The long-awaited guidance to cover the first three stages of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) ‘road map’ announced last week to the re-opening of the performing arts has now been published.
The stages covered by this guidance are:
Stage One - Rehearsal and training (no audiences);
Stage Two - Performances for broadcast and recording purposes;
Stage Three (which starts 11 July) - Performances outdoors with an audience and
pilots for indoor performances with a limited socially-distanced audience.
This is good news for Making Music’s promoter members, who present professional musicians in concert. As well as being able to livestream from a venue, they may now stage performances outdoors and we are optimistic that, following the pilots currently underway, they may also present indoor concerts from the autumn.
However, the guidance is extremely disappointing for performing groups, such as choral societies, community choirs, amateur orchestras, brass bands, jazz ensembles, ukulele groups, handbell ringers, wind bands, and more, of which there are an estimated 16,000 throughout the UK, comprising around 900,000 hobby musicians.
Whilst professional groups are allowed to return to rehearsals, groups with non-professional participants are completely excluded from meeting if they involve singing, wind or brass instruments; and can only meet in groups, as permitted generally, where other instruments are concerned.
That would mean groups of 6 from different households in England and Wales at present; 15 in Scotland and 30 in Northern Ireland. The other countries of the UK have as yet not published guidance specific to the performing arts, though it is expected shortly.
The distinction between professionals and non-professionals is not justified in the guidance and it is entirely unclear why such a distinction should be made.
It would be inaccurate to make such a distinction on the assumption that leisure-time music groups are not able to manage risks in the same way that professional groups are. They are usually well-governed small charities, with responsible and active trustees who are used to managing the risks for their organisations.
It would also be ill-informed to assume that the economic impact of leisure-time music is not crucial to the recovery of the music sector as a whole.
The leisure-time sector spends £86.4m annually on professional musicians, being thus essential to a sustainable freelance work portfolio; spends £6.4m per year with music publishers; and supports the sustainability of venues of all kinds, from community buildings and schools to places of worship, dedicated and non-dedicated arts venues of all sizes, from the smallest arts centre to Sage Gateshead, with their hire of space for the purposes of rehearsals and performance.
Leisure-time music is part of the ecology of the music sector which cannot return to full health, unless all parts of it are allowed to re-open.
In addition, leisure-time music groups, providing a crucial social as well as musical function, are central to the recovery of the nation from the ravages to its mental health through the pandemic. Preventing groups from meeting will only exacerbate pressure on health and social care in the coming months, as more and more adults seek help with the consequences of isolation.
We call on the government urgently to permit non-professional groups and groups with non-professional participants to re-open for Stage 1 (rehearsals) as soon as possible, and in line with the guidance issued to professionals, but no later than 1 September.