Though there’s friendly rivalry among Brighton & Hove’s queer choirs, they fully support each others’ musical endeavours and the city is lucky to have them.
But this week there was total solidarity and unanimity about the Government’s surprise U-turn that effectively stops the choirs in their tracks just when they believed they were able to rehearse and perform again.
When many lockdown measures eased on May 17, including indoor professional performances with social distancing, our choirs expected, and had been led to believe that these ‘non-professional’ – i.e. unpaid – groups would also gain the benefit of working again as a physically distanced group.
Not so. On May 18 Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden issued new revised regulations meaning that arts performing groups like drama groups can rehearse indoors and can perform in multiple groups of six, socially distanced, to an audience – but not amateur choirs as singing is thought unsafe due to potential release of virus aerosols.
This is against a background of thousands of closely packed football fans chanting and singing as well as indoor singers allowed as long as they’re paid. But the rules, which I’ve read several times, are at best contradictory.
Two Brighton choirs are immediately affected by the ban. Brighton Gay Men’s Chorus is slated to perform as part of Brighton Fringe in June and Actually Gay Men’s Chorus has concerts set for July.
Here’s what the choir directors told me.
Aneesa Chaudhry, musical director of the Rainbow Chorus, said: “This is extremely frustrating and irrational. The Government doesn’t appear to follow the science nor accept the fact that we are taking great care in the choral community to ensure safety measures are in place. It’s disappointing because the impact is huge.”
Stefan Holmström, who has just stood down as director of Resound, said: “It’s a difficult time and it doesn’t help that the advice from the Government is inconsistent and confusing at best. I hope we’re all back singing soon.”
Samuel Cousins of Actually Gay Men’s Chorus: “The frustration cannot be understated amongst the music community. When large sporting crowds are allowed to get together and shout and scream at the top of their lungs it seems utterly bizarre that a group of people spaced out following tight rules cannot. It also baffles me as to why amateurs and professionals are being treated differently. It makes no sense at all. Amateur singers need this so much as it’s not just a jolly, to get together to sing is escapism from our day to day lives and does wonders for our mental health, which has been so crushed by the last year.”
Joe Paxton of Brighton Gay Men’s Chorus added: “I’m so upset with the Government guidance. It does seem to single amateur singing out as well as contradicting itself. So much effort has been put into rehearsing safely indoors, as we did in the autumn so I hope we will all be back together again in person soon!”
One bright note is that Brighton Gay Men’s Chorus concert was scheduled to be made up of solos and duets so may well be safe to go ahead. Keep reading Scene and we’ll keep you up to date on what happens to the choirs’ concerts.