Posted: 30.06.21 at 12:40 by Ellie Brown
An amateur choir in Teddington have spoken of the joy of singing together again as they continue to lobby against government social distancing rules banning indoor singing by more than 6 people in a non-professional group.
Members of Teddington Choral Society (TCS) rehearsed together at Orleans House Stables for the first time since the winter lockdown at the start of the month and have continued to meet up on Monday evenings.
The reaction to the new outdoor rehearsal space has been positive and singers plus musicians have continued to flock to their new rehearsal space, come rain or shine.
A spokesperson for TCS described how it felt to perform together after months spent on zoom.
She said: "TCS Chair person, Rebecca Clarke has worked hard to find a venue outdoor to bring back the choir to in-person rehearsals following the Government's guidance.
"There are no words to describe the joy that it has been to all meet again after all these months."
She added: "Unfortunately the latest Government announcements on Monday 14th of June will maintain the current worries at a high level.
"Delaying the roadmap for four more weeks means exponentially jeopardising the Arts and Performance sector and more particularly the non professional groups/ensembles.
"TCS is committed to supporting its professional staff, like many other choirs, but it worries for their livelihoods as they are missing so much work.
"We are hoping to be back soon to more normality and are open to new members willing to join."
The choir have been lobbying to perform together inside since the new government rules came into force last month on May 17.
The new rules caused outrage among many amateur choirs across the UK who had been preparing to return during stage 3 of the UK's roadmap out of lockdown.
Many claimed the guidance was unfair as indoor hospitality and some socially distanced entertainment venues were allowed to re-open, while groups of professional singers were not affected by the 6-person limit.
In its advice the government said that "singing, shouting and physical activity increases the risk of transmission through small droplets and aerosols" but a scientific study released earlier this year disputes this view.
Responding to the news last month, Clarke said: "Everyone at Teddington Choral Society was very excited to return to live rehearsals on the 24th May and looking forward to preparing for a concert for the first time in well over a year.
"We were all devastated by the unexpected announcement from the Department of Culture, Sport and Media, on the 18th May, that amateur choirs would only be allowed to rehearse indoors with six people at a time.
"What were we to do with the other 100 or so singers?
"The road map laid out by the government had scheduled amateur choirs to return to Covid safe indoor rehearsals on 17th May with no limits on numbers - this is what we had spent weeks preparing for.
"Not for only six people or for outdoor rehearsals.
"The government has changed their minds without providing research to support the decision and Teddington Choral Society, like all the other amateur choirs in England, are frustrated and disheartened at being set aside whilst people can yell at each other in busy pubs or go to sporting events and shout and sing or go to gym classes and huff and puff over others.
"Our planning had taken into account adequate distancing between singers, sufficient ventilation to disperse droplets and tracing, amongst other measures to keep our singers safe.
"The same as the plans we put in place last year when we were allowed to rehearse even though cases were higher and none of our choir were vaccinated (the majority now are).
"The benefits of singing in choirs has been widely documented and our singers yearn to return to singing together.
"We have kept in touch over the past year through virtual projects and Zoom rehearsals but it is now time to join with our MD, Julian Collings and our accompanist, Phil Culling and sing.
"We are lobbying our local MPs and signing petitions in the hope that this ill considered decision will be reversed and we can sing again.”
For more about Teddington Choral Society and how to join visit their website HERE
Teddington MP Munira Wilson wrote to Secretary of State for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden MP urging the government to change its advice.
In the letter, dated 21 May 2021, Wilson said she had received many emails from residents angry about the new rules which they had not been expecting.
She wrote: "It is clear from the many emails that I've received that this advice is very different from what organisations were expecting.
"They believed that there wouldn't be any limits on numbers, other than those necessary due to the size of venue, in order to maintain adequate social distancing.
"Clearly only allowing 6 people at one time is going to make it impossible for choirs to function indoors.
"This turn of events has been devastating for many organisations which I understand have put considerable time and resources into ensuring their rehearsals and performances could take place in a COVID safe way.
"The many examples that I've been given of measures that were going to be implemented show a firm commitment by this sector to operate safely including: moving to larger venues to enable generous social distancing, compulsory pre-rehearsal lateral flow tests and temperature checks on arrival, wearing of masks at all times when not seated, no unnecessary moving around t the hall and no socialising with others, shortened rehearsal times with a ventilation break halfway through to minimise the build-up of harmful air particles.
"I believe PHE research last summer showed that singing was no more dangerous than shouting or exercising in an enclosed space and therefore it seems perfectly reasonable to me that indoor singing activity should be brought in line with the guidance for other non-professional music activity indoors and indoor organised sports activity, as was the case between August and December 2020.
"It is also my understanding that choirs amply demonstrated last autumn when meeting was permitted, that they were able to put protocols in place and operate in a safe manner without any infections being reported as a result.
"As I'm sure you know ,group singing can be extremely beneficial to people's wellbeing, particularly in relation to mental health. For many, being in a choir is vital for reducing loneliness and isolation.
"This government has always said that decisions would be evidence-based and I very much believe that there is no scientific data that would supported non-professional singing being treated differently from all the other activities that have, from 17 May, been permitted to re-start.
"Choirs are an organised activity, meaning they are easily able to put in place COVID-19 secure protocols and are very well supported in this regard by various networks and representative bodies.
"It is therefore clear to me that the benefits of allowing such activities far outweighs the minimal risks, and I therefore urge you to change the current guidance so that these kind of groups, which are a vital and vibrant part of our communities, can re-start."
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