Choir in the time of corona virus

Cancelling our performance of the Mozart Requiem in March was a huge disappointment for singers, orchestral players and audience alike. But the clampdown on public events in mid-March was just the start of measures to halt the spread of the corona virus. Now, months further on and still under some restrictions, it’s clear we won’t be singing together for some time and our rehearsals are on hold until further notice.

If we can’t sing, we can at least stay in touch! So this light-hearted blog aims to bring you news of choir members and how we’re coping in this strange new world we’re all having to adjust to. Please send your news to me at – all contributions welcome, whether you’re on the frontline or in the front garden.

PS If you need help of any sort, start with Stephanie Jenkins’ inestimable Headington website . And did you know our lovely Saturday market is now operating from Quarry Hollow Park as from 4 July?

Hilary Bradley

28 October edition

The clocks have gone back, winter is fast approaching, we’re teetering on the verge of a tougher lockdown and there is little to cheer us at the moment. So the Council’s decision to mark ‘Light Night’ is very welcome – even if we can’t have a lantern parade through the city centre. We’re all being encouraged to put lighting in our windows and gardens on the weekend of 20 -22 November to lift the spirits of our neighbours and passers-by. It’s time to get creative! If you join in, do send your photos!

My apologies to those of you trying to get through on the friends@ email address – it isn’t working (we have no idea why). Please use the address – this goes to Tim Devenport who will forward your messages to me.

Something else to celebrate locally – have you seen/listened to the ‘listening benches’ in Headington? Ex-Councillor Ruth Wilkinson had the idea of sound recordings to explain our rich history, from King Ethelred’s palace to the birth of Oxford United and, of course, the shark. Our former Librarian, Ann McIlhinney, was one of the researchers /authors involved in the project which was officially unveiled this week. Look out for the benches and other installations across central Headington, eg corner of London Road and New High Street.    

Two musical treats this week: Sing the North is a Canadian choir who came together in cyberspace to sing a new work, Aurora, by Nicholas Fairbank – spine-tingling.

Thanks to Angela Houlston for this.

So this is where some of us went wrong – we didn’t start young enough …. Thanks to Mike Kent and Ruth Newman for this tiny gem.

14 October edition

Many thanks to those of you who responded to Richard Brookes’ email about the choir’s plans – we hope it’s safe to say that the following are fine and send best wishes to the choir: Eddie Murphy, Felicity and Phil Henderson, Catherine Muir, Peter Mothersole, Steve Pegg, Thelma Sanders, Sarah Darby and Mike Kent. We’re pleased to report that Carolyn Gulliver continues to make progress after breaking her hip.

Eddie Murphy (T) contacted us later to tell us about a somewhat unusual lockdown project!

As a young boy (aged 7), my father, who was a very practical man, made a toy castle for my brother and me. For many years I contemplated doing something similar in memory of my Dad, and finally during lockdown I got around to doing something about it. Here is a photo of ‘Chateau Fig’.

When my castle was finished I donated it to the Year 1 class in the school I had worked at for all the 7- year-olds to enjoy. It was very well received by all. I enjoyed the project and learned so much that I’ve begun another castle which I shall donate as a Christmas raffle prize, to raise cash for musical instruments at the school.

Nessun dorma usefully rhymes with corona – see what Daniel Emmet makes of it!

Thanks to Angela Houlston – how does she find them?!

8 October edition

Jericho Singers have recently produced a lovely interpretation of Rivers run by Karine Polward. As the conductor Steph Pirrie admits ‘it was a lot of work’ but ‘very worthwhile to see it come together’. Would any budding sound engineers/ video editors among us please step forward …

It’s very exciting to read that Oxford is to get the concert hall it deserves at last. Down at the University’s Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, work is starting on the Stephen A Schwarzman Centre for Humanities which will include a 500-seat concert hall. The design team will include a top firm of acoustic engineers to offer a venue good enough to attract leading performers. We can but dream of singing there but look forward to NOT having to endure the discomfort of the Sheldonian!     

29 September edition

Our Facebook page is kindly run for us by Elizabeth Mills (A) who tells us how much she’s missing choir. And that drew a comment from Dulcie Glassborow who used to sing soprano with us until a few years ago when she left Oxford. Dulcie says: “I too miss my choir in Dunfermline. We have been meeting on Zoom, but it’s not the same”. Lovely to hear from you Dulcie! Is there anyone else out there who’d like to send us a quick update?

