Choir is halved
Anyone attending the 10.30am Holy Communion Service in St Mary's Church, Melton Mowbray, on Sunday (May 23rd), and services in the coming weeks, will be surprised to see that the choir has been reduced to just six people.
This is due to latest Covid regulations made by the Government which state that amateur musicians should limit all (indoors) rehearsals and services to a maximum of 6 singers until the next version of guidance is issued. Professional musicians are not limited by number.
"I have had to take the decision to halve the choir, " said St Mary's Musical Director James Gutteridge. "We had a meeting last night on Zoom. There were strong emotional feelings but on the whole, they’ve been very understanding. They know this isn’t my doing.
"Therefore there will be two groups of singers for the next few weeks, one called CANTORIS and one called DECANI. This is the best way I can think of to deal with it. The six people in CANTORIS will be in church on 23rd May, 6th June, and 20th June and those in DECANI on 30th May, and 13th June.
" I will be rehearsing with just six people this evening (Friday) and the others will have to stay away. Then next week it’s all swap.
"Please know that I, and hundreds of my musical colleagues, are lobbying the Government and the Royal School of Church Music to change this ludicrous guidance. It’s a backwards step."
James has written the following letter to Melton MP Alicia Kearns:
"Dear Alicia, I live in and work in Melton Mowbray. I am a music teacher, choral director and organist at our magnificent church. I am writing to you about the ‘guidance’ issued by DCMS yesterday around the resuming of Amateur choirs.
"Since 29 March, small choirs were allowed in worship, with Covid safe precautions, etc. I’ve had St Mary’s Church Choir singing for services, safely spaced apart. I haven’t been able to restart Melton Mowbray Choral Society yet. We were promised that from 17 May, if step 3 went ahead, amateur choirs could resume, and our choral society couldn’t wait.
St Mary's Musical Director James Gutteridge.
"As in the Autumn, we space in household bubbles or bubbles of 1, we hadn’t even gone as far as groups of 6 yet.
"Everyone wears masks except while actually singing. Everyone uses sanitiser. We move choir robes into an open space to avoid crowding. We take every measure required, and have a thorough risk assessment. Recently some of the choir have made use of the lateral flow tests and all the adults are now double vaccinated.
"Yesterday, 36 hours AFTER the move to step 3, a piece of guidance was issued saying that for singing, only 1 group of six would be allowed. This was out of the blue, late, a backward step, unnecessary and heartbreaking for so many choirs, singers and directors up and down the country.
"It’s crazy. You can have multiple groups of six for any other activity – in pubs, restaurants, gym classes and other sport activities indoors and out, where there is loud talking, drinking, puffing and breathing heavily, but only singing activities are proscribed.
"It makes no sense at all. No account is taken of the vaccines, lateral flow tests and all our other precautions. I ask that you join others in pressing for an urgent revision of the guidance. Some say that the actual law allows what we’re doing and the guidance only says ‘should’ and not ‘must’, but it is so specific about a single group of 6 singers that it is hard to believe we can go against it.
"Please help. Amateur choirs do so much for community feeling, well-being and so on. Education can be at any age. I hate having to exclude my adult singers, many of whom are elderly and rely on this activity. In addition, this is my work. The choir may be amateur but the director and organists have a living to make – this is the same for choirs all over the country.
"I look forward to your reply, and to the issue of some more consistent and common sense guidance. With every good wish and thanks for all you do.
James Gutteridge. "
James has also contacted the RSCM at its headquarters in Salisbury and its Director Hugh Morris has assured him that there will be more information issued soon and there are conversations being had and action being taken "to ensure the (silenced) voices of choirs are heard."