In an evening at the end of November, in the midst of melancholy for the umpteenth rehearsal on line with my children and youth choirs, perhaps driven by the hope that the common bad could be if not a half joy at least a sharing of support, I had the idea to open the Facebook window and try to shout …. ‘How are you’? So I launched a survey on the conditions of the activity of children choirs and school choirs of the same age group. I collected the data of the many colleagues who really answered me from all over Italy, thus composing a sample quite representative of the territory and not just a few. The possible answers proposed in the survey were 5:
- Activities in presence
- Activities in presence with small groups
- Remote teaching on various platforms
- Choirs with suspended activity
- Choirs disappeared
Responded 129 choirs in 48 hours and for each type of response I report here a brief summary, updated to December 1, 2020.
Choirs in presence
There are 15 choirs in presence even if 4 of them declare to alternate the rehearsals in presence with rehearsals on line or with part of the choir in presence and part at home on line. There are two interesting data about these choirs. The first is the presence of a choir of a conservatory that therefore has not been touched neither by the DPCM (Decree of the President of the Council of Ministers) nor by the Regional Restrictive Ordinances. The second is the territoriality: in the other types of response you will find choirs closed in ‘yellow areas’, while in this group there are choirs of ‘red regions’ that however continued to do the rehearsals in presence. It is also emphasized the fatigue in working with masks, so the rehearsal time is reduced and the breaks are lengthened.
Presence choirs with small groups
I have received 5 such responses. It should be specified that in one case the conductor stated that the choir is numerically reduced so rehearse in 12/13 is the norm for them.
Choirs in distance teaching on various platforms
Common to this quite substantial group of choirs, is the difficulty of working especially with younger children and the abandonment of a part of the choristers as they are already tired of the massive use of online activities for school, side activities and hobbies. The words most used by these directors are ‘resistance, resilience, bonds, affectivity, needs of the children’. The number is soaring because there are 35 choirs that are in this condition.
Choirs with suspended activity
This group is, unfortunately, the largest, counting as many as 70 such responses. There are 64 choirs that have not been reactivated because they were in school, or suspended by regional restrictions, with intimidated parents who did not let the children resume the course. The suspensions concern mostly the school choirs; having frightened the school directors and the school councils at the end of the summer was unfortunately decisive and the late circular of September 15, 2020 by the MIUR
(Ministry of Education, University and Research) that enshrines the possibility of singing at school, provided that the now well-known distances are maintained, is not even considered. They are all liquidated with a ‘too dangerous and/or complicated’. Many of these choirs fear they will soon find themselves included in the next group.
The fact that there are ‘only’ 4 choirs in this group is not a relief, for several reasons. First of all because ‘the long wave’ of this current condition – as for other fields such as economic, social, educational – has yet to arrive and we cannot know how many choirs will disappear. To those who answer that we will then start again, we should be able to explain that a choir is not a restaurant or a store. Starting a new choir requires time, energy, favorable social-environmental conditions and a lot of luck. Will the conductor who had spent himself and finds himself with the house of cards down and many cards changed, of different size and consistency, have the strength to start over? And above all, we speak of ‘strength of spirit’. Every time a choir goes off, and especially a boys’ choir, energy is taken away from the national choral movement, prospects for growth and training of nursery, with consequent impoverishment of the lives of the boys and their extended families. In the palmarès of these choirs that declare themselves ‘disappeared’, we can find several prizes in established choral competitions; now, writing in a magazine of choir directors I don’t think I have to explain more than that … but it would be good if we all remember every now and then what it means to win a competition or in any case place among the winners. These guys had made a choice of training that often in the choristers turns into a choice of life, sensitivity, commitment. And these choirs, there are no more! I add then that I asked the same question to the directors of youth choirs.
The answers were definitely less numerous and can be summarized in two essential data: dozens of school choirs were closed in February 2020 and will not be reopened in this school year. The associative choirs, also strong of the computer skills well spread among young people, are ‘pulling ahead’ between rehearsals, individual singing lessons, alternative activities, in the hope of being able to sing again soon.
What is the point of all this investigation, this confrontation in front of problems that seem bigger, much bigger? This is not the place to touch other issues but certainly two reflections arise spontaneously. The first is that I have seen in recent months, locally and up to the international level, sports clubs, the CEI ( Italian Episcopal Conference) for the church services and catechesis of children, schools, dance academies, music schools and many other forms of associationism concerning children, fighting, getting excited and spending themselves to safeguard their activities, emphasizing every minute their importance. It may have escaped me, but I have not seen as much energy in the choral world. And this was a mistake! It seems almost as if we can safely endure and not even try to shake off this singing equation = dangerous activity, as if it is not possible to carry out our activity safely and prove it, with several international studies to support it. The second reflection is that when (who knows when) you will taste a shred of normality, what has not been done before will be done immediately and in an extremely amplified way. Children need to be detached from the screens and brought back to life.