England Step 3 guidance for choirs

Update 6 July

We're delighted that the Secretary of State announced on social media on 6 July that all restrictions on choirs will be removed at Step 4. We'll be keeping a close eye on details and continuing to support & encourage choirs & their leaders as they make the long awaited return to singing.

Read below for details about the campaign across the music industry for indoor singing activity to be treated in line with other indoor activity.

The campaign

We sympathise with the frustrations felt by everyone who had planned their return to singing. We're extremely concerned that amateur singing has been singled out by DCMS for such unreasonable & unworkable restrictions. We, Making Music, RSCM, ISM, MU and all our partner organisations in Singing Network UK (SNUK) have been working to shape a response and to help everyone involved in singing play their part in this campaign.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) updated its Guidance for the Performing Arts with regard to Step 3 of the England roadmap on 18 May.

Without warning, it diverges from what we had been led to believe, that non-professional music activity would return, outdoors and indoors in England from 17 May, without limits on numbers other than those dictated by the size of a venue (to allow for social distancing) as was previously the case, and that full guidance would be issued in advance of Step 3.

Instead, it says that indoors up to a maximum of only 6 people should sing together, making it impossible for choirs to rehearse indoors at this step. Other non-professional performing arts activity is not limited in this way. This guidance was only released on 18 May, eight days after it was announced that Step 3 would be in effect from 17 May, after some choirs had already rehearsed, and after hundreds of choirs had spent many hours preparing their risk assessments and planning their rehearsals in a safe way.

See our government guidance page for links to all the relevant current guidance for choirs and our new FAQs page for more detail on some of the queries we've had about the current performing arts guidance for England. This includes advice on the definition of 'commercial' for those insured through ISM or Making Music.

This is about and for all singers and choirs - please share this information and page far and wide with your singing contacts. We're regularly updating the page with the latest information.

What we are asking for

That indoor singing activity be brought in line with the guidance for other non-professional music activity and indoor organised sports activity, as was the case between August and December 2020.

What can everyone do?

Download WellRehearsed, our app for all music groups

WellRehearsed is a joint initiative between abcd and Making Music. This free app has been developed in volunteer time as a quick and simple-to-use risk management tool for amateur music groups of all kinds, choirs and instrumental groups. It will help us gather valuable data to make the case for safe singing, both now and in the future - if you are rehearsing your choir, indoors or outdoors, however small the numbers, please download and use it!

It asks two short anonymous questions: 'Has your choir/music group met for a rehearsal in the last week?' And 'Were any infections subsequently reported by persons attending it?'

WellRehearsed is available now for Android users in the Google Play Store and iOS users in the Apple Store.

Find out more here.

Parliamentary petition

Parliamentary petitions are the best way to persuade the government to take notice. There are now over 58,000 signatories. At 10,000 signatories, the government is required to respond (see the update below for details of the response), but we need 100,000 signatories to trigger a debate. Ask all your choir members and audiences to sign!

Click here to sign the petition

Tell your story

We all know about the mental and physical benefits of singing, but share what it means to you with those who might not - write a testimony at Why We Sing.

Update 6 July

  • We're delighted that the Secretary of State announced on social media on 6 July that all restrictions on choirs will be removed at Step 4. We'll be keeping a close eye on details and continuing to support & encourage choirs & their leaders as they make the long awaited return to singing.
  • We have written to Patrick Vallance, the Government Chief Scientific Advisor, to ask what the science is behind the current restrictions.
  • In the House of Lords, Lord Berkeley has questioned the lack of fairness in the rules for football and for singing. In the House of Commons, David Warburton MP has written to the Prime Minister - view the letter here - and also tabled an Early Day Motion on the effect of the pandemic on the music industry.
  • Welsh guidance for worship. We were pleased to see that the guidance for worship issued on 18 June was withdrawn. This appeared to be based on several spurious pieces of information off the internet and did nothing to give confidence in a safe and informed return to singing. We were pleased to see however that it included a possible return to limited congregational singing. We have written to the Welsh Government asking on what basis the guidance was written and noting the lack of proof reading. Revised guidance has now been posted, which omits the clearly spurious statement about some voice parts being more infectious than others, but still leaves a number of issues remaining, which we will be following up.
  • The All Party Parliamentary Group on Classical Music has written to Oliver Dowden on 15 June, following last week's meeting with choral organisations and the announcement of the delay for Step 4, asking him to set out whether the Government has received further scientific advice around the safety of singing and to issue a clarification as soon as possible. View the complete letter here.
  • Alongside our colleagues across the music industry, we have kept a constructive dialogue with DCMS, however we have been given to understand that there will not be a change to the current performing arts guidance until Step 4. We are all continuing to talk to DCMS about how and when the current situation can be improved and to push for restrictions being eased as much as possible as soon as possible. The delay to Step 4 announced on 14 June is a further blow to choirs, and to the music industry as a whole, and we will continue to keep pressing the government, particularly with regard to a level playing field for singing on 19 July.
  • Our new app, WellRehearsed, is now available on both Android and iOS platforms for all music groups to use in rehearsal. This will generate data on music making throughout the UK and help us make the case for singing and amateur music making in the community safely. If you are rehearsing, please download and use the app!
  • We're really pleased that the Musicians' Union has joined the campaign group to help us continue to put pressure on the government.
  • With colleagues from Making Music, Singing Network UK, ISM, Association of British Orchestras, Music Publishers Association, Music Industries Association and UK Music, we have written to the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, and Dr Jenny Harries OBE at Public Health England. Find out more about the letter here. We await a reply to this letter.
  • We have received a response to the first industry joint letter to Caroline Dinenage, Minister of State for Digital and Culture at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. It is identical to the letter sent on her behalf to MPs. We note that it says "Whilst it is for organisers and venues to determine how to operate in accordance with the relevant guidance and regulations, we would remind you that the limits do not apply to activity taking place for work or commercial activity." You can view the letter here. For more about 'work and commercial', see our FAQs page.
  • The number of questions tabled in the House of Commons and the House of Lords continues to rise, currently standing at 35 across both Houses. Keep writing to your MPs! You can see the list of questions and their answers here.
  • The petition has now received a response from the government, having passed the 10,000 mark, which can be viewed here. However, their explanation for the restrictions still refers to studies from July/August 2020 which were used to allow amateur choirs to sing indoors last summer, and overlooks later research. We will continue to work with our partners to #LetChoirsSing, and we encourage you to continue signing and sharing the petition, as when it reaches 100,000 signatures, it will be considered for debate in Parliament.

