Member blog: Unlocking the music

As lockdown restrictions began to ease, Cantiones Choir headed outdoors to experience the joys of singing in person again. Sian Tasker, choir committee member, tells us more about their return to music making

“Finally I got to go and sing this afternoon. In the outdoors in socially distanced lines. I knew I'd missed it, but the liberation and soul lifting of simply a rehearsal was worth every bit of effort that the team has put into planning and making it work, and reminded me just how much I need that freedom of expression and opportunity of collaboration.” This comment was made by one of Cantiones’ sopranos after our first opportunity to sing together after lockdown. I think we all felt the same. 

Rolling back several months to the beginning of lockdown, we were very fortunate that our new MD, noted composer and conductor Martin Bussey (also MD of Chester Bach Singers), offered to provide weekly rehearsal videos so we could continue to sing, albeit alone at home. We decided as a committee we would wrap these rehearsal opportunities in a weekly newsletter in order to encourage the membership to feel that Cantiones remained a weekly part of their lives. The newsletter was full of committee news, music and news from Martin, news from individual choir members and recommendations of online opportunities; it became a welcome weekly message into singers’ inboxes.

Of course, it felt fairly odd being 2m from the next singer to begin with, but the sheer joy of singing as a group and feeling safe to do so soon mitigated any such discomfort

Everyone who sings in a choir does so for different reasons. In fact, Cantiones members have said they enjoy meeting up with like-minded people, a sense of achievement after a good rehearsal, a sense of common purpose and a contribution to wellbeing by stress-busting and keeping the mind active. We all missed this enormously during nearly six months of silence during the pandemic’s worst months and felt determined to return to singing as soon as it was safe to do so.

The Choir joined with others to lobby the Culture Secretary to commission scientific research into the effect of singing on aerosol transmission all the time hoping that the results would indicate a way to return to safe singing under whatever designated conditions might be required. We found the regular information from Making Music to be vital in informing our plans, so with their help and advice, along with the excellent risk assessment template sourced by a member of the choir, we formulated a plan for our first meeting which was ready to go as soon as permission was forthcoming.

“I knew I'd missed it, but the liberation and soul lifting of simply a rehearsal was worth every bit of effort that the team has put into planning and making it work, and reminded me just how much I need that freedom of expression and opportunity of collaboration”

Guidance was eventually published in August and our Chairman, Paul Myres, worked tirelessly on our behalf to ensure that all the ‘i’s were dotted and all ‘t’s were crossed to comply with the conditions and to reassure the choir that their safety was assured. It was this work which resulted in more than half the choir feeling they could attend. Before we arrived Paul pegged out warning tape and made chalk marks every 2m to indicate individual singing spots. 

And so we found ourselves driving into a field on the warm sunny afternoon of 30 August. On arrival we sat behind our cars to be called to our places one by one to reduce the possibility of ‘mingling’ and were soon ready to sing. Of course, it felt fairly odd being 2m from the next singer to begin with, but the sheer joy of singing as a group and feeling safe to do so soon mitigated any such discomfort. We were surprised and delighted after such a long absence from singing that Martin declared that we had made a pretty decent sound!

Guidance for England changed shortly after this meeting but we were determined to sing together again and found another venue, this time a grassy car park next to a chapel in Wales. Again, we had a gorgeous sunny afternoon in October and again we revelled in the opportunity to sing together.

It now remains for us to find an indoor venue which is large enough and safe enough for us to consider for our continuing rehearsals. It is not an easy task but, with our usual dogged determination, we are confident we will find a solution.

  • Cantiones is a chamber choir based in Oswestry, Shropshire, with just over 30 voices, who love the challenge of singing a variety of music to a high standard. For more information, visit the choir's website, or follow on Facebook or Twitter

Has your leisure-time music group resumed in-person activities? If you'd like to write a blog about your experiences, or you have any pictures of socially distanced rehearsals that you'd like to share, get in touch