Covid-19 guidelines for performers and performance: an update

Covid-19 guidelines for performers and performance: an update

Frequent changes to the Covid-19 regulations and guidelines continue to challenge musicians and music sector organisations as they try to interpret, clarify and implement the requirements. RCO members may find the following summary (covering announcements up to 10 September 2020) helpful.

On 15 August the UK Government announced that its sponsored research into the dangers of singing revealed it to be no worse a spreader of coronavirus than speaking. Any relief at this welcome news was tempered by a lack of clarity over who was permitted to sing where and in what numbers, and how this related to the unchanged advice on social distancing.

The days that followed were full of contradictory interpretations, finally resolved on 28 August in a Government update which confirmed that as long as a proper risk assessment had been undertaken, and social distancing of 2 metres (or ‘1 metre plus’) was observed, there was no limit on the number of choir members who could meet to rehearse.

These new regulations apply to England only; please see the following links for other areas of the UK. Note that for Wales and Northern Ireland it is hard to find specific information on the performing arts as they are included within guidance for either ‘leisure’ or ‘sport’ with no readily available detail for the rehearsing or performance of music.

Scotland (singing in worship is not yet permitted in Scotland.)
Wales (documents issued by the Church in Wales still refer to a single singer/cantor in places of worship.)
Northern Ireland (singing in places of worship is permitted in Northern Ireland.)

In England, the new restrictions on social gatherings announced on 9 September have once again introduced some confusion as to how this affects performing musicians, especially amateur and church choirs. The main exceptions to the newly reimposed limit of six people permitted to gather for ‘social purposes’, which will come into effect on 14 September, are given as:

• gatherings for work or education purposes
• weddings and funerals
• team sports organised in a way limiting the spread of coronavirus
• a single household group or support bubble which is more than 6 people
• organised groups meeting in community facilities which follow COVID-19 secure guidelines (including places of worship)

It is generally understood that formally constituted church and secular choirs are covered by the final bullet point above, and the Government document outlining the guidance for community facilities can be found here:

It is worth pointing out that much of the document referenced via this link was written prior to 9 September and refers to groups of 30 people. The new clause relating to a maximum of 6 people, and guidance over exemptions, can be found at section 2a.

Within all of this there seems to be no reason why organ recitals taking place in a ‘Covid-secure venue’ should not continue to be arranged, and performed with a suitably distanced audience. At the time of writing, clarity is being sought by the Musicians’ Union (see below for a link to the latest MU updates).

With such frequent changes to the regulations and the guidelines, music organisations are working hard to confirm, interpret and publish information for their members. As well as the College's own information and updates, organists and choral directors may find helpful information on the following sites:

Musicians Union
Royal School of Church Music
Incorporated Society of Musicians and
Association of British Choral Directors (abcd)

All the above organisations use Twitter, where more up-to-the-minute announcements can often be found. The Association of British Orchestras and Making Music are also publishing regular information, but this is currently available to member groups only.

Notwithstanding the 9 September announcement, the Government, via ‘Operation Sleeping Beauty’, continues to explore ways in which theatres and concert halls could re-open in November without social distancing. See the article in the Daily Mail from the Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, on 5 September and an article in The Times from 6 September, 'Seat out to help out'. It is unclear to what extent the 9 September announcement will affect these intentions.

You can follow news & updates from RCO via our Twitter and Facebook accounts, or via an RSS feed.

Twitter @RCO_Updates Facebook page