Open letter: Singing Network UK to the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport
An open letter to Oliver Dowden MP, outlining the concerns of the 27 organisations in the Singing Network UK about the return to singing for the 40,000 choirs and their 2.2m participants in the UK
Dear Secretary of State
I am writing to you as Chair of Singing Network UK, a network of 27 organisations involved in singing in choirs. Between us, we represent most of the 40,000 choirs in the UK.
The demographics of choirs cover all kinds of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, all ages (mother and toddler groups, schoolchildren, adults up to their 90s) and include many with mental or physical health problems, and some of society’s most vulnerable and marginalised.
We would like to impress on you that a clear plan of how to resume singing is now urgently needed to support the mental well-being of the 2.2 million people who sing regularly in choirs and that of the nation, including audiences, congregations and families.
There is also a significant economic impact on the livelihoods of musicians, venues, music publishers and other suppliers, which is currently jeopardised by the lack of group singing; and on the income of charities, for which choirs usually fundraise millions a year.
We wanted to let you know, from our combined vast experience with choirs and singers, what we believe is now needed, so that singing in groups can safely resume as soon as possible:
We would therefore ask you to give this matter urgent consideration and help the nation regain a happy state of mind, as well as a healthy body and wallet.
Barbara Eifler, Chair, Singing Network UK and Chief Executive, Making Music
Marie Benton, Chief Executive, The Choir With No Name
Caroline Bithell, Chair, Natural Voice Network
Leslie East OBE, Chair, Association of British Choral Directors
Manvinder Rattan, CEO, Sing For Pleasure
Ben Parry, Artistic Director, National Youth Choirs of Great Britain
Derrick Rowlands, Executive Member, Welsh Association Male Voice Choirs
Jennifer Coleman-Peers, Interim Chief Executive, The Voices Foundation
Clare Edwards, Director of Learning and Events, Young Voices
John Croft, Chairman, National Association of Choirs
Heidi Pegler, Chair, Association of Teachers of Singing
Phillip Tolley, British Choirs on the Net
Neil Chippington, Chair, Choir Schools’ Association
Tessa Marchington, Managing Director, Music in Offices
Martin Baglow, Chairman, British Association of Barbershop Singers
Hugh Morris, Director, Royal School of Church Music
Nancy Philbin, Chair, Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers
Margaret Oliver, Chair of Trustees, British Kodály Academy
Sir Andrew Parmley, Chief Executive, Royal College of Organists
Thursday June 04 2020, 5.00pm, The Times
Until 12 weeks ago Britain was a choral powerhouse. Two million people sang in 70,000 choirs. Some were highly professional and world-famous. Think of the Sixteen and the Monteverdi Choir, or the magnificent opera choruses of London, Cardiff and Leeds, or the incredible eight-shows-a-week ensembles sustaining West End musicals. That’s thousands of highly trained singers now facing financial ruin. Then think of the millions who sang for fun. True, those people haven’t lost their livelihoods, but for many the weekly choir rehearsal was what kept them ticking along — culturally, spiritually, physically and socially.
Few singers dispute that choirs needed to stop temporarily because of coronavirus. What is starting to irritate, however, is the lack of official guidance as to when and how they might safely resume. Instead of scientific research, anecdotal horror stories swirl around, instilling a fear that choral singing is so dangerous it might be permanently banned.
Let’s deal first with those horror stories. In early March, before social distancing was a thing, people became infected with the virus after singing with a handful of choirs across the world. Sensational headlines created the illusion that all choirs were death traps. In fact, thousands of choirs were still rehearsing without any precautions in March. Only five reported illnesses afterwards. The affected choirs rehearsed in tightly packed rooms. They greeted each other with hugs. They shared refreshments. Yes, the singing might have transmitted coronavirus, but equally the socialising might have done. We need proper research before jumping to conclusions.
Choristers at St Paul's Cathedral, London
DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
That’s the problem. Little research has been done, and none in Britain. However, two fluid-mechanics scientists at Bundeswehr University Munich conducted experiments to see how far singers project emissions. Their findings are encouraging. Although the World Health Organisation’s guidelines (echoed by Public Health England) say that Covid-19 is primarily transmitted through respiratory droplets and contact routes rather than aerosols (airborne transmission, which carries farther), the Munich scientists tested for both. They found that “at a distance of around 0.5m [from the singer], almost no air movement can be detected, regardless of how loud the sound was and what pitch was sung”.
