England: COVID-19 advice for musicians
Advice for musicians on COVID-19 regulations in England, as the roadmap out of lockdown is published.
Many members have been in touch with us to express concern at the government guidance issued on 18 May, which restricts the permitted number of those singing indoors together in England to a maximum of six people.
This guidance, published by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), came without warning, and was contrary to expectations that non-professional music activity would return, outdoors and indoors in England from 17 May (the starting date for Step 3 of the government’s roadmap), without limits on numbers other than those dictated by the size of a venue (to allow for social distancing).
The new guidance makes it impossible for choirs to rehearse indoors at this step. This is a source of huge frustration given that the guidance was issued after the start of step 3. Members have told us that in some instances rehearsals had started, and choirs had spent time and resources preparing risk assessments and safe rehearsals.
We sympathise with the frustrations felt by everyone who had planned their return to singing. We are extremely concerned that amateur singing has been singled out by DCMS for such unreasonable and unworkable restrictions.
The ISM, Making Music, abcd (the Association of British Choral Directors), other organisations in Singing Network UK (SNUK) and the Association of British Orchestras (ABO), have been working together to lobby government and to help everyone involved in singing play their part in this campaign.
We are asking 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.
The letter asks that the evidence be published which has prompted the decision to single out choirs, out of all organised amateur activity (music, theatre, dance, sport) as the one not safe enough to re-start, and that the conditions be made explicit under which choirs may re-start meeting indoors in numbers greater than 6, to allow forward planning.
We understand that there will not be a change to the official DCMS performing arts guidance until Step 4, which is intended to start on 21 June (subject to any UK government decisions in the light of rates of COVID infections). We will continue to talk to DCMS about how and when choirs can return to rehearsing in person indoors in greater numbers at step 4.
Caroline Dinenage, Minister for Digital and Culture at DCMS, has written a letter responding to us and the other signatories of our letter of 20 May, which includes this statement: ‘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.’
The meaning of ‘work’ and ‘commercial’ are not defined in this letter and leave some scope for interpretation. A 'work' context could reasonably include a situation where one professional is leading or directing non-professionals. 'Commercial' could include the commercial sale of products and services such as tickets for concerts. So a rehearsal working towards a performance could, in theory, be considered in this context to be a commercial activity.
We are seeking advice from our public liability insurance (PLI) brokers about the insurance position of ISM members if a group were to rehearse indoors in numbers greater than six on the grounds that it is work/commercial activity. We will update this page once we know more.
The more personal your letter, the better, but the following may help you get started.
Please share this information with your singing contacts. We will be updating this page as developments occur.