Church choirs call on Scottish Government to let them sing again

New research suggests singing is no more likely to spread Covid-19 than talking.

Thursday, 10th September 2020, 7:30 am
Currently only one singer is allowed in Scottish churches.

Church choir leaders have called on the Scottish Government to allow them to return to singing after a landmark study showed the activity is no more likely to spread Covid-19 than talking.

Several groups have joined the campaign to ‘get Scotland singing again’, arguing that in light of the results it is unfair to allow people to take part in other activities such as going to the pub, but not singing.

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They also point to the fact that socially-distant singing has re-started in England.

A socially-distant service at Old St. Paul's.

Scottish Government guidance allows one person to sing during a service, but choir leaders said this is not enough.

“I think that many who are involved in choirs see people going to pubs and everything else they are allowed to do now even in Scotland, and wonder why it’s any different, given that we now have very clear scientific guidelines on what is sensible and possible around singing,” said Michael Harris, Master of Music at St. Giles Cathedral.

A ground-breaking study led by Imperial College London and the University of Bristol found in July that singing is no more likely to spread aerosols and droplets than talking at a similar volume.

Known as PERFORM, the project was sponsored by Public Health England and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and is still to be published.

Mr Harris said guidance should be changed in light of the study.

“I am concerned, along with many of my colleagues, that through the lack of definite data there has been a knee-jerk reaction to the dangers of singing,” he said.

“The fact is that nothing has moved in Scotland. They’ve kept everything at a much slower pace - in many cases for good reason, and I wouldn’t say there isn’t a good reason for doing it in a cautious manner.

“It’s always worth having an abundance of caution, but at the same time it’s not a one size fits all, it needs to be more nuanced.”

John Kitchen, Director of Music at Old St. Pauls Church in Edinburgh has also called for the guidance to be changed.

“With the landmark findings of this recent research we are now urging the Scottish Government to allow singers, physically distanced and observing the necessary protocols, to be allowed to sing in services,” he said.

Calum Robertson, Director of the Edinburgh University Singers, said he is concerned about singers leaving choirs due to frustration over the delay in new guidance.

“I know we’ve got to be safe, and we want to be safe, but with this new evidence the situation needs to change,” he said.

“Singing in choirs is a great social outlet, and it’s important to try and bring that back.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Unfortunately, at this time, we are advising choirs and congregational singing do not resume in places of worship. However, where it is essential to an act of worship, one individual may sing behind a plexi-glass screen.

“Suppressing the virus and saving lives remains our top priority.

“We will continue to take advice on the risks presented by singing in transmission of the virus, and will base our decisions and guidance on that advice.”

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