Several choir members sing with the Self-Isolation Choir which has just released a fabulous recording of Vivaldi’s Gloria: the music starts about 19 minutes in.

You can join this virtual choir at anytime – it has over 11,000 members worldwide and clearly lots of singers simply love it.

24 September edition

So, the Government has spoken and we’re now subject to tighter restrictions to try to stop the spread of Covid-19. It’s not yet clear what this means for choirs but the existing regulations are extremely tight and may well be kept unchanged.

Essentially singing in groups is allowed but only if the environment can be made covid-secure – and that’s a huge task. For one thing, keeping singers two metres apart – and three metres away from the conductor – means that choirs need a huge rehearsal space. And that’s just the first of many challenges.    

Your committee met on Tuesday to talk through whether any kind of singing is going to be possible in the coming months. Richard Brooke will be in touch with choir members to set out what the committee discussed and how we plan to proceed – so look out for an email.

The Committee also fixed the date of the (online) AGM – Tuesday 10 November at 7.30pm. Please save the date – we need a good turnout! Other details will come by email.

Meanwhile, the opportunities to sing in the comfort of your own home continue to proliferate! Have you ever fancied singing the Mozart Requiem in Vienna? It’s every singer’s dream isn’t it? RunbySingers has been organising choral singing in wonderful locations for many years and is now offering at-home rehearsals from 10 November to 5 December in preparation for a performance (complete with orchestra) in virtual Vienna. Find out more at

If you’d simply like to learn some new works on your own there’s lots to choose from at ChoraLine, such as War Story, a selection of choral works by Ralph Vaughan Williams. See  

Thanks to Angela Houlston and Tim Bolton for the above leads.

Meanwhile your blogger soldiers on, wondering what else can go wrong with the house – fridge broken, leak in the roof, cooker in need of repair but now obsolete (say the makers), big sycamore tree dropping branches on the neighbours … Just as well we’re not spending money during lockdown!

Don’t forget to send your news. Or just say hello!

15 September edition

We were very sorry to learn that Carolyn Gulliver (A) recently had a fall in her flat and broke her hip. She was pinned back together at the JR and is now recuperating at home with her customary verve. We all send our very best wishes for a full and speedy recovery, take care Carolyn.

The Last Night of the Proms seemed to come upon us with indecent haste! It was a strange affair as might be expected but worth seeing for the amazing performance from soprano, Golda Schulz. Catch it on I-Player:

Your committee will be meeting via Zoom shortly to discuss the new government guidelines on amateur singing, to try to assess whether there’s any chance of us doing so this term. The ‘rules’ are incredibly complex. We’ll keep you posted.

If you’re interested in singing from your own living room, The Sofa Singers are still going strong, singing a different song each week via Zoom. You can’t hear the other singers but you can see (some of) them.

The Stay at Home Choir is another online singing group, with thousands of members round the world. In partnership with Classic FM, they have just released a video of the choir singing Karl Jenkins The Global Armed Man, conducted by the man himself. They are now taking registrations to join their Christmas programme (music not specified).

1 September edition

No doubt many of us watched the First Night of the Proms out of a mixture of loyalty and curiosity. It’s hard to describe the desolation of the empty Albert Hall – but what spirited performances we were treated to, not least the (well-spaced) BBC Singers in Eric Whitacre’s haunting work Sleep. If you missed it, catch it here:

There might still be time to catch an extraordinary work of theatre, recommended by Priscilla Goldby. Blindness is a socially–distanced sound installation at the Donmar Warehouse based on José Saramago’s dystopian novel. Its run has been extended until 5 September.

The play depicts a global pandemic in which people lose their sight. Priscilla says: “It’s an eerie and engrossing experience …. I recommend it for anyone thinking about risking a day trip to London and wanting to step inside a theatre – I think it is the only place that is possible at the moment!” Read more at

This week it’s the turn of our Aussie mates to make us laugh – strictly for G & S fans!

With thanks to Ruth Berry, Ruth Newman and Angela Houlston.

