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Choirs: Where are we?

To say the last week has been a difficult one for anybody linked with choirs is quite the understatement. What has been incredible to watch, however, is the torrent of support for one another that highlights the phenomenal community of which we are a part.

To recap:

Monday 17th May: we moved into step 3 of the Government’s Road Map out of lockdown. All things pointed to choirs being allowed to return to Covid-secure rehearsals indoors and out, and many choirs did so, all fully risk assessed and with carefully organised mitigations in place. This was the assumption as no guidance had been forthcoming from the DCMS.

Tuesday 18th May: shortly after lunch the guidance finally arrived. Confusion reigned for several hours, but it soon became apparent that the guidance allowing no more than six to sing together indoors was indeed what we were reading.

Wednesday 19th May: Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for DCMS, answered questions in Parliament including one to explain the reasons for the restrictive guidance on choirs. His answer was that concern about the safety of non-professional choir singing had been raised by Public Health England, hence this guidance being issued.

Since then, Project Get Singing’s own petition picked up a fantastic 26,000 signatures, before it became apparent that the platform hosting the petition was not acknowledged by the government, a ruling made by Jacob Rees-Mogg. A new Parliamentary petition issued on Friday 21st May is, at the time of writing, close to surpassing this number, with a response from Government required after it reached 10,000. We are now working tirelessly to push this number closer to the 100,000 needed for the issue to be debated in Parliament.

Many choir leaders and singers have written to their MPs expressing their dismay at the guidance and asking for evidence of Public Health England’s concerns. There’s been a Twitter ‘Thunderclap’ event where the hashtags #singingmatters and #choirmatters started to trend as the choiring world shared and liked their posts displaying good, covid-secure practice.

It has also been encouraging to see the press pick up the story from various angles, from the widely spread article from the Guardian, and another article from children’s author Julia Donaldson highlighting the importance of singing for children. On top of that we have had reports of numerous radio and TV interviews, the most high profile of which features the Voice Doctor, Declan Costello, and renowned vocal coach, singer and television presenter Carrie Grant, who spoke with Martha Kearney shortly before the end of Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on Monday 24th May. Also on that evening, Bob Chilcott spoke about the situation on ‘Front Row’, another Radio 4 programme. (Have a look at our Media Gallery page for some of the recent interviews)

Many choirs had made plans that they were forced to alter at the eleventh hour. Project Get Singing is completely behind the efforts of the Singing Network UK in their attempts to reverse this guidance, pending evidence that it is indeed unsafe to sing indoors. But as Declan Costello stated on the Today Programme, “I’m reasonably well versed in the research that’s out there… and we’re not aware of any new research that’s out there that shows singing is more dangerous than it was a few weeks ago, so I think clarification on that would be very helpful.”

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