Why have choirs been silenced this week?


This evening I will be attending a rehearsal with the other members of my large amateur choir (in concert a couple of years ago in the photo). We were looking forward to meeting again in person today – 30 members were going to be able to attend at the school hall which is our usual rehearsal venue, with the rest of us watching on YouTube and singing along. Next week a different group of 30 were planning to go along to the school.

Then on Tuesday we learnt that the guidance from DCMS had changed (see Section 2.4) and that the rule of 6 now applies to in-person rehearsals. Choirs around the country were both shocked, disappointed and bemused at this unexpected change and have had to make rapid re-arrangements, which, apart from anything else, will have financial implications both for their Musical Directors and for their rehearsal venues.

So this evening we will all be meeting yet again on Zoom, just as we have been doing for the last year. As anyone who has tried singing on Zoom will know, the time delays make it completely impossible for everyone to sing at the same time, so we all mute ourselves and sing along to a backing track without hearing anyone else. It’s a poor substitute for singing together, but we have been putting up with it when there was no alternative.

You may think this is a niche concern, but over 2 million people sing with an amateur choir in the UK, more than play amateur football. It brings immeasurable benefits, both physically and in terms of mental health. When I was going through ultra-busy and quite stressful times in my political life the one thing that I continued to do was to attend choir because, as I used to say, “it keeps me sane”.

Back in the Autumn we did have in-person rehearsals like the ones that were planned for this week. 30 members met under strict Covid-safe protocols in the school hall, while the rest of us watched on YouTube and joined in singing at home. It was a joyous resumption of something nearing normality, but it only lasted a couple of weeks before the second lockdown. At that stage, though, none of us had been vaccinated, but it was considered safe enough at the time. This time most of us have been jabbed.

The evidence about transmission through singing is not as strong as was thought originally. It seems it does present a slightly higher risk than talking quietly, but you do have to compare that with the hugging and chatting in close maskless proximity that is now permitted indoors in restaurants. At a choir rehearsal everyone would be spaced out with no physical contact.

There is a petition on this: Let Choirs Start Singing Again: Singing Will Rebuild National Well-Being, which I have signed. I have also written to Ed Davey to alert him to the issue and ask him to support the campaign.

Update

The people who set up the petition are now urging you to sign the petition on the Government site as well, as that is the only way to get a response from Parliament.

 

* 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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15 Comments

  • Then on Tuesday we learnt that the guidance from DCMS had changed (see Section 2.4) and that the rule of 6 now applies to in-person rehearsals.

    It’s likely that government advice has been updated now that aerosol transmission has, at last, been accepted as a primary means of transmission…

    ‘The 60-Year-Old Scientific Screwup That Helped Covid Kill’ [13th. May 2021]:
    https://www.wired.com/story/the-teeny-tiny-scientific-screwup-that-helped-covid-kill/

    On Friday, April 30, the WHO quietly updated a page on its website. In a section on how the coronavirus gets transmitted, the text now states that the virus can spread via aerosols as well as larger droplets. As Zeynep Tufekci noted in The New York Times, perhaps the biggest news of the pandemic passed with no news conference, no big declaration. If you weren’t paying attention, it was easy to miss.

    But Marr was paying attention. She couldn’t help but note the timing. She, Li, and two other aerosol scientists had just published an editorial in The BMJ, a top medical journal, entitled “Covid-19 Has Redefined Airborne Transmission.” For once, she hadn’t had to beg; the journal’s editors came to her. And her team had finally posted their paper on the origins of the 5-micron error to a public preprint server.

    In early May, the CDC made similar changes to its Covid-19 guidance, now placing the inhalation of aerosols at the top of its list of how the disease spreads. Again though, no news conference, no press release.

    ‘Covid-19 has redefined airborne transmission’ [14th. April 2021]:
    https://www.bmj.com/content/373/bmj.n913

    …governments and health leaders should heed the science and focus their efforts on airborne transmission. Safer indoor environments are required, not only to protect unvaccinated people and those for whom vaccines fail, but also to deter vaccine resistant variants or novel airborne threats that may appear at any time. Improving indoor ventilation and air quality, particularly in healthcare, work, and educational environments, will help all of us to stay safe, now and in the future.

  • Choirs around the country were both shocked, disappointed and bemused at this unexpected change…

    The public needs to be better informed. Indoor choir practices are potentially high risk events…

    ‘Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 by inhalation of respiratory aerosol in the Skagit Valley Chorale superspreading event’ [17th. June 2020]:
    https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.06.15.20132027v1

    During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, an outbreak occurred following attendance of a symptomatic index case at a regular weekly rehearsal on 10 March of the Skagit Valley Chorale (SVC). After that rehearsal, 53 members of the SVC among 61 in attendance were confirmed or strongly suspected to have contracted COVID-19 and two died.

    Back in the Autumn we did have in-person rehearsals like the ones that were planned for this week. 30 members met under strict Covid-safe protocols in the school hall,…

    The subsequent second-wave of infections and deaths demonstrated that those “Covid-safe protocols” were woefully inadequate. This is because the primary means of transmission is via exhaled aerosols rather than droplets, so standing two-metres apart is of limited help in a poorly ventilated enclosed space especially when people are talking and even more so when singing.