18 August edition

Government guidelines on performance are changing and non-professional singing is now allowed provided that Covid-safe practices are closely observed. Your committee will be looking at what the guidelines might mean for us – so that’s something positive to focus on! We don’t promise anything soon but watch this space.

It’s good to know what other Oxford choirs are doing and we were pleased to learn that the Oxford Gospel Choir has managed to crack the technology to bring you a virtual performance of With a little help from my friends. The piece is a tribute to local NHS staff and done in aid of Oxford Hospitals Charity:


Thanks to Angela Houlston for these!

Jackie Wheatley is doing a superb job of finding musical entertainment you weren’t expecting, for example Stravinsky’s Rite of spring as you’ve never seen it:

and even a sausage piano!

Beat that!  

11 August edition

Tim Bolton and his wife, Pat, have been looking for a certain Mr Darcy …

We’ve just had a few days in Buxton, Derbyshire with friends who have both had COVID.   Buxton was our base to visit some of the locations used in the recently re-shown adaptation of Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth as Mr Darcy. No festival at Buxton itself unfortunately, but a very nice place to stay in nevertheless.

We tracked down Edgecote House (Netherfield), Sudbury Hall (Pemberley interior), Lyme Park (Pemberley), Belton House (Rosings) and Teigh rectory (Hunsford parsonage), as well as visiting Chatsworth House which is mentioned but not visited.

To the enormous disappointment of the ladies, Mr Darcy was not spotted diving into the lake at Pemberley…

Hope everyone is bearing up and looking forward to the excitement of the AGM!

Anja Lenninger sang soprano in the choir for a few years before returning to her native Germany in summer 2009. And she still keeps in touch with us! She writes about how choirs are faring in Trier.

In Germany choirs suffer the same ‘isolation’ and only slowly we are going back to some kind of rehearsal activities. From September onwards our choir will start with small groups, shorter rehearsals with lots of breaks, and if possible outside… Hm, better than nothing. 

During the crisis I met with four singing friends each Sunday afternoon in the big church and we sang whatever came to our minds – of course keeping three metres between us! Listen to us here:

We still meet on Sunday afternoons in church, a secret routine which has become a highlight of our weekends… 

Let’s hope that someday soon our choirs will be again on a stage!

Best wishes and take care!

Sally Mears and Angela Houlston are both singing with the Self Isolation Choir summer school which has just released the choir’s recording of Patrick and Andrew Hawes’ poignant Quanta Qualia.  It expresses the soul’s heartfelt longing for the joys, ecstasy even, of togetherness. It’s spine-tingling ….

4 August edition

Sally has been messing about on the river!

I have been on a boating holiday on the Thames with John and David plus friends from France in another boat. Starting in Caversham, Reading we ended up in Abingdon and then pootled slowly back as far as Hambleden Lock near Henley. It was lovely weather. We had two accidents and also had to call an engineer out once. I was not driving at the time! 

At Reading Abbey we attempted Summer is icumen in with John and David taking the ostinato patterns each and myself on the tune. Not bad really!

There were some amusing moments  –  such as when I was washing my hair in the shower and suddenly the boat set off and John shouted “Lock in five minutes”.  I had to get dressed very quickly!!

We enjoyed it so much we are going on a narrowboat holiday on Oxford canal from Eynsham shortly so I may see folks walking along the tow path!

Best wishes to you all.

See how one Polish singer and choir thanked their health care workers:

With thanks to Angela Houlston.

The idea of the ‘virtual choir’ was pioneered by Eric Whitacre a decade ago (remember singing his Seal Lullaby?).  See one of his early pieces, Sing gently, that brought together 17,572 singers from 129 countries for a really moving performance.

As I was walking at Wittenham Clumps, who should I bump into but Jackie Wheatley!  A delightful chance encounter. Jackie is well and promises to work on her next entertaining take on lockdown stage 2!

28 July edition

Your committee met online again recently to talk about whether we could sing as a choir in the autumn term. Sadly it was quite clear that we can’t sing together for some time – singing is still seen as a risky activity.

We had just reached this conclusion when a message arrived from Headington School to the effect that groups like ours won’t be allowed to use their rehearsal rooms until at least October, when they will review the situation. So, some kind of get-together before Christmas may be possible but it’s too soon to say.

However, we do need to hold an AGM in the autumn and we can do that online! We’ll send details nearer the time.

