NEWLY CREATED THINK TANK ‘OUT TO PERFORM’ DELIVER OPEN LETTER TO SECRETARY OF STATE
· PLEA TO ALLOW NATION TO ENJOY SAFE, SOCIALLY DISTANCED OUTDOOR CAROL SINGING IN ALL TIERS
· CURRENT RULES MEAN CAROL SINGING IS CURRENTLY ILLEGAL
· LESLEY GARRETT, IMELDA STAUNTON, ALED JONES, JULIAN LLOYD WEBBER,
The Rt Rev. ROWAN WILLIAMS & GYLES BRANDRETH JOIN THE CALL
· NEW RESEARCH INDICATES: 7 MILLION ADULTS IN THE UK TAKE PART IN CAROL SINGING EVERY YEAR
31 MILLION SAY LISTENING TO CAROLS IS A KEY ELEMENT OF THEIR CHRISTMAS
As the nation digests the news from the Prime Minister that tougher tiers will be put into place as we come out of lockdown, the question of exactly how and where we will celebrate Christmas is still one of the hot topics on everyone’s lips. And one Christmas topic that has twice been raised in the Commons this week is the question of whether people will be allowed to gather to sing Christmas Carols.
Indeed, in Monday’s House of Commons, Sir Edward Leigh, Father of the House, asked “can you provide reassurance about Christmas carols? We don’t want it to be just a holy night and we don’t want it to be a silent night either”, but Matt Hancock swerved the question, only saying that he hoped that we could prevent the reintroduction of restrictions that had previously been needed to keep people safe.
This means that unless the government says otherwise, one of the key ingredients of Christmas that usually lifts the nation’s spirits is still currently illegal. This is why newly formed Think Tank Out to Perform is calling on the government to not only make it possible to legally participate in carol singing, but to also offer legislative support to help it to happen safely, whilst following the science that confirms it is Covid-safer to make music outside.
Research conducted this week by Out to Perform indicates that just shy of 7 million UK adults take part in carol singing every year. What’s more, over half the adult population – a phenomenal 31 million say that Christmas carolling is a key element of Christmas, with 10 million going as far as to say that their Christmas just wouldn’t feel complete if they didn’t get to hear live ChristmasCarols, and 6 million UK adults saying that they often join in when they hear others singing Christmas carols.
Armed with this knowledge, Out to Perform delivered a letter to the Secretary of State Oliver Dowden making a plea on behalf of the nation’s carol singers, the tens of millions of people who enjoy listening to them and the charities who normally raise an estimated £10m each year from the activity. The letter was endorsed by a host of well-known names, including Celebrated soprano Lesley Garrett, // BAFTA and Olivier winning actress Imelda Staunton // Presenter and former chorister Aled Jones // Renowned cellist Julian Lloyd Webber // Writer & broadcaster Gyles Brandreth // Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams // Leading consultant ENT Surgeon and Covid researcher Declan Costello // Former Culture Minister Lord Vaizey // Former Lord Mayor of London Sir Andrew Parmley // Father of the modern carol, composer John Rutter // Radio and television broadcaster Petroc Trelawny // Choral conductor and music educator, Suzi Digby // Music for Dementia Director Grace Meadows. // International violinist Tasmin Little // Operatic star baritone Roderick Williams // Film director, writer & composer Debbie Isitt.
Under the previous tiers, whilst amateur choirs could sing anywhere, this was only permissible if spaced at 2m apart, and subject to the notorious “rule of 6”, whilst professional choirs could sing at 1m+. For the past month however it’s been illegal for non-professionals to sing together, whilst professional choirs could continue to sing behind closed doors.
Stuart Barr, Founder/CEO of Out to Perform, and past musical director for Dame Shirley Bassey and othersaid: ”It is now a moment of great jeopardy for our nation’s (mainly amateur) estimated 1 million carol singers. The government has not yet stated that amateur music making will be made legal again in its strengthened tiers. And even if the government does allow it, 2m spacing and the Rule of 6 make carol singing outdoors almost impossible, meaning there will be very little carol singing this year. What’s more, singing groups are legally obliged to ensure that passers-by don’t join in, even with masks and social distancing: bah-humbug government at its worst. It’s not following the science.”
The DCMS states that performing outside is much safer than inside due to the rapid dispersal of aerosols, yet it applies the rules as if they were inside. Out to Perform is asking the Government that:
· Carol singing be saved this Christmas, by ensuring that non-professional music making can happen outdoors after Dec 2nd, irrespective of whether it’s legal indoors in Tier 3; with the new regulations for non-professionals no harsher than those imposed on professionals
· In those new regulations:
o Carol singing should be explicitly highlighted in the list of “planned” activities alongside choirs and orchestras.
o Being “outdoors” is listed as an official mitigation against Covid transmission whilst performing, due to the rapid dispersal of aerosols.
o Passers-by can join in the singing, with masks and following the social distancing guidelines.
Stuart Barr said: “Covid is a terrible disease, and the government is right to do everything it can to slow the rate of transmission. But DCMS guidance already states that outdoor music making is much safer than indoors due to the quick dispersal of aerosols. Carol singing is a fundamental part of the UK’s culture, and an essential outdoor element of the spiritual uplift that Christmas brings across all of society. It is vital that it is allowed to take place so that people have hope and joy at the end of a tumultuous, unhappy, and lonely year. Surely, at the very least the government can consider allowing non-professional singers outside to follow the same rules as professionals indoors? The government has shown it can act pragmatically – in summer, rules were speedily changed to allow cafes and restaurants to set up tables in the streets, which allowed for adherence to social distancing and outdoor socialising lockdown rules, now we are making an impassioned plea for similarly speedy measures to change the law so carol singing can be undertaken in a safe and responsible way to uplift the nation.”
Lesley Garrett said: “Carol singing is among my very first memories of making music at home in South Yorkshire, with family and especially with community. For me it was the introduction to the wonderful music which eventually gave me my career and I hope that restrictions due to the Covid crisis won’t make it disappear from this year’s already compromised Christmas celebrations. After this tragic year, when we have seen the vital importance and value of community, we need – in a safe way – to be able to come together with friends, neighbours and family to continue this most beautiful of traditions.”
Aled Jones said “Carol singing is so important for the emotional well-being of so many people at Christmastime. As we face a very unusual Christmas, with limited opportunities to celebrate, I very much hope that the government is able to find a way to support people in making carol singing legal and safe, helping people find comfort in these extraordinary and difficult times”
Julian Lloyd Webber added “What could be more simple, yet more inspiring than hearing a small group of carol singers singing timeless melodies filled with messages of hope. Carol singing is a tradition that has no boundaries of age or background and we need to hear it more than ever as 2020 draws to a welcome close”
The Rt Rev. Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury added: “People love carol singing for at least two reasons – they love the experience of singing familiar songs together, and they especially love songs that tell a story of hope, welcome and transformation. We all need to hear about these things and to make the vision our own: so let’s make every opportunity for singing it out this year.”
Out to Perform argues that a change to allow carol singing would provide a zero-cost ray of light to the nation’s mental health at this dark time; a boost for grass-roots music making; allowing us to maintain one of the UK’s few cultural traditions that unites rich, poor, young and old: a win-win for government.