    The evidence about transmission through singing is not as strong as was thought originally. It seems it does present a slightly higher risk than talking quietly,…

    Such an extraordinary claim would require extraordinary evidence in support. This article contains hyperlinks to research papers published in peer-reviewed journals…

    ‘COVID-19 Is Transmitted Through Aerosols. We Have Enough Evidence, Now It Is Time to Act’ [25th. August 2020]:
    https://time.com/5883081/covid-19-transmitted-aerosols/

    Talking, and especially singing and shouting increase aerosol exhalation by factors of 10 and 50, respectively. Indeed, we are finding that outbreaks often occur when people gather in crowded, insufficiently ventilated indoor spaces, such as singing at karaoke parties, cheering at clubs, having conversations in bars, and exercising in gyms. Superspreading events, where one person infects many, occur almost exclusively in indoor locations and are driving the pandemic. These observations are easily explained by aerosols, and are very difficult or impossible to explain by droplets or fomites.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 21st May '21 - 8:22am

    Now that infection rates are so low, and the people most at risk have all had the opportunity to be vaccinated, there can be no justification for these sorts of restrictions. Choir members should be able to make up their own minds about whether to take the very small risk. I hope your rehearsals can resume soon, Mary

  • At this stage I wouldn’t advise anyone to congregate indoors, let alone sing. We need some more time to follow this Indian Variant or we could be looking at a third wave. Vaccinated people can almost certainly carry and transmit the virus so those passports are just a bit silly. I speak as an ex GP and vaccinator not a business person admittedly

  • @Jeff. Thanks for your comments. That still leaves two questions though.

    Why have choirs been singled out when other forms of indoor activity are allowed to go ahead, many of which will involve more than six people, and in some cases closer together than choirs?
    From the guidance:
    “You can also take part in formally organised indoor and outdoor sports or licensed physical activity with any number of people. This must be organised by a business, charity or public body and the organiser must take the required precautions, including the completion of a risk assessment. ” It doesn’t say you can’t sing, cheer, pant or shout during those activities.
    In fact, your last quote suggests that a lot of the activities which are now permitted carry a similar risk, if not more, than singing in a choir. Choirs are not asking for special dispensation, but that, as the restrictions are eased off, the rules should be applied consistently.

    The second question is why the guidance was not issued until this Tuesday, causing widespread disruption. In our case a concert planned for after the next step in June, with venue booked, has had to be cancelled because it is essential we practice together beforehand.

  • If vaccinated people are prepared to take this risk who are we, as supposed liberals, to stop them. I am amazed at some of the comments on here. As someone who supported none of the lockdowns except the first one (which was a reasonable response to an at the time unknown disease) I have watched on in despair as we have happily gone along with the government playing fast and loose with our freedoms. We are becoming so risk averse as a society it makes me really worry for the future, as almost all new innovation usually involves taking a large amount of risk. I am not playing down the nastiness of covid, it is clearly a very unplesant disease, and as someone personally with a couple of high risk factors I give it the respect it derserves. But that doesn’t involve locking myself away or wishing to wander around permanently muzzled. Reading this and other threads I’m beginning to think that in a game of russian roulette with 1000 barrels on the gun I still wouldn’t be able to find one Lib Dem member prepared to pull the trigger!

  • Mary. I do not think you have been “singled out”. It is common – sense, life could get very difficult over the next few weeks, be wary that your vaccination will combat each and every strain. People are dying of the Indian variant and others who are vaccinated may well suffer long term effects where the injections have limited the full attack of the virus. Let us be very , very wary and cautious, I say this as one who is employed in a Priority 2 Level occupation.
    It seems to be accepted that the vaccination will need boosting, maybe annually. As the effect of the vaccine diminishes month by month the risk of spreading a virus that aint going away, becomes that much greater. As Asquith said, “let’s wait and see”, after all life is better than death or a debalitating long term illness,

  • Helen Dudden 21st May '21 - 12:33pm

    Why are flights being allowed from countries that carry a high risk?

  • Katharine Pindar 21st May '21 - 10:27pm

    Sympathy, Mary, and I agree entirely with Dawud Islam. Yes, the Government has indeed played fast and loose with our freedoms, and as Liberal Democrats I think we should be protesting more. The absurdity and inconsistency which your own quote of 8.29 picked out is especially aggravating, along with the abruptness of change in the guidance which as you say has upset so many choirs.

