The Rt Hon Oliver Dowden CBE MP
Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport
100 Parliament Street
Monday, 24 May 2021
Dear Oliver Dowden,
In response to the recent DCMS guidance on amateur singing we wish to express in the strongest possible terms our regret and dismay at its content, rationale and presentation. In addition we wish to make abundantly clear how ready this sector is to recommence its activity without delay in a safe, Covid secure manner, and request that your department urgently seeks to rethink its guidance on amateur choral singing.
Your department, in response to a question from Making Music and the Association of British Choral Directors confirmed that:
“All non-professional and amateur music can recommence indoors from Step 3.”
In answer to a recent Parliamentary question on 27th April concerning the timescale for resumption of amateur singing Caroline Dinenage confirmed that:
“The intention is that this will be permitted from Step 3 of the Roadmap (no earlier than 17 May). This is subject to review and further guidance will be provided in advance of step 3.”
The Step 3 relaxations were announced on 10th May, and there was not the slightest indication that this hugely anticipated return to singing was at all at risk.
A day after Step 3 arrived, guidance came from your department, and as you are no doubt aware, has been met with utter devastation and disbelief, and it is important to understand why.
Firstly, approximately 40,000 choirs representing around 2.1 million singers have spent months tirelessly preparing risk assessments for Covid secure rehearsals in order to keep their singers safe. With visions of thousands of football fans singing unmasked at the tops of their voices, gyms full of people huffing and puffing with no distancing in place, and pubs welcoming back their customary hubbub our sector was certain that its carefully honed plans of socially distanced rehearsals in Covid secure environments were anything but in jeopardy.
Secondly, the UK's thriving amateur community singing scene is in fact a profession for many of us choral directors, accompanists and soloists, many of whom have received no government support throughout the pandemic. Their anticipated return to work has been denied in the blink of an eye. The mental health benefits of singing in choral societies, chamber choirs, symphony choruses, youth choirs, rock choirs, community choirs, etc are well documented but for those at the musical helm it is their livelihood. Making Music estimates that leisure time and community music groups alone contribute more than £100m per year to the economy.
Thirdly, the guidance which you say stems from advice from Public Health England is overtly retrograde, and takes no account of the situation we now find ourselves in. We are fully versed on the results of the research into singing which took place last year, and no doubt the scientific results of that study remain unchanged; what has changed since then is that we have immensely improved access to testing, and a vaccination programme that is nothing less than the envy of the world. We do not understand why the guidance does not take this into account or what has changed in the science behind safe singing.
Leaving the unsatisfactory musical results and logistical impossibilities of only 6 people at any one meeting, it bypasses one of the fundamental reasons choirs exist, and that is the vital sense of community and belonging it offers its participants. Please be assured that permission for six people to sing together inside genuinely offers us and our singers nothing.
The vital message of this communication is to say that we are ready to start again, now. Everything is already in place to ensure Covid-compliance in our rehearsal venues. Rehearsal structures, duration and content have all been entirely re-thought to ensure the safety of our singers, and even created apps to monitor Covid transmission during rehearsals.
Please trust us, and do all you can to help this vital part of our musical community get back into business.