Death of a choir

Always make your redundancy announcement when the people at the receiving end of it are on a high. This seems to be the favoured method of today’s managing executives, who perhaps imagine that adrenalin will somehow anaesthetise the blow of getting the sack. For the Cambridge student choir St John’s Voices, the news of its imminent disbanding and the redundancy of its director Graham Walker came just two minutes after the light was switched off at the end of a three-day recording session of Russian choral masterpieces last week. Does egalitarianism have to be promoted at the expense of up-and-running excellence? In a two-paragraph round-robin email to the choir that

Let hymn in: the silencing of indoor singing is senseless

‘And now we sing our final hymn, number 466.’ Remember that? The euphoria of congregational hymn-singing? The well-organised types always had the book open at the correct page, balanced precariously on the pew. The rest of us hurriedly flicked to 466 while singing the first verse, knowing it by heart from a thousand school assemblies. ‘Our shield and defender, the ancient of days…’ I can’t believe I’m writing this in the past tense, but it has been so long — almost 15 months — since anyone not in a choir sang a congregational hymn. How I miss that light-headedness, almost faintness, of standing up after a long service and singing

How we became a nation of choirs and carollers

Between the ages of 15 and 17 I had a secret. Every Monday night I’d gulp down dinner before rushing out to the scrubby patch of ground just past the playing fields, where a car would be waiting. Hours later — long after the ceremonial nightly locking of the boarding house — I’d sneak back, knocking softly on a window to be let in. I’d love to say that it was alcohol or drugs that lured me out. It wasn’t even boys — or, at least, not like that. My weekly assignation was with Joseph and Johann, Henry, Ben and Ralph. My addiction? Choral music. Better than some and worse

Rejoice for the return of the church choir

Not all coronavirus research sounds like fun, but wouldn’t you just loved to have been at the session where 25 choristers were asked to sing Happy Birthday at varying volumes to determine whether or not it would be safe for choirs to get back to business. The exercise was carried out by academics collaborating with Public Health England (while it lasted) and the Department for Culture. And you know what? It turns out that the quieter the singing, the lower the risk of transmitting droplets. The researchers found that singing did not produce much more aerosol than speaking at a similar volume, but singing or speaking loudly increased the production

Why is Sheffield Cathedral’s choir being disbanded for ‘inclusivity’?

The Dean of Sheffield, the Very Revd Peter Bradley, comes across as a likeable man of sound mind and brisk sense of humour. Of his own liturgical tastes, he assures me, ‘drums and guitars are not my tradition. The London Oratory is more my world, musically speaking. I cannot say too strongly how committed I and the cathedral are to the Anglican choral tradition and evensong.’ As for his current portfolio, he says, ‘I’m Acting Precentor at the moment. I wish I’d been paid for it. God knows I’ve earned it.’ Thursday was a frantic day for the poor man, as he fought to explain to the nation’s outraged press

SOS: Save our singers

‘Musician’ is how I described myself to the nice Latvian lady interviewing me the other week for an ONS survey connected with the coronavirus, but that didn’t tell the government much. In economic terms, our profession embraces everyone from Sir Paul McCartney to the struggling garage band that may or may not be allowed back into your newly reopened pub. In terms of what we do, we divide into three overlapping categories — writers, administrators and performers, and our experience of pandemic and lockdown has been sharply different. I’m mainly a writer, and I guiltily admit that I have welcomed my first chance for years to work with minimal interruption

Britain’s choirs are facing oblivion

Britain’s choirs are facing oblivion. Yet they’re also terrified of returning. One story explains why. Picture this innocent choral-society scene in Skagit County, Washington State, on the evening of 10 March. One-hundred-and-twenty singers, most of them elderly sopranos, gathered in the Presbyterian church to rehearse for two hours, their chairs 15cm apart. At half-time they took a break for shared snacks, and at the end the helpful ones stayed to stack the chairs. Fifty-two of those singers came down with Covid-19, supposedly through the release of aerosol droplets in the ether. Thus began the swirling of rumours across the world about the grave dangers of singing. It has still not