We hope things will gradually move in the right direction and will keep you posted.

Finally, you might be interested to know that some serious research is now being done on the effects of singing or playing wind/brass instruments on the spread of virus particles – see below for the links. We should know the results by the autumn. – an interview with Declan Costello, ENT consultant, who is leading the research

Meanwhile, enjoy some very young voices – the One Voice Children’s Choir sing ‘Memories’:

There was no blog last week because I was away, enjoying a short break in a hotel (all of 50 miles away), the first outing since lockdown. It felt a bit risky at first until I decided I might as well relax into it – then, oh the bliss of not having to shop, cook, wash up … Time expands when you’re away from home: four days felt like a proper holiday. Recommended! Has anyone been caught out in Spain?

So, how are things with you? Don’t forget to send us your news –

14 July edition

Carolyn Gulliver (A) is our archivist (among many other things) and has taken advantage of lockdown to do some sorting out. As a founder member back in 1985 she has also personal memories of much of our history. “When we started, we were an all-female choir. It was a while before the first men were brave enough to join! Our repertoire was whatever music we could lay our hands on – a strange mix of Lloyd Webber and Haydn at one point.  We were a very sociable group enjoying skittle evenings, barn dances, suppers … happy days!”

You can read Carolyn’s history of our first 25 years on the website:

Naomi Collyer (A) reports:  “We got to church again at last on Sunday, strange though it felt – a small congregation, carefully spaced out, bread but not wine, no hymns, but at least we had the organ. It was good to be with at least some of the people we know.”

Naomi enjoyed a rendition of the Hallelujah chorus by Trappist monks!

If you’re an opera lover you’ll really enjoy this singer tackling a famous Mozart soprano role:

With thanks to Jackie Wheatley for another gem!

Meanwhile, your blogger is really delighted that the Headington Market is back and trading on Saturdays from 10am – 2pm in Quarry Hollow Park. Not all of the usual stalls are there but the thrill of getting good bread, locally-grown veg and fruit, eggs, meat and olives is outshone only by the opportunity to see friends and neighbours emerging after weeks of lockdown. The market was always seen as a way of enhancing our sense of community and here it shows how much that is appreciated. Despite the ‘social distancing’ etc there was a lively buzz when I shopped.

If you’re not within walking or cycling distance, there’s free parking in Quarry and Margaret Roads. The market is likely to be in the park until it’s safe to go back to London Road. And who knows when that will be?

7 July edition

Will Clark (T) has found new ways to keep the music.

The first 10 weeks of the lockdown went very quickly for me as I was immersed in a work project (although I am supposed to be retired after selling my software business, the new owners got me involved with a particular customer’s project). This was a very welcome distraction but things have been quieter over the last few weeks.

One great distraction most evenings has been watching the free live streaming from the New York Metropolitan opera – I even bought a larger TV to enjoy the event! The YouTube clip below is from Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment. As I am out of practice at the moment I don’t think I can quite emulate the nine high C’s in the performance of Javier Camarena – maybe next year?

Our very own Radcliffe Orchestra has been busy and recorded this Elgar favourite to mark the 72nd anniversary of the founding of the NHS:

Meanwhile the Self Isolation Choir goes from strength to strength with plans to sing everyone’s favourite requiems – Mozart (of course!), Faure, Brahms … Read more on their website:

Sally has been enjoying singing some Rutter pieces with the choir’s summer school.

And for your amusement:

An update on a famous song by Gilbert and Sullivan! It’s amazing to see how many talented people have been inspired by corona virus! (With thanks to Naomi Collyer (A) for this.)

And another:

(With thanks to Naomi Collyer (A) and Angela Houlston (S) respectively for these.)

Sally says that this work, We’ll play our part, by Paul Ayres is ‘brilliant’:

Keep the news flowing! We just like to know how you’re getting on …

30 June edition

Howard Goodall has written a new composition honouring the first 122 NHS and care workers who died as a result of working with COVID-19 patients. Recorded by the London Symphony Chorus, the piece will be released on YouTube this Sunday, 5 July at 10am. The names of all 122 people are included in the work – and Goodall plans to add to it over time. An emotional experience for sure.

Have you ever seen or heard music played on junk salvaged from a tip? This touching video from the Landfill Harmonic Orchestra shows you the power of music to transform lives:

With thanks to Ruth Newman for this amazing find.