Therefore, they concluded that it is “unlikely that the virus could spread beyond this limit via the air flow created during singing”. Add an extra metre to minimise risk even more, and it seems that — if the Munich findings are accurate — choirs might operate reasonably safely with singers placed 1.5m apart and configured in one big semi-circle.
That’s good and bad news. It’s good for smallish groups who stay in one place while they sing. Cathedral choirs clearly won’t be able to use their traditional double-ranked, inward-facing choirstalls, but given their buildings’ size, they could easily spread out in a semi-circle (as German choirs are doing). For big choral societies, that formation isn’t practical. They may have to break into smaller units. The real challenge, however, would be getting the choruses for operas and musicals safely back in business in productions where they need to move around the stage.
Other factors hinder progress. One is the ultra-cautious approach of the Church of England, which controls (the word is not too strong) the vast majority of England’s sacred choirs. Its bishops seem so spooked by those early horror stories that they appear reluctant to allow any singing at all, even when services resume. That hugely endangers a cathedral tradition that relies on boy and girl choristers maintaining extraordinary musical skills through daily training and performance. An enforced break of a year, coinciding with cash-strapped cathedrals closing their choir schools (as York Minster is doing), would be the biggest catastrophe for church music since Oliver Cromwell.
How to overturn the negativity? One piece of German research, however convincing, won’t be enough. Britain’s singers need clear British guidelines, but the government’s response is (surprise, surprise) lamentable. Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, has set up a task force to “help reopen cultural life”, but it seems to have no musicians or scientists sitting on it. The same is true of a separate task force set up by the Ministry of Housing to get churches reopened. And although Public Health England could muster the requisite scientific expertise, nobody seems to have asked it to advise on how to restart choirs.
Singing in a choir will never be entirely risk-free, but neither will shopping. In Germany and Scandinavia guidelines have been agreed and choirs are confidently reopening. Here, it’s just muddle. Our choirs deserve better. Is there not a single minister in Boris Johnson’s cabinet who cares enough about Britain’s glorious choral tradition to fight for its survival?
You should have received several emails from BABS and Shanna about the Big BABS EVENT tomorrow night. I have included the list of performers and as you can see our very own Bianco will be making an appearance. You can watch it on Youtube and i have included a weblink to the BABS Youtube page. These are all performances that were recorded before the lockdown. As you may be aware this should have been Convention weekend so as we cant be there sit back and enjoy some excellent singing.
James has offered to host a zoom meeting so watch out for emails from him.
|For more information, see:||https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJ2FuRq5qEL6aPbGH_MgY4w|
|I have just received this video from Wilf. It talks about the origins of barbershop singing. |
It is only 7 minutes long so I think you might have the time to watch it at the moment.
There will be a test next week!
|YouTube Video URL:|
|Just as we appointed our new Director, the UK shut down!|
We had a new song to rehearse, appropriately called "Smile" by Charlie Chaplin, but our Social Club was forced to close and so our regular Tuesday night routine had to be abandoned.
What to do?
Luckily Shanna is a media expert and soon we were all dragged into the modern world to learn about something called "Zoom".
We are now getting to grips with this and about 20 of us are now having a virtual rehearsal at 7.30pm every Tuesday, including a physical and vocal warm up, before going to our breakout rooms in the various voice parts.
We hope that all members will eventually join us for a chat and a sing, if you are not sure what to do please email me for some help.
I have attached a photo of us all in action.
See you next week
|I have just come across this initiative by Gareth Malone of BBC fame.|
if you click on the link above it will take you to a registration site where you can join in his Sing at home sessions. That is all I know. Apparently someone saw him on tv this morning talking about it. I presume it is free.
there is also another group called the sofa singers.
link is https:// www.thesofasingers.net
they are next "meeting" at 7.30 on Friday evening. You will need to download zoom to join in.
I am not taking commission from any of these sites. But will see if I can log in and then report back on my experience.
ps our old friend Seb is running his choir online but is also offering free lessons in using Sibelius which helps you arrange and compose music. The link can be found on our Facebook page if you are interested.
|For more information, see:||decca.com/greatbritishhomechorus/|
|There are no rehearsals at the moment following the Government's advice regarding the spread of the virus. I think that just about every other chorus/choir in the UK has followed suit. For us it is a hobby, but for all the professional musicians it is a nightmare and we hope that the musical world will recover once the virus has passed.|
For those of you going to Convention, BABS has not yet decided whether this will take place. They have daily bulletins on their website but I am sure all members will get an email if they have to cancel/postpone Convention.
