Something positive

At long last there is something positive to say about singing – the research has concluded that it poses no additional risk as far as Covid-19 is concerned.

You can see the revised Performing Arts guidance here, but the crucial change reads:

“Additional mitigations, such as extended social distancing, were previously required for singing, wind and brass given concerns that these were potentially higher risk activities. DCMS commissioned further scientific studies to develop the scientific evidence on these activities, which has allowed us to reconsider these additional mitigations. Both professionals and non-professionals can now engage in singing, wind and brass in line with this guidance.”

“Non-professionals continue to be restricted to the rules on ‘meeting people outside your home’.”

So resumption of singing together moves a little closer, thank heavens! All we need now is the removal of the distinction between amateur and pro.

Were it not for Covid-19 . . .

. . . we would all, at this very moment (8.00pm Sunday) be about to take a break in our first rehearsal of the week at Bryanston School with Jeremy Jackman and Sam Hanson. So sad to think of the old friendships which will very likely not be renewed this year, and the new ones which won’t be forged. And so disappointing (if understandable) that amateur music making is still off limits – even outside – while professionals can now play and sing again, even if they are obliged to scratch their heads and wonder how best to conform with the safety strictures.

Thank you to Wimborne Minster who would have welcomed our al fresco Evensong had they been permitted to do so, and to Lesnes Abbey who were delighted by the suggestion that we might sing there.  Keep safe, everyone; remember all the good times from past Laudemus! weeks; and take care of your voices so that you still have one when we are all allowed to sing again.

So near and yet so far

The moves to ease restrictions on singing progress achingly slowly. On 30 June the C of E included this sentence in its guidelines for the resumption of public worship: ‘Singing, chanting and playing of brass or woodwind instruments are not recommended, but a further update will follow soon.’

Based on those guidelines, which also stipulate that the advice governing open-air services is exactly the same as for services inside the building (why???), Wimborne Minster has reluctantly decided that our al fresco evensong cannot go ahead within the current guidelines.

But ‘a further update will follow soon’: how soon is soon? From a memo circulated this morning to professional orchestras we learn that the restrictions governing singing and the playing of wind/brass instruments are being eased. What does this mean, and how long will it take the C of E to catch up?

In the meantime, Jeremy is exploring one further option at a ruined abbey in the south-east outskirts of London. We have narrowed the date down to Friday 24 July, and I promise to let you know by Friday 10 July what is happening. This is nail biting stuff:  if we cancel and the guidelines change two days later then it would be frustrating in the extreme.

Comfort assured!

One of the potential stumbling blocks to our singing outside in Wimborne at the end of July has always been the availability of toilet facilities. This problem has now been solved, which is one worry to cross off the list. We remain dependent on (a) final permission to hold the service at all (we currently only have general approval from the Minster, plus a lot of help and support), and (b) the weather. I hope that we will have a clear and unambiguous decision by 8 July, and some idea of the date by the end of that week.

The Met Office gives only very general indications for the whole of the UK for the period 12–26 July, and if they can’t predict anything more detailed for Dorset then I doubt if other forecasting services can genuinely do better. Years of local wisdom from Wimborne residents are likely to play a part here!

Interesting!

Jeremy and I have just had a Zoom meeting, singing to each other with and without masks to ascertain the difference.  Singing in a home-made cloth mask made Jeremy sound as if he’d closed a door in front of his face; my light-weight surgical mask, by contrast, made very little difference. So if wearing a mask is all that stands between us and Evensong, I’ll provide a box of surgical masks for us all!

No real progress …

… following the latest Government announcement. If we are a gathering, then there are too many of us. If we were holding a church service inside, and could ‘suitably distance’ then we would be fine, but not allowed to sing. However, we are ‘suitably distanced’ and outside, where all the scientists acknowledge that it is more than ten times safer. We might sing in masks …

Music (and folders) for evensong

Music will be emailed as PDFs to all participants in our al fresco evensong, together with any additional instructions for printing/learning. The exception is ‘Alleluia, I heard a voice’ by Weelkes (OUP/ed. Roger Bray) which you need to source if you possibly can. For those who are Laudemus! regulars, we sang this in 1995, 2016 and 2018; it is also in the Oxford Book of Tudor Anthems. We may be able to provide some extra copies, but bringing your own means you can verify how uncontaminated it is (this is a copyright edition, so photocopies are not acceptable).

Please bring your own folder. If you don’t currently possess a black or very dark blue folder capable of holding A4 sheets, please think now about how you can get hold of one. We will not be bringing ours, and it will be difficult to keep track of pieces of paper if they are not kept within hard covers, especially if there is a breeze!

Required reading

For anyone who loves singing, the idea – given substantial credence when it first appeared – that singing by its very nature was a ‘super-spreader’ felt like a death-blow. The idea seemed plausible; many believed it; and singing became the enemy. But singers themselves are now fighting back. Baritone Ed Ballard, writing in the Church Times, has drawn together the very limited science which enabled the original conclusions to be drawn and counteracts it with the opposite views, also from scientists, explaining the flaws in the original argument. Read his article here (you’ll need to cut and paste): https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2020/5-june/comment/opinion/it-is-time-to-sing-again?fbclid=IwAR2v5Vq3yJge_1HD0QrutuTTgaIW9Tr4xIGZZZMBBumnETVwxyvE2hmElpo . Trouble is, the original idea has taken hold in some quarters, so we need robust scientific investigation to tell us why we don’t need to be afraid to sing. And we need it soon.

Salvaging some singing

With fingers firmly crossed, we have come up with a plan to meet in Dorset and sing Evensong this summer, in spite of Covid-19. Just one service, unaccompanied and out of doors (now there’s a challenge!), to be sung in the north-east courtyard outside Wimborne Minster. Date will be between 22 and 25 July, depending on the weather forecast. Regular updates in this slot.