The altos’ lament

It’s tough to be an alto
when you’re singing in the choir.
The sopranos get the twiddly bits
the people all admire.
The basses boom like loud trombones,
the tenors shout with glee –
But the alto part is on two notes
or (if you’re lucky) three.

And when we sing an anthem
and we lift our hearts in praises
the men get all the juicy bits
and telling little phrases.
Of course the trebles sing the tune –
they always come off best;
the altos only get three notes
and twenty-two bars rest.

We practice very hard each week
from the hymn-book and the psalter,
but when the conductor looks at us our
voices start to falter.
“Too high!” “Too low!” “Too fast!”
“You held that note too long!”
It doesn’t matter what you do –
it’s certain to be wrong!

O shed a tear for the altos –
they’re martyrs and they know,
in the ranks of choral singers
they’re considered very low.
They are so very ‘umble
and a lot of folks forget ’em;
how they’d love to be sopranos,
but their vocal chords won’t let ’em!

And when the final trumpet sounds
and we are wafted higher,
sopranos, tenors, basses –
they’ll be in the heavenly choir.
And while they sing “Alleluia!”
to celestial flats and sharps,
the altos will be occupied
polishing the harps.

Composed by ‘Bob the Organist’ whose real identity has never been revealed. The poem was discovered stuffed behind the vestry door of a church in Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands.

With thanks to Angela Houlston ( a not-at-all smug soprano!)

23 June edition

ChoraLine is offering three courses over the summer – Bach’s Magnificat, a summer school including a Rutter programme and other works; and some of the movements from The Armed Man, with Karl Jenkins himself conducting. In September, the Self Isolation Choir starts on Elijah, which we sang recently.  Read more at

Angela Houlston (S) updates us on her work at the JR Hospital.

The numbers of new patients who are COVID-positive is decreasing, which is welcome news. This means that patients requiring elective procedures can be admitted again. Like the rest of society it is more complicated starting things up again and although things are definitely improving it still feels far from ‘normal’. 

Additional critical care capacity was created by some internal ward and departmental moves and to date these changes have not been reversed. You will be aware that it was necessary to suspend visiting across all hospitals but plans are being made to see when and how this can begin to be relaxed. Without visitors and a reduction in outpatients the hospitals have a strange feel to them, which the wearing of masks only adds to.

Over the last few months I have been spending my time training clinical staff how to put on, take off and clean reusable, high protection face masks.  These masks are used by all clinical staff in high risk areas.  It feels like important and useful work so I think I’m doing my bit, although it’s a long way from my usual job! The exciting news relating to the use of dexamethasone to reduce the severity of symptoms in the most unwell patients brought the work of the research teams in Oxford into the limelight. Now we hope for positive news from the vaccine trial group, based at the Churchill Hospital (see below).  All asymptomatic staff are invited to have weekly COVID tests and I’m pleased to report that to date all my tests have been negative!  So there is lots going on but overall things are definitely going in the right direction.

Are you following the science? You can keep up to date with these public talks from the Oxford Biomedical Research Centre:

Road to RECOVERY: Finding treatments for COVID-19

Tuesday 30 June, 1pm
Watch live at

Martin Landray, Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at the Nuffield Department of Population Health and Oxford BRC Theme Lead for Clinical Informatics and Big Data, will discuss research into treatments for COVID-19 and how the RECOVERY trial was rapidly set up to test the effects of potential drug treatments.

Vaccines for the control of COVID-19

Tuesday 14 July, 3pm
Watch live at

Andrew Pollard, Professor of Paediatric Infection and Immunity at the Department of Paediatrics and Oxford BRC Co-Theme Lead for Vaccines, will speak about the development of a vaccine and the progress of its clinical trials.

So farewell Dame Vera Lynn, songstress to the nation. She proved to us all that music has powers to uplift, console and bring people together – a message for lockdown as much it was in war. Here is the London Phil’s tribute (choir and all …):

With big thanks to Angela Houlston for today’s entries

16 June edition

Airborne (a Covid-19 Journey)  is a film and music by Richard Wakefield that takes advantage of a deserted Oxford – mesmerising:

Despite lockdown, Make Music Day is going ahead on 21 June – virtually! Read more at:

With thanks to Angela Houlston and Priscilla Goldby for these.