    My church’s vicar came to our choir practice in church this evening, very upset: we have been practising for several weeks, and singing in church at least every second Sunday, with about twelve of us well spaced out in front of the altar, but now only six of us are to be allowed! Why six, anyway? What is this absurdity? We local Lib Dems were going to have our next Executive in a member’s house, but few as we are we can’t be sure of only having six there, so it is back to Zoom. Cue protest letters to our supposed freedom-loving Tory masters, certainly.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 22nd May '21 - 6:54am

    Mary, I have signed the petition.
    Infection rates are very low Everyone in the groups most at risk from the virus have now been offered their first dose of the vaccine, and those who are at very serious risk have been offered their second dose as well. Anyone who has received even the first dose is highly unlikely to become seriously ill with the virus. Anyone who has not yet been offered a vaccine is in their 30s or younger, and has no serious underlying health conditions, so the risk of them becoming seriously ill is very low indeed. People who have chosen not to be vaccinated should be allowed to decide for themselves what risks they are prepared to take.
    We have therefore got to the stage where we should be allowed to assess the risks in any situation, and decide for ourselves. I wish Liberal Democrat parliamentarians would speak out, and say clearly that the government has no right to interfere in our lives in this way.

  • Mary, I completely agree with you. My choir – the Reading Phoenix – is, like many choirs, run by a committee who spend hours preparing for the precautions required to run rehearsals in a COVID-safe manner. The last time we met in person we had just 1/3 of our choir in 3 mini-rehearsals, each of us sat 2 meters apart in our rehearsal room, with doors/windows open to reduce the risk. We were looking to meet from this Monday in a larger venue which could finally – for the first time in a while – accomodate us all safely. We have since the last time we met had Zoom rehearsals but they are not remotely the same. Once we can finally meet it will take us some time to bring our current repetoire back to memory – let alone to learn new music. We won’t be able to sing a concert for a while. The draft stage 3 guidance had us able to meet in person all the way until last week. The sad truth is that there is a huge inconsistency between the way for example sports or churches have been allowed to return for some time and the refusal to allow choirs to return even now. But sport and churches have each had loud interest groups who have lobbied succesfully; choirs don’t have the same. This is overly cautious and wrong.

  • George Thomas 22nd May '21 - 12:13pm

    “The evidence about transmission through singing is not as strong as was thought originally. It seems it does present a slightly higher risk than talking quietly, but you do have to compare that with the hugging and chatting in close maskless proximity that is now permitted indoors in restaurants. At a choir rehearsal everyone would be spaced out with no physical contact.”

    I would be very appreciative if you could post the link to the evidence referenced at start of this paragraph. My knowledge may be out of date now but I understood projection of voice had a much higher risk than physical contact (in terms of handshaking) and issue with hugs has been mouths moving closer together rather than bodies touching.

    “Then on Tuesday we learnt that the guidance from DCMS had changed (see Section 2.4) and that the rule of 6 now applies to in-person rehearsals.”

    I fully sympathise with this. Late and seemingly confused decision making doesn’t help or comfort anyone.

  • The number of people saying that not being able to do [insert their own personal beef here] is bad for my memorial health is … frankly becoming bad for my mental health. As are the number of people who aren’t pandemicists challenging to destruction broad rules designed to hinder the spread of a pandemic. I say hinder, and not stop, because rules to stop the spread would involve everyone staying at home for 5 weeks or so, the borders and ports being genuinely closed and anyone breaking the curfew being put into quarantine. We’re not doing that because people complain. First it’s gyms, then markets, then hugging, now singjng. Don’t be comforted by the siren voices of the anti-restrictions brigade, their way deaths lie, and no matter how shrill they shriek or how many masks they rip the fabric out of, when this is done we will eventually find out how much they have been allowed to delay getting back to normal for the rest of us, and – frankly – how many lives they have on their hands. Sing in your millions if you like, just don’t be surprised if a few thousand fewer of you are doing the same in a few months time. And don’t worry about my mental health as this epidemic lumps it’s sorry was to an end – oh, well actually you haven’t !

  • MEG THOMAS 21st May ’21 – 8:29am:
    At this stage I wouldn’t advise anyone to congregate indoors, let alone sing.

    Indeed. We know from our hospitals and morgues that the official advice has been woefully inadequate all the way through.

    Mary Reid 21st May ’21 – 8:29am:
    Why have choirs been singled out when other forms of indoor activity are allowed to go ahead, many of which will involve more than six people, and in some cases closer together than choirs?

    In order to keep the R-rate (reproduction ratio) below 1.0, if risk is raised in one area, it needs to be reduced in another. So the fact that indoor activities, such as meeting in pubs and restaurants, are allowed, is all the more reason why choirs need to be suspended. That’s just basic risk management.

    The second question is why the guidance was not issued until this Tuesday, causing widespread disruption.

    Western governments and their ‘scientific’ advisors are still waking up to the fact that the primary mode of transmission is by airborne aerosols rather than fomites and droplets.

    The Government failed “terribly” to communicate that coronavirus was airborne and the extent of asymptomatic transmission, Dominic Cummings has said.

    This is why people didn’t self-isolate enough. “That is why the masks were all wrong,” he adds. “Even now, the Government is over-stressing wash your hands and under-stressing airborne.”

    Dawud Islam 21st May ’21 – 10:20am:
    If vaccinated people are prepared to take this risk who are we, as supposed liberals, to stop them.

    If drink drivers are prepared to take the risk who are we, as supposed liberals, to stop them?

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