Greetings from The Man At The Front

Hello there! How are you? I hope everyone is still keeping well, with spirits as high as possible given the circumstances. Are you singing at all? Obviously we don’t know when we can get together again, but we will grab every opportunity so to do, even if social distancing is still required. How’s about singing in a field through megaphones?! Traffic cones work well too. There’s always a way!

Following the last blog’s consideration of martial metaphors employed to address this pandemic, it was timely of the Prime Minister on returning to work, to nuance this approach by describing coronavirus as a ‘physical assailant’ and ‘an unexpected and invisible mugger’.  His advice that we ‘wrestle (coronavirus) to the floor’ is helpful, but worrying given that many of our front line workers have to attempt this unarmed. Please clap loudly on Thursday at 8.00 to show your appreciation for what they have to do. And let’s also give a thought to anyone we know suffering from Covid19 or families/friends who might have lost loved ones.

This morning I was alerted to the news that in Germany, bans on religious gatherings have now extended TO SINGING!! Here is an extract from The Guardian online 30.04.20:

……Communal singing has reportedly proved to be a particular sticking point in the discussions, despite repeated warnings by leading epidemiologists that singing is as dangerous as coughing for spreading the virus.

Reports around the globe including in Los Angeles, where three-quarters of the members of one choir fell ill and two died, and in Berlin, where 59 out of 78 singers from the choir of Berlin’s Protestant cathedral went down with the virus – have offered plenty of anecdotal evidence that singing in choirs has contributed to the spread of coronavirus in some communities.

Lothar Wieler, the head of the German government’s disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute, specifically warned on Tuesday that singing was ill-advised. “Evidence shows that during singing, the virus drops appear to fly particularly far,” he said.

Virologists also believe singers could absorb many more particles as they tend to breathe deeper into their diaphragms than they would during normal breathing.

A draft bans both communal singing and wind instruments from services over the “amplified precipitation of potentially infectious drops” and while it has been backed in principle by Protestant leaders, who nevertheless wish to draw a distinction between roomy cathedrals and small village churches, Catholic heads are opposed.

“If the distance rules are abided by, there is no reason why singing should be refrained from altogether,” the German Bishops Conference has said in its own position paper. A spokesman added: “We believe quiet singing and praying should be possible…….”

When we reconvene then I will be recommending shallow breathing, humming and very quiet singing – mezzo piano at most!

Now for something to amuse and entertain you. I thought you might like some poems for a change and a selection of youtube clips taking a quirky look at music. First, I ran a day’s workshop for a mixed adult choir in Royston, Cambridgeshire, for a friend in 2016. With us for the day was a poet in residence who reflected some of the day’s work in verse. As part of the warm up and ice-breaker I took singers through the usual vocal and physical stuff including My bonny lies over the oceanoh bring back my bonny to me, which requires actions throughout and a lot of concentration! You may recall that you have to stand up/sit down alternately on each word beginning with letter ‘B’. Very easy to get confused and always ends in chaos, with much laughter. This is the result of Jude’s experience in verse:

Bring back my body to me

My body’s gone AWOL, I can’t quite tell why.

I brought it this morning, all buttoned up, shy

And cautious, expecting to stay nicely hid,

But Peter said “wiggle” and (goodness me!) wiggle it did!!

I brought it this morning, all buttoned up, shy

And cautious, expecting to stay nicely hid,

But Peter said “wiggle” and (goodness me!) wiggle it did!!

We started constricted, cold and uptight

But the warm-up was ruthless, arms stretched and eyes bright,

Well I got so relaxed; I just let it go,

Now my body’s gone somewhere that I don’t know.

Bring back, bring back, oh bring back my body to me… to me…

Bring back, bring back, oh bring back my body to me!

Bring back my body before it’s too late –

It’s leaning when I’m meaning it to sit straight,

Flailing and failing, detached from my brain.

I send it a message, the message comes back again,

Saying that body’s no longer there –

I tell it to freeze and it jumps in the air.

