverges from what we had been led to believe, that unprofessional musical activity would come back outside and inside in England from of May 17, with no limits on numbers other than those dictated by the size of a place (to allow social distancing) ”.

“This update has been deeply disappointing to all of us who have spent so much time carefully planning indoor rehearsals and are concerned that the guidelines for amateur singing place unreasonable and unenforceable restrictions on other leisure activities. and amateurs are not currently facing. “

In the Commons, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told MPs he shared the frustration with the backing vocals, but “the decision was made on the basis of very clear public health guidelines.” Concerns have been expressed over the past year that singing could increase transmission of the virus.

Bob Chilcott, choral composer, conductor and singer, said the restrictions lacked solid evidence. “I think what really shocks people in the arts community is the utter inability to engage with the fact that we have a strong cultural life in this country and we have to keep it alive.”

Music was “not considered a priority” despite the fact that around 2.2 million people are members of around 40,000 amateur choirs, he added.

Perkins said: “We don’t have a voice as powerful as football, we don’t have enormous economic power and we don’t feel like we are being listened to.”

Dowden said he hopes rehearsals and full performances can resume on June 21, assuming the final stage of the roadmap is implemented.

In Scotland, amateur choirs can meet indoors with social distancing and other measures in place if they are in Level 1 areas (mainly on the islands) but only outdoors if they are are at level 2 and not at all at level 3 (Glasgow area). In Wales, indoor rehearsals of up to 30 people are permitted. In Northern Ireland, from Monday, groups of up to 15 people can rehearse indoors without special precautions, and risk assessments must be carried out for larger groups.

This article was amended on May 24, 2021 to clarify the restrictions on amateur choirs in Scotland.