Dr Francis Jackson

Dr Francis Jackson, who died on Monday 10 January aged 104, linked the 21st century to the 19th, serving as a chorister at York Minster under Edward Bairstow (1874–1976) whom he succeeded as organist at the Minster in 1947. A prolific composer as well as an organist, he was still writing music until just before his death, and he was delighted to be taken to the Minster in 2021 to hear the newly restored organ after a restoration project lasting two and a half years. There are many tributes and obituaries in the local, musical and national press; we direct you to one on the website of the Royal College of Organists.

Dates for 2022

With fingers crossed that our plans will not be scuppered by further variants of the COVID-19 virus, we are delighted to announce our tour dates for this summer: 14–21 August 2022. As usual, Jeremy Jackman will direct and Sam Hanson will be our organist. Music and churches have yet to be chosen, but the music will doubtless include a tribute to the Emeritus Organist of York Minster, Francis Jackson, who died on Monday 10 January aged 104. A great musician and a wonderful man – RIP.

New dates: 8–15 August 2021

Jigsaw now complete – all four sides firmly in place (thank you, Bryanston School!) and all bar two of the inside pieces fitting nicely. We are immensely grateful to the singers who re-arranged their diaries to accommodate the new dates. Almost all the originally booked churches were able to take us during August; we were left with a gap on Thursday, but the lovely people at Wimborne Minster invited us to make two appearances there this year.

Visit the 2021 Tour page to see where we are going and the anthems and canticles to be sung. All we need now is some summer weather!

A difficult jigsaw

Most people tackle a jigsaw puzzle by first completing the outside frame. With a four-week extension to lockdown now confirmed, the puzzle in front of us currently has the top (Jeremy) and the two supporting sides (Sam and Marianne) completed, but is lacking the crucial, underpinning base: Bryanston School. Most of the other pieces have at least been turned picture-side up, and we have assembled all the necessary ecclesiastical bits to enable us to put the tour together, and to work out how many pieces are likely to be missing in the soprano, alto, tenor and bass sections.

It’s quite a challenge. And the mental process is not helped by hints on this morning’s news that the extension might, after all, need to be only two weeks, meaning we wouldn’t have had to cancel in the first place. How is anyone supposed to plan anything in such circumstances?

A numbers game …

… or a question of extensions. Plus two weeks and Laudemus! this summer goes ahead as planned. Plus three weeks, and our fate hangs in the balance, dependent on guidelines given by the DCMS and the Church of England. Plus four weeks and existing plans collapse; we go back to the diary and try and reschedule the whole thing for August instead. Some game!

Still in limbo

It now seems likely that ‘freedom day’ will be postponed for a fortnight, making 5 July the magic date. So, in theory, Laudemus can go ahead this summer, giving us the opportunity to sing properly together as a choir – something we all need so badly.

There remain a couple of potential difficulties. By back-tracking on allowing choirs to rehearse indoors from 17 May, and refusing to publish the science supposedly behind the u-turn, the DCMS has opened up the possibility that choir singing could remain restricted after lockdown ends. Plenty of high-level lobbying is going on to try to ensure this does not happen.

If restrictions are still recommended, we will be in the hands of the Church of England, and it remains to be seen whether or not individual incumbents will be allowed a degree of discretion as to what takes place in their church buildings. Certainly there was a lot of anger from March 2020 onwards at the C of E’s ‘one size fits all’ attitude, so we can hope that a more flexible approach to risk will be adopted. In the meantime, the Laudemus admin team continues to plan for a wonderful week’s singing.

All in place for July!

Not only do we now have singers, delighted at the thought of singing again, but we also have places to sing! This year we look forward to a welcome at churches in Sturminster Newton – an old favourite; Milton Abbey – a repeat visit; Cranborne – not visited for some years;  Puddletown – a new experience; and – as ever – Wimborne Minster, dedicated to St Cuthburga who is celebrated in that evening’s anthem. You can find full details on our Tour page. Fervent hopes for no stalling in the government’s roadmap out of lockdown.

Fingers crossed . . .

. . . for July 2021, because we have a full complement of singers signed up for this summer’s course. People are, of course, desperate to sing, so we were not entirely surprised to be oversubscribed for this year. All we need now is for the relaxation of restrictions to proceed as intended, and for singers not to be shackled with additional restrictions. More details as they are finalised.

Hope for July

This afternoon, the PM announced to Parliament that all restrictions on the movement of people should be lifted in the UK on 24 June, assuming there are no setbacks. This announcement, coupled with the fact that it will be summer (which flu viruses don’t like), makes me hopeful that Laudemus! can run from 11 to 18 July as planned.

More details in due course; in the meantime, stick to the rules to avoid everything going backwards again!

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.