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.

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!