Several choruses are holding "virtual rehearsals" and this is something that we might investigate in the future. In the meantime we all have access to our teachtracks and music, so maybe it is time to learn the words to that song that you were never really 100% sure of!!!!!
Look after yourselves and stay safe.
|We have been invited to sing at a Christmas Fair being held at Pattison's Academy. We have the 8pm slot so you can do some early Chritmas shopping and hear us sing at the same time!|
What more could you want? (You don't need to answer that question.)
|Barbershop in Boots?|
Well not quite. Puss in Boots is the panto at the Belgrade this year, and we are entertaining the audience before they go into see the actual show.
"Oh no you're not!"
"Oh yes we are!"
Sorry about that, I was just getting into the spirit of the event. If you happen to be at the theatre on that evening have a listen out for our selection of carols and Christmas songs sung in the barbershop style from 6.30 pm onwards. we will then adjourn to the pizza restaurant opposite for our well deserved Christmas meal.
|THE BUSKERS ARE BACK!|
By popular demand we wooed and wowed the residents of Warwick and district with our own interpretations of festive Christmas songs and carols.
At long last, after a two year absence, Three Spires Harmony made it onto the Bournemouth stage. For a lot of the chorus it was their first time competing, so with a mark of 61.1% and a qualification for Division Two of the Barbershop Choruses we were very pleased with ourselves!
A lot of credit must go to our new Directors Lucy and April, and for April this was her first time directing a chorus in competition. If she had any nerves she hid them very well and we all had every confidence in her. Roll on Harrogate 2020!
|This coming Saturday friends and family will have the opportunity to see us in performance mode as we run through our two Convention songs. Following our morning rehearsal we should hopefully be finely "tuned"!|
We will also be performing several other songs from our repertoire. This is a full dress rehearsal so if you haven't seen our new outfit this is another reason to come along to the Leofric Suite at Willenhall Social Club, Robin Hood Rd, CV3 3BB.
INSPIRED HARMONY SHOWThis will take place at our normal rehearsal venue in the Leofric Suite at The Willenhall Social Club, Robin Hood Road, Coventry, CV3 3BB.
The show will be headlined by the Grand Central Chorus and featuring ourselves, The Belles of Three Spires and The Electic Quartet as special guests.
Tickets are on sale on the door or in advance from www.grandcentralchorus.com priced at only £10 for adults and £6 for U18s.
This promises to be a great show and we look forward to seeing you!
This coming Saturday 8th December we can be found entertaining shoppers in the vicinity of the Herbert Art Gallery with a variety of Christmas songs arranged in the barbershop style. We have two slots , one in the morning and one at lunchtime.
|On Monday 19th November Three Spires Harmony will be singing at Coventry University from 10am until midday. This is an invitation from the Head of the Mental Health Department at the University who would like us to perform a barbershop programme for the students. The event is to mark International Men's Day and the aim is to encourage students to take up singing as one way of combating stress and depression.|
|Our Christmas A Capella learn to sing course is now underway.|
This is a 5 week course covering all the basics needed to help you improve your singing and also introduce you to the voice parts and harmonies that makes barbershop so special.
If you missed the first session, there is still time to catch up, so come and join us, as the course runs until the 4th December.
|SATURDAY OCTOBER 27TH|
Three Spires provided the entertainment at this event organised by Coventry Round Table. The aim of the event was to raise money for Emmaus who provide a home and meaningful work to 18 formerly homeless adults in the local area.
Our chorus provided the entertainment for those planning to sleep out overnight (on waht turned out to be one of the coldest October nights for several years!) They were also treated to two comic songs from our very own Bob Hodgkiss.
|On Saturday 13th October 2018 Three Spires Harmony hosted the latest Regional singing day. 135 barbershop singers from 14 different clubs attended the day, which was a great success and thoroughly enjoyed by all the participants.|
The day was brilliantly lead by Zac Booles and the Locksmiths, who also performed several of their songs in the bar at the afterglow.