A Sharp Intake of Breath — COVID, Singing, Lancashire
We’re now a month in to the Encounter Voices research on the impact of COVID on community singing in Lancashire. With a month more to go, the picture is not yet complete, but certain themes are emerging. Perhaps first of all the most important result so far is that so many groups across the county — representing urban, rural and coastal areas alike — are willing to spend time responding to the survey!
After all, this has been the most challenging period I have known for community singing and choirs in my whole professional life. In many ways, as I write this as the only masked person on a train, it feels like the country has collectively “had enough of” COVID. Not least, because that has been the political message. So choir leaders and committees could be forgiven for ignoring this and concentrating on rehearsals, arrangements and gigs.
But the strength of the response has shown that there is a collective realisation in the county that COVID has not “had enough of” us yet, the impact is still there. Particularly for those that work with more vulnerable participants or on health based projects, such as the lung health choir based at the Gregson in Lancaster.
I won’t preempt the final results, which we won’t have until after the survey closes at the end of August. But at this point it is already clear that there are both positives and negatives.
The overriding positive is that the community singing scene in Lancashire has reemerged from the lockdowns vibrant and active across the county. Following such a long enforced silence, and the many practical difficulties, it is a tribute to everyone that so many choirs are working. They are meeting for the most part with 20–40 regular members, which is enough to work and have an active social group. Many used digital tools to keep the connection going amongst members.
But the negatives are concerning. The experience of losing participants because of the pandemic is common, there has been ongoing disruption with cancelled rehearsals and events, some are worried for the long term viability of their choir or singing project. Some initiatives have stopped altogether, such as Clitheroe Festival of Choirs. It takes a great deal of energy to start and maintain a community singing project, particularly outside of the subsidised sector. Singing and song will always be with us, the resilience shows that. But years of great grassroots work could be under threat in Lancashire, if we don’t acknowledge the impact of COVID and find the right inclusive way forward.
What will help is to have the clearest picture of where we stand. So please if you haven’t taken part in the survey, or you know of singing groups anywhere in Lancashire, please send them to https://artslancashire.org.uk/news/holding-our-breath-survey/ for more on the research and a link to the survey.