“No-one would have believed in the early part of this year that 2020 would have been the year it has been” (sorry for the rather cheesy reference to “War of the Worlds”). When Worcester Concert Brass ended their Christmas concert in 2019 little did anyone suspect that it would be their last event for probably 18 months, and that the regional contests in March would be the last time that Malvern Hills Brass Band and Drybrook Band would perform for over a year.
Spring and Summer
The year started off quite normally, and I suppose the dramatic floods that occurred in January and February detracted attention away from the events that were happening in China, and the fact that a rather nasty virus was circulating went pretty well un-noticed. But a crisis was looming and things suddenly started to get serious when several European countries, notably Italy and Spain, were beginning to have a major problem with this extremely contagious disease. As it got closer and closer to the UK we carried on rehearsing oblivious to the approaching menace, and at the beginning of March when it was beginning to have a significant effect in the UK what did we do? We went to brass band competitions in Kenilworth and Torquay. Now, hindsight is a wonderful thing but it is questionable looking back as to whether either should have gone ahead, but particularly the SouthWest competition. The Midlands regional was a week earlier than the South west, and I was involved in both. I remember that even at that time some members were nervous about attending. In the south west there was a significant debate about whether it should go ahead. Some bands did indeed withdraw over safety concerns and the London and Southern Counties competition that was due to take place the following week was called off. But we went to both Kenilworth and Torquay, and incidentally didn’t get great results in either, all the time trying to keep away from as many people as we could!
From then it all went downhill; concerts and the summer season were all cancelled and bands stopped rehearsing immediately once lockdown was imposed. Initially this was for 12 weeks but now nearly 9 months later no band has played a note together, and probably won’t be able to for quite a while yet.
Lockdown posed a challenge for everyone, but musicians and the arts suffered particularly, as the sector relies on people getting together to perform or listen to a live event which is contrary to the principle of social distancing.
Early on I decided to try and get local bands together online to at least keep in contact but our initial attempts at organising a rehearsal met with disaster as Zoom cannot seem to cope with lots of people playing musical instruments together. That idea was abandoned quite quickly in favour of virtual concerts where players either played live or recorded their pieces which were performed via a shared screen to a virtual audience. This worked well and continues up to a virtual Christmas concert next week. We also embarked on some virtual recordings as a more permanent record for posterity of some of our activities during lockdown. Recently we have gone back to looking at remote rehearsals, involving playing along at home to a shared music file with music distributed beforehand for those who want to take part. It is not totally satisfactory but does at least give the players a sense of playing with a band again. Quizzes also abound, although there is a feeling that people are started to get “Quiz fatigue” and so this may not sustain itself.
Many of us are being asked to work from home which in my experience has worked better than expected, although trying to teach rhythm and timing online is an interesting experience with the lags that occur on the internet. I suspect that attitudes to home working may well have changed permanently which is all to the good when you consider the amount of time and fuel we use running around in our busy lives.
Autumn into Winter
In September bands were allowed to rehearse again, albeit in a limited way and subject to strict rules, particularly with regards to social distancing. In effect bands could meet with as many players as practical provided they limit the numbers so that social distancing could be maintained and Covid protocols observed. I know some bands did this but is playing in small groups with no foreseeable aim in mind really that interesting? I guess we all have different views on that one.
Lockdown 2 of course stopped all the activity again but bands are now arranging small groups to go out spreading some Christmas cheer by socially distanced carolling which is a welcome development in these difficult times.
Bring on 2021 – please!!
So much for 2020, but we should also remember that we are living through and creating history. The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic is still talked about 100 years later and there is no reason to believe that Covid-19 will be forgotten either, it has had such a profound effect on both public health and the economy, and we must not forget that there has been a huge toll in human lives. Vaccines now offer some hope that we will sooner or later move on but that probably won’t be before Easter and the summer programme may be the first time we can start to work together again. But there is now some hope and we can now see a light at the end of a very dark tunnel, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that.