Meanwhile, your blogger spends much of the day working at the computer and part of it wearing a hole in the carpet in front of it.  Thank goodness my keep fit classes have gone online! They give structure to my week (it’s Zumba, it must be Wednesday), keep me sane and fitter than I would otherwise be, and keep some of the corona kilos under control. There’s even an illusion that you’re with your friends at the leisure centre.  

Being able to travel further to enjoy a long walk has tempted us into the Chilterns, always a favourite. It might not have been sensible to aim for Turville (Vicar of Dibley country) on a Sunday when half the local population seemed to be cruising round looking for somewhere to park or queuing for beer and burgers at the Bull and Butcher. But once away from the hordes, the hills exerted their usual calm. The sound track (unsung!) was of course the atmospheric The hills (John Ireland) that we sang a year ago. Happy times!

9 June edition

You may recall some of our members joined The Self Isolation Choir to sing Messiah and it’s now on YouTube –


This summer the choir is tackling some Rutter pieces so if you’re tempted this should whet your appetite:

Sally Mears has espoused Extinction Rebellion lately and sends her poem inspired by its mission:

Tread gently on the earth. This, do not marr!
It is the Lord’s and we His stewards (in rebellion).
Be mindful of the ground-nest of the nightjar.
Breathe gently of the air – shun aviation!
Follow the butterfly’s undulating path of modulation
And observe the starlings’ murmuration.
Lie gently in the water – no effluent bear!
It is the well-spring without which all life’s extinction comes!
Newts are lurking in the shadow there.
Touch gently to the fire on your heart’s heath
And hear the whisper of the trees: in Love believe!
Listen to the woodlark trilling – all too brief – above…

As we all know, a choir is nothing without a good conductor and experience shows it’s best to start young. (It seems that Sally’s Mum agrees as Sally started aged two!) With thanks to Ruth Berry for spotting this:

2 June edition

Enjoy the Hallelujah Chorus as you’ve never seen it … (with thanks to Ruth Berry and Ann Edmunds):

 Jackie Wheatley shares a poem with us

Week Six
by Hannah Connolly

I suppose it took a global pandemic for
me to realise
just how much I have always loved
the smell of wisteria.
Watching clouds drift
from windows,
rooftop bus rides to nowhere and
sipping rosé in beer gardens,
playing at sophistication and world-weariness.

I suppose it took a global pandemic for
me to notice
just how much I have always hated
the sound of early morning alarms.
Chaotic nights out with people I hardly know,
fuelled by fomo and fear.
Sitting frustrated
in smoky traffic jams,
long train rides home without a buffet car.

It seems it only took the whole world to stop whirring for
me to feel the wild warmth of
wasting time with people
who make you feel safe.
Even if it is on Zoom.

Sally Mears has been enjoying listening to the talented Appel family

I listen to a concert by the Appels every Wednesday at 3pm (Lynton is the cellist, his wife, Jane, the pianist, Leo is their world-class violinist son, then there are Rachel and Tabitha on cello and violin/viola). You may recall seeing some or all of them in our orchestra. Their concerts support a different charity each week.

You can find the livestreamed concert at: Here you will find a picture that will turn live at 2.50pm on Wednesday, ten minutes before the concert starts. You can find videos of previous concerts by clicking on ‘Leo Appel Violinist’ at the top of that page.

Carolyn Gulliver (A) invites you to sing and dance (what wonderful images that conjures up!)

Ay-Ay-Ay-Ay Conga!
The lock-in’s getting longer
And food stores are depleted
But we are NOT defeated!

Ay-Ay-Ay-Ay Conga!
Is Covid rife in Tonga?
They do have many fish there
Can live a life with no care!

Our resolve’s getting stronger
Whilst meanwhile there is pending
A really happy ending!

Add you own verse!

26 May edition

There’s much to enjoy on the online music scene this week, some to make you laugh, some not. (Thanks to Angela and Jackie for these.)

Making Music, the umbrella body for amateur music groups, will be broadcasting a free performance every second Tuesday evening, showcasing different choirs and bands who have successfully gone online. See the details at:

After our attempts to sing as a group, this video seems very apt:

Did you know Oxford has a community Man Choir? Neither did I. Here’s their hilarious take on lockdown: Don’t fence me in!

