Many choirs and singing groups think the new rule of only six singers indoors is unjustified, so Making Music has been working with its partner organisations in Singing Network UK (SNUK) to shape a response to government, and to help all choir singers to play their part in this campaign
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) updated its Performing Arts Guidance with regard to step 3 of the England roadmap on 18 May.
Without warning, it diverges from what we had been led to believe, that non-professional music activity would return, outdoors and indoors in England from 17 May, without limits on numbers other than those dictated by the size of a venue (to allow for social distancing).
This is confirmed for instrumental groups but for singing groups, the guidance says: indoors only 6 people are allowed to sing together, making it impossible for choirs to rehearse indoors at this step.
Updates on Thursday 17 June
- Although some choirs who have Making Music group insurance are covered to rehearse indoors in groups of more than six (see below) if they are being paid or are rehearsing towards a paid ticketed performance, there are still many others for whom it is not possible to meet. Alongside Lucy Galliard from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, our Chief Executive, Barbara Eifler, addressed the All-Part Parliamentary Group on Classical Music on 8 June to make the case for choirs to meet indoors. Following the government announcement on Monday 14 June that stage 4 of the roadmap will be postponed for another four weeks, the Group has now written to Oliver Dowden at the DCMS to ask whether the government has received further scientific advice around the safety of singing, and if not, why the guidance contains these inconsistencies.
- Making Music and abcd have launched the new WellRehearsed free risk management rehearsal app for all music groups to use to collect anonymous data, and help build a sector-wide picture of the spread of the virus.
- Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty replied to our earlier letter (see below) to say he had passed it on to Public Health England but gave no new insight.
- The petition to allow choirs to meet indoors has over 58,000 signatures and is still worth signing to force a debate in Westminster Hall, keep the pressure on the government and DCMS, and to raise awareness with the public about this issue.
- Making Music is still working closely on this campaign with fellow organisations including Association of British Choral Directors, Association of British Orchestras, Incorporated Society of Musicians, Royal School of Church Music, Musicians Union, and members of the Singing Network UK, trying to:
• understand what underlies this number limit: if there is science, then we need to know what it is in order to issue better guidance and/or help address the issues identified by the science.
• identify how to achieve change of the current guidance and make sure that when Step 4 happens, choirs are able to meet on the same footing as other non-professional music or other non-professional arts groups.
- As well as the actions above, this involves contact with various civil servants and the use of Freedom of Information requests. These haven’t brought any useful results yet, but we are persisting.
Breaking news on Thursday 10 June
- Following the DCMS minister’s response that “Whilst it is for organisers and venues to determine how to operate in accordance with the relevant guidance and regulations, we would remind you that the limits do not apply to activity taking place for work or commercial activity”, Making Music has now had confirmation from RSA, the underwriters of the insurance policy most member groups hold, that ‘in their opinion a commercial activity would include ventures that involve ticket sales and where it is customary for fees to be charged for attending events and include rehearsals before said event(s).’ Such events would therefore be covered by the policy because they would not contravene DCMS guidance.
- This means that if choirs are rehearsing towards and performing in a concert for which tickets are sold or if they are rehearsing towards and performing at an event for which the group is being paid a fee, this is commercial activity and therefore they would be permitted to meet in numbers greater than 6 indoors.
- Please see Making Music’s guidance tool for full details.
- Other updates: on Monday 14 June the Prime Minister will announce if Step 4 of the roadmap will go ahead on 21 June or what alternatives may look like, considering the current impact on infection rates of the Delta variant. We will update our guidance tool and this page as soon as the implications of the announcement are clear – sometimes that involves seeking clarification from relevant civil servants, so there may be a short delay in updates.
- The petition has received an official government response as it collected more than 10,000 signatures. That response is identical to the content of the ministerial letter to us, partner organisations and other MPs (if you signed the petition you will have received a copy of the response). Their explanation for the restrictions still refers to studies from July/August 2020 which were used to allow amateur choirs to sing indoors last summer, and overlooks later research. We will continue to work with our partners to #LetChoirsSing, and we encourage everyone involved in amateur singing to sign and share the petition, as when it reaches 100,000 signatures, it will be considered for a Westminster Hall debate - so this is still worth signing!
- Similarly, it is never a waste of time to write to your MP or to members of the House of Lords, so that the topic of choirs and leisure-time music become more prominent in their minds and perhaps prevent future restrictions, as it is likely the virus will be around for some time to come. See below for more information about writing to your MP.
- And you may like to add your testimony to this new website: WhyWeSing – Making Music and other organisations will be pointing policymakers and other stakeholders to it, so they can read some of the personal stories to help them understand the importance and power of singing.
- And a new rehearsal tracking app, WellRehearsed, developed by the Association of British Choral Directors and Making Music is live on Android and can help gather anonymous key statistics for the sector about the spread of the virus - if someone in your group has an Android phone they can report on this from your choir rehearsals. WellRehearsed is free and can be found in the Google Play store, and is coming soon to the Apple store!
Updates on Tuesday 1 June
- We are still awaiting an answer to our letter to Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, however…
- We have been given to understand that there will not be a change to the official DCMS performing arts guidance until Step 4, which may or may not happen on 21 June.
