Limit of six on “unreasonable” amateur choirs

THE tightening of government restrictions on singing regarding coronaviruses, just 24 hours after the relaxation of rules covering the entertainment industry, angered church choirs.

As bars, theaters and sports grounds opened last week, new guidelines, applicable to England, appeared on the Department for Culture, Media and Sports website restricting gatherings of singers amateurs only six (News, May 17).

The Association of British Choral Directors has stated that the opinion “diverges from what we have been led to believe. This update has been deeply disappointing to all of us who have spent so much time carefully planning indoor rehearsals, and we are concerned that the advice for amateur singing places unreasonable and unworkable restrictions on other leisure and entertainment activities. enthusiasts are not currently facing.

Social media users reacted in protest. Ely Cathedral Deputy Music Director Glen Dempsey posted on Twitter: “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 concerts. rooms.

Pembroke College Cambridge Music Director Anna Lapwood tweeted: “This is ridiculous and another blow to our industry. . . Why are people allowed to eat in crowded restaurants when choirs cannot meet socially distant in well ventilated rooms? “

An online parliamentary petition (, calling on the government to allow choirs of all sizes to rehearse indoors, provided social distancing is maintained and Covid safety measures be in place, had collected more than 35,000 signatures by Wednesday afternoon: more than three times the number required to force a response from the government.

In the House of Commons on Thursday last week, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told MPs he shared the frustration of the choirs, but “the decision was made on the basis of very strong public health guidance. clear “. He hopes full rehearsals and performances can resume on June 21, assuming the final stage of the roadmap is implemented.

The Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, addressed his criticism via Tory MP for Mid Worcestershire Nigel Huddleston. When the junior Minister of Tourism tweeted from the medieval Evesham festival: “Our festivals and events contribute so much to our communities and our tourism industry,” the Bishop replied, “Thank you, Nigel. But please allow the Festival des Trois Chœurs to move forward by lifting the ban on more than six amateur singers singing together indoors. This makes no sense given that there is no such ban for professionals. “

The principal of the Royal School of Church Music (RSCM), Hugh Morris, said this week that the restriction had created “an upheaval, not to say an outcry”, and he urged all the singers to show solidarity in singing by joining the Big Music Sunday Service, online, June 6 from Lichfield Cathedral.

He said that, as backing vocals were so severely restricted again, the service was “a powerful way for singers to come together, even though it has to be online.” The music is rich and varied, and comes from all over the world – which seems especially fitting right now, as we all come together to support each other. “

The service will be broadcast live at 6 p.m. the same day, on the RSCM YouTube channel, and will air on the BBC. Songs of praise. Resources are available on the RSCM website.

Mr Morris also said: “We have done our best to reduce the ‘white noise’ of all the social media outcry and focus on things that will actually have an impact. This includes direct conversations with DCMS and d ‘other government contacts.We focus on helping to show that singing can be done safely, with evidence from different types of groups being gathered and sent to them.

“We don’t expect an imminent turnaround – but we can never tell, and the strength and depth of so many people’s feelings are very clear to see.”

The Association of English Cathedrals called on cathedral singers – both choirs and individuals – to join the protest. The Dean of Lichfield, The Right Reverend Adrian Dorber, who chairs the association, said on Tuesday: “We appreciate the public health concerns, but now that sports stadiums can have fans, pubs and bars are open again , and more and more of us are vaccinated, it seems punitive on the part of the authorities to suppress singing, especially amateur choirs and religious congregations.

“There is very little specific, published and properly peer-reviewed evidence to support these drastic measures. However, where there is evidence, it is that singing brings tremendous pleasure and satisfaction to thousands of people, and contributes greatly to personal well-being. We urge the government to rethink now. “

The Bishop of London, The Right Reverend Sarah Mullally, who heads the Church of England recovery group, said on Monday: – and, indeed, the congregations – to be able to sing without restrictions.

“During the Covid-19 pandemic, we worked with the government to try to ensure that the directions for churches and places of worship were proportionate and informed by a detailed understanding of our environments and practices. From the start, we have encouraged the government to be mindful of the consequences of the continued silence of our choirs, as well as the loss of congregation singing.

She said the group “reminded” the government “of the importance of singing to raise our prayers to God.”

Composer John Rutter launched ChoirGuides, an online choral learning tool to help singers learn their individual parts and make virtual choir recordings.

Mr. Rutter said: “These are exceptional times and the choirs are responding to the challenge in new and inventive ways. We hope this new tool will prove particularly useful now and also for years to come, as choirs will always be happy to help you learn their music.

In Scotland, amateur choirs can meet indoors, with social distancing and other measures in place, in level 1 areas (mainly on the islands), but only outdoors if they are at the level 2, and not at all 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. Risk assessments should be done for larger groups.