Letter to Mary Foy from Durham musicians

The official Government guidelines document to which this letter refers can be found here

Update: scroll down to read the supportive reply we have received from Mary Foy

Dear Mary Kelly Foy,

This week, Durham’s streets should have been filled with music. Beginning with the Miners’ Gala on 11 July and followed by the BRASS Festival, amateur and professional musicians alike would have been delighting crowds in Durham’s streets and concert venues. Covid-19 has cruelly silenced Britain’s musicians.

On 9 July the Department for Culture, Media and Sport announced that outdoor performances and indoor rehearsals can now take place, with appropriate social distancing measures in place. This is of course welcome news, but we are greatly disappointed that the new rules apply only to professional musicians, a move that Making Music, the umbrella group for amateur music ensembles has called ‘disappointing and unjustifiable’. We the undersigned ask you on behalf of Durham’s amateur musicians to challenge the government on this and allow us to be treated in the same way as the professionals.

Whilst we accept that there are risks associated with group music, particularly for singers, wind and brass players, there is absolutely no reason why measures that are deemed safe for professionals (e.g. 3m social distancing) should not also be safe for us. Making Music have clearly set out the general case for allowing the resumption of amateur music in their statement: (available here), and we’d like to explain here what it means for the people of Durham who you represent.

Last year, the classical and jazz listings site Music in Durham listed 128 events in Durham, of which 68 involved amateur performers from 36 different groups. This is just the tip of the iceberg as it does not include groups who perform popular and folk music; community groups who don’t give performances; or church choirs. Durham also hosted festivals for vocal music, recorder players, brass and jazz. Amateur music groups spend tens of thousands of pounds each year in Durham. We pay concert hire fees to venues including Durham Cathedral, the Gala Theatre and Ushaw College as well as fees to countless churches, community centres and schools for rehearsal space. Many groups pay local professional musicians as conductors, accompanists, orchestral players and soloists. We spend money with local printers to produce posters and programmes and we socialise after rehearsals and concerts.

For students, the university music societies deeply enrich the experience that Durham offers them and for some, involvement in university music, whether as performers, producers or administrators, can be the springboard to a professional career. The high standard of student performances attracts audiences from beyond the university, helping to break down perceived barriers between ‘town and gown’.

Music isn’t about money and the economy though. For thousands of amateur musicians in Durham, the experience of shared music-making is a source of immense mental and physical well-being. It brings meaning to our lives and lifts our hearts. Making music together brings healing and comfort in difficult times, and it is particularly cruel that the nature of the pandemic has robbed us of this source of consolation. Whilst some have been able to make music together online, this is fraught with technical difficulties and the end result is but a pale substitute for the real thing.

Time is pressing. Even if the rules were changed today, it would probably be too late for many groups to take advantage of summer to put on outdoor concerts. However, the question of Christmas is already looming as preparations for concerts and carol services usually begin in September. This year we will face the additional problem of getting minds and bodies back into practice after months of inactivity and working out how to perform safely, possibly with reduced numbers.

The prospect of a Christmas without live music is bleak indeed. Will you speak for Durham’s musicians in Parliament and help us to avoid a festive season of silent nights?

Yours sincerely,

Jane Shuttleworth, Marketing Manager and trustee, Durham Singers, founder of Music in Durham.

Kate Bailey, Chair, Durham Choral Society
Rachel Booth, Orchestra North East
Michael Borthwick, Chair, Orchestra North East
Beth Bromley, Northern Spirit Singers and Durham Singers
Tuomas Eerola, Head of Department, Department of Music, Durham University
Michael Gilmore, Durham Singers
Andy Jackson, Director Durham Scratch Choir and the Cobweb Orchestra
Norman Kennedy, Assistant Conductor/ Instrument officer, Pittington Brass, Lumley Methodist Band, Craghead Colliery Band, Salvation Army Fellowship Band NE, Pittington Brass
Charlie Leeson, President, Durham University Choral Society
Michael Summers, Manager of Music Education, Durham Music Service
David Thornber, Senior Regional Manager, Durham University
Mary Tyers, Musical Director & Chair, Durham Society of Recorder Players
Gina Vong, Treasurer, Durham University Choral Society
And seven other musicians who have signed privately.

Mary Foy’s reply