We all sing for different reasons, but most of us love to sing. Want your baby to sleep, sing to it. Want to celebrate a birthday, we sing. Want to cheer on your sports team, we sing. Want to protest, we sing. It’s in our bones to use our voices and there is a real need in us somewhere to sing together. Singing is a very accessible form of music making, you don’t need an expensive instrument or any equipment, and anyone can join in.
For the last 15 months we haven’t been able to hear each other and sing as one. I’ve worked hard to keep my choirs going on Zoom and have tried all kinds of weird and wonderful ways to keep it interesting. I’ve recorded sing-alongs, tried different rounds and exercises, and learned a tiny bit of British Sign Language and Makaton to try and keep things visual. The hours that go into arranging music, teaching it all and rehearsing is often underestimated.
In community settings you’re working with a diverse group, often with folks that have never sung before. It’s quite incredible to see the joy on peoples’ faces after learning something and putting it together, hearing that vocal harmony and knowing they are doing it all themselves. We did that, that glorious sound is our voices!
I love to teach and facilitate people to having that experience, it’s uplifting and confidence building, spiritual and joyous. There is nothing that comes close to hearing and feeling each other sing.
The Government guidelines are currently prohibiting all amateur singing indoors. Choir leaders and singers all over the country had been told we could go back to rehearsals, then a day later, boom, u-turn, no indoor singing.
Yes, we are talking amateur singing, but that means thousands of choir leaders and accompanists are still unable to work. So many had made preparations, bought health and safety equipment preparing to go back to work and it was taken away overnight. Also so much of community music making uses singing and it’s taking away that work as well, and taking musical experiences away from those more vulnerable groups in society.
Research shows singing doesn’t generate vastly more aerosol than speaking
We already had chaos last year with the unknown risk of singing and wind playing and panic around droplets and aerosol. Research was commissioned from Dr Declan Costello and the PERFORM study got started. We all waited on tenterhooks at that point to see if anyone could play or sing, many musicians at home with no work and no financial support.
Costello describes the results: “Singing doesn't generate vastly more aerosol than speaking. In fact, the biggest factor in terms of the variability of aerosol production is the volume with which you're using your voice. There is a huge amount more aerosol generated at high volumes than at low volumes, a 20 to 30 fold increase.”
Also there was barely any variation across genres, they included singers from opera, choral, soul, rock and more. Interestingly the highest level in the whole study came from a cough!
So you can go sweat it out running around playing sport, shouting at a football match or out of breath coughing, but you can’t sit in a chair socially distanced wearing a mask and sing some madrigals. It’s ludicrous, the more I think about it the crazier it gets!
Dr Costello himself has written to the DCMS to ask why these restrictions have been made and what evidence they are basing the decision on. He is an expert in the field, he did the research, but the Government don’t even seem to be listening to him.
The MU has written to the Government too, and they’re asking everyone to sign the petition. If the petition gets 100,000 signatures then it means a debate in Parliament.
Overwhelming proof on the well-being benefits to singing
Singers get enough rap as it is, being ‘just’ a singer, how do you know a singer’s at the door.... and now you can play in your amateur big bands and orchestras but singers are being singled out. It feels very unfair, like we are the only musicians that can’t return to work. Then there is the massive impact on those amateur singers who are desperate to get back to singing.
There is overwhelming proof now for the well-being benefits to singing, the NHS is even prescribing it. Many people join choirs to meet people, to make friends, to do something for themselves. It’s about community and joining together as much as the music making for many.
It can be a huge confidence booster. We know it releases endorphins and helps make our brains happier and our bodies better. I’m amazed after such a difficult time and the concerns around mental health that singing hasn’t been made a priority let alone being left at the bottom of the heap!
No one wants to put themselves at risk, I was shielding myself for most of the last year. But if the government are following the science, where is this new evidence? And why won’t they disclose it?
I want to work, financially I need to. The last year has been the toughest ever for me financially since I began as a freelance musician 20 years ago. Don’t get me started on the lack of financial support for those in the creative sectors...that’s a whole other blog.
All we can do is support each other
There are now serious concerns about the next set of restrictions being delayed and amateur singing will be restricted for even longer. Plus the big unknown of whether they will decide to permit it in those next set of regulations, or change their minds again at the last minute.
We are now rehearsing outdoors where we can but it’s very difficult to find places that are accessible for everyone with basic things like toilets and disabled access. I’m hunting for outdoor spaces with cover to try and get back to normality as much as is possible. We have a few gig commitments in the book and need to be gig fit for these. It’s a really tough situation.
All we can do is support each other. Sign the petition, and write to our MPs in the hope of some further clarity on the decision and what will happen next. So please share this with your choir members, your music communities and networks. We shouldn’t be singled out, we shouldn’t be excluded. Let our voices be heard.