Updated: Aug 27
Lloyd's Choir last met as a group on a chilly evening in early March. Conductor Jacques Cohen was putting us through an intensive 2.5 hour rehearsal of his ground-breaking work Creation, and asking us to find within ourselves the sound we needed to bring the “Seven Days” to life. We had been in rehearsals since early January and were looking forward to our concert scheduled for early April in the ancient Church of St Giles Cripplegate, just on the edge of the Barbican estate. This concert was laden with meaning for those members of Lloyd's Choir who knew the late Christine Didelot, choir member and friend to many.
Life moved fast for everyone over the following week. Edicts from businesses had closed most offices by the end of that week. With reluctance we cancelled our April concert. It felt like the prudent thing to do, and it felt like the appropriate response to a fast-moving situation. Then, as we all know by now, the Prime Minister’s televised address changed our lives. For a while, we continued to work at home on our scores in the hope of a late 2020 concert date, until like every other amateur and professional choir in the world, we accepted our fate. Singing, it seems, is as dangerous as a large crowd in an unventilated room in this time of Pandemic.
The Lloyd's Choir Committee quickly adopted new measures in keeping our focus. The ubiquitous Zoom has become our tool for planning, and for discussing how best we can remain engaged, focused and keeping our large group singing. If you’ve seen or heard us, you’ll know we view singing as the ultimate team sport. For many of us, it is vitally important as a release valve for the pressures of the day job and life in general. A choir in perfect harmony and voice, tackling a complex world premiere, is a joy to be part of. During those dark uncertain days of March and April when life’s fragilities were so apparent to all of us, we knew we needed something to keep us all looking forward.
In May, we decided as a Committee to convene virtually for our annual Lancastria memorial service scheduled for the WWII disaster’s anniversary in June. Previous years have seen us sing at our home base, the Church of St Katharine Cree. 2020 would be very, very different. In keeping with the practices we could see being adopted by professional choirs and orchestras everywhere, we announced that we would be participating in the ceremony, behind screens at home. The end result saw 34 of us sing in a SATB format, melded together into a blend by a professional (not one of us!) and produced seamlessly for the virtual service. What seemed impossible, was suddenly viable.
Next on the agenda came our Monday lunchtime rehearsals. A long-standing appointment in the Lloyd's weekly diary, the Mondays at St Katharine Cree are our lifeblood. Of course, singing together is an impossibility. In early June and with great patience and humour, Jacques and Brian Bendle’s colleague Lai Chan convened our Mondays virtually. It’s been a challenge, but singing at home with Jacques conducting when in fact he can’t hear any of us, has been more fun than we bargained for! Our repertoire this long, hot and strange summer has seen us sing Haydn’s Missa Sancti Nicolai, excerpts from Beethoven’s seminal Missa Solemnis, Poulenc, Elgar, McMillan and yet more. Testing the sight-reading skills and keeping in time with music gives us all renewed focus, and has reminded us of the nature of our craft. All of it is about teamwork. Hearing oneself sing alone is a humbling and sometimes an intimidating practice. What makes it easier is logging in on Mondays and seeing each other on screen, at home, working with the only materials we have. Teamwork!
To matters Teamwork – like every other choral group in the UK we have followed with interest and concern the pioneering research of the incredible ENT Declan Costello at Imperial College London. Since June, Declan aka the “Voice Doctor” and his team has been at the forefront of efforts and research into the passage of “aerosols” in enclosed spaces. He’s got a vested interest in all this, being a tenor with the Holst Singers. Declan’s research, conducted largely in his spare time, during a pandemic, might yet see us reprise our craft. As this piece is being written, there are findings being analysed and Lloyd's Choir Committee is trying to decipher what these positive glimmers of hope might mean for performances.
We can do nothing for now but wait, watch, rehearse and stay together as a community. We are conscious of our fellow professional musicians for whom 2020 has been an unfolding nightmare of worry, sadness and financial hardship. We express solidarity with our Choral Family and we hope to be back performing some day soon. Until then, we Zoom with each other and keep our spirits up behind the screens, and the scenes.