What abcd, Making Music, RSCM, ISM and SNUK have been doing:

  • We have written to Caroline Dineage, the Minister of State for Digital and Culture, on behalf of the 29 member organisations of Singing Network UK (SNUK) which represents the 2.2 million singers and 40,000 choirs in the UK, ISM, which represents almost 11,000 music professionals, and the Association of British Orchestras, which represents the collective interests of professional orchestras and youth ensembles.
  • Working with others in SNUK on press releases and creating media interest. Click here to download our joint press release, issued on 21 May.
  • Developed a parliamentary question to be asked by any MP or peer selected to ask such a question, with accompanying briefing
  • In dialogue with DCMS to create the confidence in their team that SNUK and national music organisations are supporting choirs with the right protocols to operate safely.
  • Choral organisation representatives have met with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Classical Music arranged to discuss the effects of the restrictions and make the case for singing.

What can everyone do?

You and your choir members can write to your MP - this is more effective than writing to the minister. They are your MP, whatever their party, representing you and they should respond to your concerns. Click here to find out more about how to contact your MP.

Not just one person should write - every single person in the choir should write and make it personal: tell their MP what being in a choir means to them, to their community, for the constituency, tell their own story.

Write to members of the House of Lords - any and all of them! They do not represent a geographical area but you might have a special connection to some of them, perhaps because they come from your region or sing in a choir. You can find out more about the members of the House of Lords here.

Points you might like to consider

The more personal your letter, the better, but here are some extra points to those above which might help you frame it:

  • The guidance was issued more than a week after Step 3 was announced; your choir probably spent many hours finding a suitable COVID-secure venue, liaising with them, setting up risk assessments and protocols
  • The current guidelines for singing do not allow choirs to rehearse indoors in any meaningful way
  • Government funded research into singing was undertaken last summer, resulting in singing being allowed again in August. Many choirs rehearsed safely in the autumn under strict guidelines - no infections were reported.
  • the financial consequences of continuing inactivity for your choir
  • the financial consequences for you as a professional conductor, particularly if this is the way you earn your living
  • if you are a church choir leader, this is a step back from the guidance issued on 29 March
  • the continuing emotional impact on choirs who have not rehearsed for many months. There is an extensive body of research proving the benefits for singers' mental and physical wellbeing.

Letter from professional conductors

David Lawrence has sent a letter on behalf of all those who earn their living conducting choirs: click here to see the letter.

Press coverage

There has been an increasing amount of press coverage, including:

The Daily Mail, 20 June 2021

Letters in The Guardian, 20 June 2021

The Spectactor, 12 June 2021

Private Eye, 11 June 2021

BBC Music Magazine, July 2021 article by Richard Morrison

BBC local radio news interviews with RSCM on 6 June, including BBC Radio 3CR, Berkshire, Bristol, Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, Cumbria, Kent, Leeds, Merseyside, Nottingham, Solent, Somerset, Sussex, York, WM

BBC local radio news interviews with abcd on 2 June, including BBC Radio Derby, Leeds, Lincs, Tees and West Midlands (2:54:20)

Sheffield Telegraph, 2 June

Pop Choir on Radio Suffolk, 28 May

Lucy McClean and Declan Costello on Jeremy Vine, Radio 2, 27 May (1:31)

Ipswich Star, 27 May

Article on the BBC website, 26 May

Article in the Telegraph, 25 May (behind paywall) link to pdf file here

Letters in the Telegraph, 25 May

Bob Chilcott on Front Row, Radio 4, 24 May (22'44'')

Declan Costello on In Tune, Radio 3, 24 May (1:07)

Abi Gilchrist on LBC, 24 May (1:50)

Declan Costello on The Today Programme, Radio 4, 24 May (2:54:53)

The Guardian, 23 May

Classical Music, 21 May

Social media

All the music organisations, along with many conductors, singers and other individuals are sending out lots of Tweets, Facebook and Instagram posts. The more these are shared, the more people we reach.

#ChoirsMatter #SingingMatters #LetChoirsSing

To see links to all the relevant current government guidance for choirs of all kinds, see our government guidance page.