It’s twisting and listing.  What’s it doing now?

Is it bowling a ball or unfolding a cloud?

When I try to stretch it, it bends like a B,

Is it over the ocean, or under the middle C?

Sitting down when I tell it to stand

And when we started gesturing… well, it got right out of hand

Now it waves, sways, refuses to cower –

From chair bound to air bound in less than an hour…

Bring back my body, I’m asking you please

Bring back my body; I’m down on my knees…

when I thought I was sitting up, straight-backed and British.

How could this body so quickly get skittish?

Maybe it’s gone out to look for the loos.

Maybe it’s gone to get its blue shoes … glued.

I blame it on Peter – I met him and soon,

My body connected with notes, tones and tune,

The pitch got me twitching, the phrases, the flows,

And all of a sudden my body was touching its toes…with its elbows!

No! Don’t bring back my body.  Let it go free –

It’s nobody’s fault, it’s the music you see,

The legs that loosen, the arms that start swinging,

I don’t blame it on Peter.  I blame it on singing…

Jude Simpson October 2016

The power of singing eh?!

This next poem just makes me smile, and amidst the savagery of coronavirus, it’s lovely to refer to ‘infection’ in a positive way. This would be a pandemic without a cure and from which no protection is required. Happily no scientists would get funding for vaccine research.

Smiling Is Infectious
by Jez Alborough (often att. to Spike Milligan)

Smiling is infectious,
you catch it like the flu,
When someone smiled at me today,
I started smiling too.


I passed around the corner
and someone saw my grin.
When he smiled I realized
I’d passed it on to him.


I thought about that smile,
then I realized its worth.
A single smile, just like mine
could travel round the earth.


So, if you feel a smile begin,
don’t leave it undetected.
Let’s start an epidemic quick,
and get the world infected!

And so to some music…..

Let’s start by considering THE VOICE, but not singing as we know it (Jim). Using sounds and effects only, Beardyman – whose background is Beatboxing – demonstrates creating an aural cake!

Ever wondered if a whole choir could do the same thing, creating a soundscape vocally? Yes they can, and in May 2006 Honda launched their latest Civic model with a TV advert.

Recently there have been many online ‘quarantine’ or ‘isolation’ singing opportunities available and technology has been put to good use, as many of you are experiencing. The first ‘massed online choir’ to hit the scene was in 2010 when American composer Eric Whitacre (a bit of a Stateside Bob Chilcott!!) put together a performance of his piece Lux Arumque by collecting recordings from 185 singers and mixing them together. A brilliant first appearance, which not only created awe and wonder in the singing world, but was excellent promotion and publicity for Mr EW himself!! And why not? This was followed by Sleep which brought together over 2000 singers. There is now a lot of similar stuff on youtube and ere long, the technology will exist to be able to assemble this stuff in real time, I’m sure.

A very talented and musical young man, Jacob Collier, has been wowing the music world with his incredibly complex arrangements in which he sings and plays virtually every part! He recently had a Prom concert to himself. The techniques are similar to the Whitacre, layering up many different parts/voices and Collier uses much more advanced technology too. This is one of his simpler efforts, released last year, and I love its youthful enthusiasm and sheer fun – musical ‘messing about’ with friends in the garden. It is Here comes the sun by the Beatles, chosen because at the end of the tunnel we are in at the moment, the sun is shining….

Whatever is happening to us, we can to a certain degree, choose to be happy – or at least try and find what makes us so. I was drawn to this cover of Happy by Pharrell Williams’ (2013) – how to be musically inventive in a small space. Note that this features a kazoo!

And finally, bang up to date and using the techniques now familiar to us all as a result of lock down, I am proud to share a version of With a little help from my friends assembled by The Quarantine Collective – all performers and groups from the Banbury area. The first singer, with the surgical mask is Richard who has decorated the outside of our house!

The message of this song – We all need someone to love, and we get by with help from our friends. You might feel inspired to make a donation to The Horton Hospital.

Happy listening and take care. More musical gems to follow in the next blog.