Isolation diary: Singing again

Covid-19 has silenced choirs – we must find a way to restart singing together – that was the headline for a letter in the Guardian this week. It was signed by some very well known names in choral music, people I have admired for a long time. They included Bob Chilcott (composer of some stunningly beautiful songs), John Rutter (another well-known composer, and revered for the Carols for Choirs series which is used by almost every choir in the country), Simon Halsey (Director of the London Symphony Chorus), Harry Christophers (director of The Sixteen – my favourite choir of all time), plus many conductors of choral societies around the UK.

They write:

Up until now we have had one of the most vibrant choral landscapes in the world. Our professional choral life, consisting of world-renowned chamber choirs, vocal ensembles, opera choruses, cathedral choirs and theatre ensembles, faces an uncertain future. The financial picture for such groups has always been challenging, even in the best of times, but the outlook now for such ensembles, mostly made up of freelance musicians, is not an optimistic one.

We have a world-leading cathedral and church choir tradition, largely made up of young boys and girls and paid adult singers who face financial hardship and also serious challenges of continuity. The amateur choir life of this country is huge, from the world-class symphony choruses and university choirs to community and school choirs, and all these groups face a time of great uncertainty.

We need church leaders to have the courage to speak out so that we can make singing together in churches work within certain guidelines. We need the government to show how we can restart singing together on an equal footing with opening theme parks, shopping and kicking a football around. It is imperative that we find a way for choirs in this country to resume as soon and as safely as we can.

Singing in a choir is not only about communality, social cohesion and harmony; for many it is an essential source of emotional wellbeing and positive mental health. Moreover it is a powerful expression of our culture and humanity, and it cannot be allowed to fade away.

I have quoted them at length, because I totally agree with them. We know there are some specific issues around social distancing, especially with large choirs, but they are not insurmountable.

Choirs of all types have always flourished in the UK, but there has been a massive growth over the last ten years or so. We can thank Gareth Malone for much of that. His TV series have inspired people all over the country to try singing with others. Music groups have sprung up to cater for people who can’t read music, or who enjoy singing in specific styles, or who want to sing with colleagues, alongside traditional choral societies, barber shop groups and male voice choirs. Rock Choir has been amazingly successful with over 400 groups established around the country.

I have mentioned before that I have been ‘attending’ the Great British Home Chorus, run by Gareth Malone every weekday during lockdown. We have learnt a new song most weeks and four have been recorded for an EP. Almost all the sessions were live, and it was fascinating to read the real-time comments from the thousands of other people participating. Some told remarkable stories about how singing had helped them through the crisis, in one case after her two sons were murdered.

The BBC caught on to what he was doing online and have made a three part series The Choir: Singing for Britain. The first episode will be shown next Tuesday on BBC2 at 9pm. I will certainly be watching that.


Please note

We have been in full self-isolation since 16th March to protect my husband whose immune system is compromised.

If you are in self-isolation then join the Lib Dems in self-isolation Facebook group.

You can find my previous Isolation diaries here.


* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Nigel Jones 21st Jun '20 - 2:25pm

    Yes to that Mary; singing is so good for so many people and it is sad that singing and music does not play such a large part in our schools and their extra curricular activities; it looks as though private schools now do better than state schools on this.
    Online can help; my wife took part in an event of the Ex Cathedra choral group last week and the payment for this was a great help because they are struggling financially.

  • @Nigel Jones – I do hope some of the online choirs continue after this is over, as they are a great help for people who can’t get to a real choir. But we really need to get back together again.

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