Saturday, March 13, 2021

Restore Our Choirs for Easter and Save Our Choral Tradition

Last June I wrote a post advocating for common sense in our approach to choirs during the pandemic. Nine months later, choirs in the United Kingdom are still not able to sing in churches, and in fact since January, have been subject to the most restrictive measures under which they have been placed at any time throughout the pandemic. These measures, allowing a maximum of three singers, appear to be completely at odds both with the receding medical situation and the scientific evidence concerning choirs. No account is taken of the proven mitigations we previously had in place, in particular ventilation, on which the UK Government has placed increasing emphasis.

Following the return of our schools, choir directors who train collegiate or cathedral-type choirs, including boys or girls, now find ourselves in an extraordinary situation: we are able to sing and rehearse in school, but not allowed to sing in church. To keep the repertory alive, many of us are maintaining the seasonal rehearsal schedule despite not being able to sing in the liturgical context. For younger singers, rehearsing without a liturgical performance to aim for is dispiriting, to say nothing of the detrimental effect on the Liturgy itself. It is therefore a somewhat equivocal joy to be rehearsing the Introit for Laetare Sunday in such circumstances, and indeed the Tract which contains a wonderful aural depiction of mountains (montes), one of the best examples of word-painting in the entire Gregorian repertory.

The UK Government's ‘road-map’ sets out dates on which lockdown measures will be lifted over the next three months, however there has been no provision made at all for our liturgical choirs, which remain effectively banned, only allowed to sing in numbers greater than three inside a locked church, with no congregation present. Despite attempts by professional bodies to raise the issue, there seems to be a lack of concern for the British choral tradition. Professional singers have already suffered immensely, while pleas for consideration of the particular issues surrounding children's choirs have not been addressed.

The damage being done to the choral tradition is significant and is becoming more difficult to counter. Choir directors are constantly being asked by their choristers “when can we sing in church again?” The feeling of loss and anxiety will be particularly acute amongst those up and down the country who are set to miss their final Passiontide and Easter and maybe even their final term as choristers or choral scholars. It would be a terrible injustice for the culmination of their time to be blighted by such apparently indifferent intransigence. A reversal is needed now to right the damage already done to the young who have shown such extraordinary patience. And who could deny such a wonderful opportunity to breathe new life into our churches again in time for Easter?

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: