LOCKDOWNS and Covid regulations silenced many community choirs in the region at the start of the pandemic. But a group of passionate local singers – the West Yorkshire-based Commoners Choir, which has several members from Bradford – refused to be intimidated and channeled their talents in different directions.
Choir member TONY SUTCLIFFE explains: It’s been just over 18 months now that around 50 or 60 of us have crowded onto a rather small stage within the confines of a West Yorkshire concert hall. Packed side by side, some of us rushed backstage while others staggered precariously over the edge. Even the sardines, quite frankly, could have complained about such a tight space.
But we didn’t care, as our enthusiasm and pride was overflowing to launch our second Commoners Choir CD – Untied Kingdom – in front of a full capacity audience who had bought the last precious tickets weeks before.
The whole room was restless, a jostling sea of ââdimly lit faces beyond the glare of the stage lights.
And we sang. Choir and audience as one. Voices rose together as anthemic choirs echoed and echoed in every corner of this room.
A little over 18 months ago. But it almost seems in a lifetime now. Even the mere fact of describing such a scene makes one think of the severely disapproving face of Chris Whitty.
Because, of course, just weeks after this album’s launch, the world as we knew it was on hold indefinitely, as the lockdown has brought so many strange silences into our lives. Thousands of local and community choirs across the country, if not around the world, have been deprived of the musical oxygen that keeps us alive, as singing together was quickly identified as a high-risk activity.
Thus, the “new” word Zoom burst into our collective vocabulary and, for many, it was a social lifeline, offering the possibility of connection in a suddenly dislocated existence of enforced isolation.
For choirs, like ours, it offered a certain degree of temporary refuge, voices connected across distancesâ¦ although, in truth, it felt a bit like singing to yourself in your own living room!
It would have been easy to feel deflated, maybe even dejected, and fall into a hazy hibernation of nebulous inactivity, especially when we had to ditch a 12-date album launch tour.
Even the enthusiasm of Ellie Clement, a member of the Shipley-based choir, was slightly dampened as she now remembers how “the possibility at the start of the pandemic that it may be some time before that we could sing together again sounded like a black cloud. ”
But that’s not the stuff we commoners are made of. Because when the choir was first dreamed of six years ago by Otley-based composer Boff Whalley and this guy who played guitar in Chumbawamba, they came up with their own manifesto.
In fact, you can still read it on our website, with its heartfelt pledges to be âa choir like no otherâ and to be âexplicitly political and engaged,â highlighting injustices and injustices in the world. world and singing with âlike a lot of harmony, melody and earworms that we can put togetherâ.
Granted, he does not explicitly say “there will be no periods of idleness following global pandemics”, but I think it would be fair to take that read.
The choir therefore found many other outlets for its resolute and ardent enthusiasm in the months that followed.
Songs were written (including the appropriate poignant Singing Together Apart), YouTube videos were posted, and a new choir allowance was carefully cultivated.
And we’ve found a new way to get our messages across about things that matter to the world with the release of a new zine (or magazine for those of us from a certain vintage!) Called Commontary.
The second edition is already on the streets, in a number of outlets in Bradford, and features articles, reports, interviews, even crossword and crossword research, all on the topic of trespassing.
Helen Lucy, who emerged from the choir to take on the role of volunteer writer, was amazed by the writing skills of her fellow singers. Each edition has its own theme – a process of negotiation between choir members – and anyone inspired by the themes is encouraged to contribute.
As Helen explains, “we can’t go out and be in front of people right now, but it’s an alternate way of projecting ourselves and what we believe in.”
And for Ellie, it helped bring back some of the camaraderie and common purpose that keeps the choir together. As she says: âThere is too much spirit and innovation in the choir to keep us silent for long. The zine is a glorious mixture of articles and far greater than the sum of its parts.
In the meantime, we’re resuming rehearsals outside, with a pragmatic mix of raincoats and sunscreen, and we can’t wait to sing for you all again. I hope soon enough!
You can pick up a copy of Commontary at Bread And Roses, Mean Old Scene and Plant One On Me in Bradford, Tambourine and The Triangle in Shipley, The Grove, Ilkley or at commonerschoir.com