Harrogate choir claims Covid rules force it to rehearse in a car park even as lockdown eases

One of Harrogate’s leading community choirs says it is still unable to rehearse even as lockdown eases after being let down by Government policies on the arts during Covid - and it's been forced to practice in a car park.

Thursday, 27th May 2021, 12:36 pm
Harrogate's Vocalis Choir, pictured before the Covid pandemic hit, have been unable to rehearse indoors. (Picture by Ian Hill)

Vocalis’s choir of 40 members was all set to return to singing together indoors when stage three of the Government’s roadmap was introduced last week.

But, despite being all ready to go, the choir had to abandon their first session together for months when it learned that, under the latest Government guidance, amateurs can only sing indoors in groups of up to six people.

Vocalis’s secretary Christine Murphy said: “We were supposed to be rehearsing at St Wilfrid’s Church but had to Zoom instead.

"It appears that indoor singing for amateurs is not allowed after all, at least not in groups larger than six.

"We are desperate to get back singing together. Last night we had to rehearse in the car park.

“We had all the safety measures in place, were ready to rehearse socially-distanced and had asked members to do a lateral flow test in the 24 hours before attending.

“We had risk assessed everything to a minimum and only a few of our members are not vaccinated. It’s so dispiriting.”

Vocalis has also written with the choir's complaints to Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones

In the letter Christine Murphy writes: "Our choir of 40 members was all set to return to singing together indoors tonight as the country moved into Stage 3.

"All the large music industry organisations (such as Making Music, Association of British Choral Directors etc) had previously been briefed that indoor singing would be possible for amateurs in groups of up to 30, within understandably strict limits such as social distancing, social bubbles remaining separate, well ventilated space and so on.

"But then the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport published the document "COVID-19: Guidance for the safe use of multipurpose community facilities" without notice, saying that amateurs can only sing indoors in groups of up to six.

"When the DCMS was pressed on this, they confirmed it.

"An estimated two million people sing in choirs in the UK. Scientific studies have shown the enormous benefits of singing on respiratory and mental health, not to mention social cohesion - all things that we greatly need right now.

"Solid research has been done on how to mitigate the risks of covid-19 associated with singing, and yet the new guidance represents a step backwards in terms of our freedoms to sing, at a time when nearly everything else is opening up significantly, supported by the vaccination rollout."

Vocalis was first formed in 1974 under the name of Harrogate Chamber Singers and gained a reputation for choral excellence under the directorship of Dr Clive McLelland, who is now Associate Professor of Music in the School of Music, Leeds University.

The current Musical Director is talented young conductor Alexander Kyle and the choir is going from strength to strength under his direction.

The choir believes The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has had a bad Covid when it comes to the arts.

It argues culture minister Oliver Dowden's support measures have been overlooking the thousands of amateurs and that support for the arts has been patchy and inadequate.

Christine Murphy said: “I despair about the lack of Government interest in the arts as a whole. An estimated two million people sing in choirs in the UK.

“It’s alright giving some theatres/groups a decent cultural recovery grant via the Arts Council but that support is very far from universal in the arts and it doesn’t allow the arts to reopen or carry on.”

Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones said he was concerned by the plight of the Vocalis choir and he had raised the question of community choirs in Parliament earlier this week.

Mr Jones said: “Choirs are an important part of the social fabric of our communities. Like so many other parts of our lives, choirs have been affected by Covid restrictions.

“I raised this on the floor of the House of Commons with the Vaccines Minister because I wanted his assurance that we are doing everything we can to get life safely back to normal for choirs, and other parts of our lives, as soon as possible.”

A message from the Editor

Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.

In order for us to continue to provide high quality and trusted local news on this free-to-read site, I am asking you to also please purchase a copy of our newspaper.

Our journalists are highly trained and our content is independently regulated by IPSO to some of the most rigorous standards in the world. But being your eyes and ears comes at a price. So we need your support more than ever to buy our newspapers during this crisis.

With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our local valued advertisers - and consequently the advertising that we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you helping us to provide you with news and information by buying a copy of our newspaper.