Music Director joins choral greats in highlighting challenges faced by choirs

18 June 2020

‘Singing in a choir …… is a powerful expression of our culture and humanity, and it cannot be allowed to fade away.’

The Chorus Music Director, Darius Battiwalla, is one of a group of ‘choral greats’ whose powerful letter to the Guardian was published on Tuesday 16 June 2020.

The letter, ‘Covid-19 has silenced choirs – we must find a way to restart singing together‘, has eighteen co-signatories, including some of the most highly respected and influential names in the world of choral music.

Composer/conductors Bob Chilcott and John Rutter joined Harry Christophers, founder of The Sixteen, opera singer Sarah Connelly and internationally-renowned choral directors Simon Halsey and David Hill, are among those who have written in response to the open letter by Sir Simon Rattle and Sir Mark Elder on 10 June about the immense challenges faced by musicians. 

We are writing in response to the heartfelt letter on behalf of classical music and musicians from Sir Simon Rattle and Sir Mark Elder (UK orchestras may not survive coronavirus pandemic, conductors warn, 10 June), to give voice to the millions of people who sing in choirs in this country.

Up until now we have had one of the most vibrant choral landscapes in the world. Our professional choral life, consisting of world-renowned chamber choirs, vocal ensembles, opera choruses, cathedral choirs and theatre ensembles, faces an uncertain future. The financial picture for such groups has always been challenging, even in the best of times, but the outlook now for such ensembles, mostly made up of freelance musicians, is not an optimistic one.

We have a world-leading cathedral and church choir tradition, largely made up of young boys and girls and paid adult singers who face financial hardship and also serious challenges of continuity. The amateur choir life of this country is huge, from the world-class symphony choruses and university choirs to community and school choirs, and all these groups face a time of great uncertainty.

We need church leaders to have the courage to speak out so that we can make singing together in churches work within certain guidelines. We need the government to show how we can restart singing together on an equal footing with opening theme parks, shopping and kicking a football around. It is imperative that we find a way for choirs in this country to resume as soon and as safely as we can.

Singing in a choir is not only about communality, social cohesion and harmony; for many it is an essential source of emotional wellbeing and positive mental health. Moreover it is a powerful expression of our culture and humanity, and it cannot be allowed to fade away.’

Bob Chilcott Composer/conductorJohn Rutter Composer/conductorSarah Connolly Opera singerSimon Halsey Chorus directorLSO, CBSOHarry Christophers Founder, The Sixteen, David Hill Musical director, The Bach ChoirGavin Carr Chorus director, The Philharmonia Chorus, Bournemouth Symphony Chorus, Matthew Hamilton Choral director, The Hallé, Ben Parry Conductor, National Youth Choir, David Temple Conductor, Crouch End Festival ChorusAndrew Carwood Director of music, St Paul’s CathedralAshley Grote Master of music, Norwich CathedralAdrian Partington Director of music, Gloucester CathedralRobert Dean Guildhall School of MusicJonathan Willcocks Musical director, Guildford Choral SocietyDarius Battiwalla Musical directorSheffield Philharmonic ChorusLeslie East Chair, Association of British Choral DirectorsAidan Oliver Conductor

Link to the letter on the Guardian website

Link to Sir Simon Rattle and Sir Mark Elder’s letter

Chorus supports its locked-down musicians

The Chorus continues to pay its three professionals during these strange times, which are proving to be very difficult for professional musicians, many of whom are self employed. In return for the continued payments, the three musicians are working for the Chorus in different ways.

For example, Music Director Darius Battiwalla is composing a new Christmas carol, and writing brass arrangements for the sections of Messiah that don’t currently have them. This will enable the Chorus to sing more of Handel’s work when it joins with Black Dyke Band in the re-scheduling of the brass concert which was postponed due to the coronavirus.

“We are pleased to be able to support our three professionals by commissioning alternative work from them at this time” said Chorus Chair Paul Henstridge. ” We are all missing live rehearsals, but at least we will gain a lasting positive out of this very difficult situation”.

Accompanist Rachel Fright and Voice Coach Maggie McDonald are working together to digitise Maggie’s vocal exercises, which are sent to the Chorus to enable them to continue to keep their voices in trim during the lock-down.