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When will it be safe to sing together again in person?

  • [The views expressed in this blog are from my personal experiences from 25 years of leading non-auditioned community choirs in the UK, as well as adult singing workshops. My focus is on teaching by ear using a repertoire of songs from traditions across the globe. Your experiences may differ from mine, so do feel free to leave a comment and let's begin a conversation! A version of this article first appeared as a post on my blog From the Front of the Choir]

     

    Many of you won’t have sung with others in a physical space for several months, or even a year or more.

     

     

    As vaccination roll-out increases and restrictions are eased in many countries, when will it be safe to sing together again in person?

     

    relaxation of restrictions

    As the Covid pandemic continues, different countries will be at different stages with relaxing restrictions on people gathering in groups.

     

    Here in UK, it is now possible in theory for groups to meet and sing outdoors, albeit in groups of six. And from next week, it may be possible to sing indoors.

     

    There are variations for each country – England, N. Ireland, Scotland and Wales – regarding exact dates and numbers allowed. But, in each case, it does involve a particular interpretation of the government’s complex rules. Not everyone agrees with those interpretations!

     

    I’m writing this from the perspective of someone in the UK. However, much of this post will have wider relevance. Whichever country you’re in, your government will announce similar types of guidelines.

     

    There is a difference between what you are allowed to do (either legally or by government guidelines) and what is sensible to do. Just because you have permission to do something, doesn’t mean that you have to do it.

     

    When choirs start to meet again they will need to introduce Covid safety measures. This will vary from choir to choir.

     

    It may mean wearing masks and/ or continuing to keep physically distanced. It might require using hand sanitisers before you enter the rehearsal space, registering individuals’ contact details, a limit to the length of rehearsals (and the number of singers), and preventing social mingling before and after the rehearsal. These requirements will doubtless change over time.

     

    the bottom line: what’s safe for you?

    Regardless of any government guidelines or measures taken by your choir, it will come down to you. Do you feel that it is safe to sing together in a group, whether outdoors or indoors?

     

    For everyone, as restrictions ease, there will be a certain amount of trepidation (and even unfamiliarity!) when meeting in groups in public. There is a huge leap from being closeted at home to mingling freely with large groups indoors.

     

    The most sensible approach is to take it slowly.

     

    As we gradually start to meet with one, and then more, friends and family outside our house, we will begin to feel more comfortable. The next step might going for a meal in a small group in a pub garden. Then a trip to a local shop. And so on.

     

    At each stage, you need to do whatever is comfortable for you. It may be that your fellow choir members are less risk-averse or more desperate than you for social contact. They may re-join choir rehearsals before you feel safe to do so. That’s fine. Everyone will enter back into wider society in their own way.

     

    Don’t be pressurised. Don’t feel that you’re missing out (I’m sure many choirs will continue with Zoom sessions as well as in-person rehearsals). Don’t worry that others will think you’re being over-cautious. Do everything at your own pace.

     

    There has been one big upside of forcing choirs to go online during the pandemic. Zoom rehearsals have allowed people who are disabled, housebound, geographically distant, without transport, etc. to be included in choirs for the first time. My hunch is that a hybrid model of a choir will arise out of this pandemic: in-person and online.

     

    what you can and can’t do in the UK

    If the Covid case numbers and hospital admissions stay low, then from 17th May, it should be possible to sing together in indoor spaces. It remains to be seen what measures, if any, will still be needed, such as physical distancing and mask-wearing.

     

    However, the advice is far from clear and inevitably is subject to change.

     

    In the UK, various music organisations have each interpreted the government’s guidelines differently. The most important guidance will come from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, although they always seem the last to publish any advice relevant to amateur choirs!

     

    The two main organisations for amateur music-making in the UK (at least as far as England is concerned) are Making Music and the Association of British Choral Directors (ABCD).

     

    For Making Music, here is their COVID-19: Can my group get back to in-person activities? They also have a useful page Resources for your music group during COVID-19.

     

    For ABCD, here are their Latest performing arts guidelines for England.

     

    Both these pages are updated regularly. The Making Music page also covers Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

     

    The UK Government also has a section on their “Working safely during coronavirus” website for the Performing Arts in general, and non-professional performing arts in particular.

     

    There are two main things to notice amongst all this guidance:

     

    1. any gathering of singers must be “within the legal gathering limits”, and,

    2. if your group is singing outdoors, you must ensure that people don’t stop to listen or it will constitute a performance (which is currently disallowed).

     

     

     

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    Chris Rowbury

    website: chrisrowbury.com
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