- The letter from Caroline Dinenage, Minister for Digital and Culture at DCMS to us and the other signatories includes this statement: “Whilst it is for organisers and venues to determine how to operate in accordance with the relevant guidance and regulations, we would remind you that the limits do not apply to activity taking place for work or commercial activity.”
- Making Music Insurance Services (MMIS) have said that if groups act against relevant guidance which applies to them, then in the event of a claim on their MMIS insurance policy, they would reject that claim. Select the 'England,' 'Organise a rehearsal' section of our guidance tool for details about singing inside.
- We have updated our guidance tool with more details to reflect the latest available information.
- The government petition currently stands at 52,000 signatures and needs 100,000 for a Westminster Hall debate. Share: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/586559
- There is still value in writing to your MP or to peers in the House of Lords, as well as the relevant ministers – see below for details.
Updates on Friday 28 May
- Making Music, Singing Network UK, Association of British Orchestras (ABO), Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), UK Music, Music Publishers Association, Music Industries Association have now also written to Professor Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, and Dr Jenny Harries OBE at Public Health England.
We outline that we are not aware of new evidence; and how choirs were operating safely between August and December 2020, with a range of risk mitigations in place, including well-ventilated buildings, strict social distancing during activity from arrival to leaving, smaller group rehearsals to allow 4m2 per singer, singers’ facemasks, shorter rehearsals, hand sanitising, one way systems in venues, no sharing of equipment, strict exclusion of anyone with symptoms via pre-attendance questionnaires, allocated seating and thorough cleaning.
We ask that the evidence be published which has prompted the decision to single out choirs, out of all organised amateur activity (music, theatre, dance, sport) as the one not safe enough to re-start and that the conditions be made explicit under which choirs may re-start meeting indoors in numbers greater than 6, to allow forward planning.
- We have received a response to the first industry joint letter to Caroline Dinenage, Minister of State for Digital and Culture at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. It is identical to the letter sent on her behalf to MPs over the last few days. Analysis and further steps on Tuesday 1 June.
- Currently 20 parliamentary questions tabled in the House of Commons, 4 in the House of Lords. Keep writing.
- The petition to allow non-professional singing in groups of more than six indoors currently stands at just over 45,000. At 100,000 there has to be a Westminster Hall debate. Share the petition.
The updated guidance allows only 6 people to sing together indoors.
The suggested solution:
What Making Music, Singing Network UK, Association of British Orchestras (ABO) and Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) are doing:
- A letter has gone to the minister responsible, on behalf of Singing Network UK (SNUK), which represents the 2.2 million singers and 40,000 choirs in the UK, supported by ISM and ABO
- A press release distributed on 21 May is starting to generate interest
- Developed a parliamentary question to be asked by any MP or peer selected to ask such a question, with accompanying briefing - we have updated this question, in the light of Oliver Dowden's, the Secretary of State's, response to Jo Stevens MP in the House of Commons on 20 May
- In dialogue and working with DCMS on creating the confidence in their team that SNUK is supporting choirs with the right protocols to operate safely
What can you do?
- Write to your MP. Your MP, whatever their party, is representing you and has to respond to your concerns
- Also write to the relevant ministers (Caroline Dinenage, Minister of State for Digital and Culture; Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) and the Permanent Secretary (Sarah Healey) at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport at email@example.com .
- Not just one person should write – every single person in the choir should write and make it personal: tell their MP what being in a choir means to them, to their community, for the constituency, tell their own story
- Write to members of the House of Lords – any and all of them! They do not represent a geographical area but you might have a special connection to some of them, perhaps because they come from your region or sing in a choir; if you don't know (of) any of them, you can research them here: https://www.theyworkforyou.com/peers/. Some that we know have an interest in singing or have asked questions about it before are: Lord Berkeley of Knighton, Baroness Walmsely, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, Lord Vaizey of Didcot, Lord Roberts of Llandudno.
- Can they ask a parliamentary question? (MPs and peers in the House of Lords can do this – it’s a lottery, they can apply and may be picked or not). Download our parliamentary question and briefing. Please note: even they are not selected for a verbal question, they can ask a written question and the relevant minister has to respond
PLEASE NOTE - there is now also a petition which has been set up on the official petitions website of the government - it has already reached 10,000 signatures which means that government has to respond, if it reaches 100,000, there has to be a Westminster Hall debate. Please sign and share: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/586559
This is about and for all singers and choirs – please do share this information and page far and wide with your singing contacts. You can download our parliamentary question and briefing below.
Sheffield Telegraph, 2 June
Pop Choir on Radio Suffolk, 28 May
Lucy McClean and Declan Costello on Jeremy Vine, Radio 2, 27 May (1:31)
Ipswich Star, 27 May
Article on the BBC website, 26 May
Letters in the Telegraph, 25 May
Bob Chilcott on Front Row, Radio 4, 24 May (22'44'')
Declan Costello on In Tune, Radio 3, 24 May (1:07)
Abi Gilchrist on LBC, 24 May (1:50)
Declan Costello on The Today Programme, Radio 4, 24 May (2:54:53)