Here’s an utterly moving piece of music written for our times – Can you hear me? by Thomas Hewitt Jones:

Don’t forget, Messiah on 30 May courtesy of the Self Isolation Choir, which some of our members have joined – see

As for your blogger, I’m in to flour …

Do you remember just before lockdown when we were all stocking up for the siege? Toilet rolls became the new currency. It was said you could trade a toilet roll for a coffee; there were rumours of surreptitious dealings in deserted car parks and along back alleys. That phase has passed luckily and the new currency seems to be – flour, with yeast a close second.

Apparently flour itself isn’t the problem – there is no shortage of it they say, merely a shortage of small bags into which to pack it. Most flour is sold to the trade in 16kg sacks, a quantity that would bring tears to the eyes of your average Bake Off fan (not to mention a storage problem). So, all hail to my old friend Elizabeth Mills (A) who has been buying flour direct from a wholesaler in 16kg sacks and re-packing it in small quantities for sale to her neighbours, at cost price. If you’ve been following this blog you will know that’s how Sally got her delivery.

Baking has clearly become an activity of choice for many people during lockdown and no wonder – it’s delightfully time consuming, therapeutic, produces a delicious product, has no known side-effects (so long as you don’t overdose on the said product) and it entertains children for hours. What’s more you can incorporate the surplus produce from your friends’ allotments into the recipes – beetroot and courgette make superb additions to cakes – and there are no known limits to what you can add to pizzas.

For various reasons I’ve never been a serious baker but recently I’ve had baking days and wonder why I’ve starved myself of such a simple pleasure for so long. Cake anyone?

Let us know how you’re getting through lockdown –

19 May edition

Jackie Wheatley’s offering this week is a musical treat for piano lovers – we await the Sally and Maureen version!

DESPACITO on the foot piano:  

Mary Seers (A) was hospitalised with what she thinks was Covid-19

For all of us, it’s been a strange period, feels like being part of a science fiction film. I first heard of the new corona virus when I was in hospital with an’ infectious respiratory virus’ – not the flu. It had caused my asthma to flare up badly and suddenly, and a pneumonia as well.

Being nursed in isolation is a bit strange but necessary and you just get on with it. I was not feeling very good in the early days – oxygen levels falling, and wheezing. When I was nursing, I saw people in an asthma attack and it’s nasty.

The strange thing was, to some people, I stayed very calm. I suppose I knew from experience what could go wrong, so I just thought I’m in the right place with brilliant staff looking after me. I put my trust in them all, plus God, and I came through. All the staff were brilliant – not just their technical and practical skills, but their compassion and humour.

I’ve missed choir – Tuesday nights are a big part of my life. I have a strong faith and family and friend network, so we will come through this. I’ll see you before long, fully recovered, I hope. Love to all the choir. Take care and God bless you. 

I’m sure everyone will wish you a speedy and full recovery Mary.

Michael Bloom (T) sends us a sweet (and hilarious) treat:

Incidentally, Michael has passed on details of online classes in Georgian music (that’s Georgia the country, not the 18th century!). If you’re interested email me for details. 

Thelma Sanders (S) has continued supporting the Radcliffe Infirmary Commemorative Commission (RICC) in lockdown

Many of you may have sung in the Gala Concert in Oxford Town Hall in 2007 to commemorate the Radcliffe Infirmary which had recently closed for good when all remaining medical services moved to the John Radcliffe Hospital. I trained as a nurse at the RI and felt that there was nothing on the site of the former hospital to acknowledge its important role in Oxford’s history and, indeed, in world medicine.

After much campaigning by a fellow Radcliffe nurse, a Radcliffe-trained doctor and myself, I am pleased to announce that a plaque will soon be installed on the wall facing the iconic quadrangle of the former RI. The words on the plaque are:

To honour the Doctors, Nurses

and all who cared for the sick

in the Radcliffe Infirmary 1770 – 2007

Eventually, near to the plaque there will be a stone column with the poem by Michael Rosen These are the Hands which he wrote in 2008 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the NHS. This very apt poem was recently read on the radio at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. We are still working to source funding for this. What better time to honour our medical professionals?

(Read Rosen’s poem at

Carolyn Gulliver (A) suggests we enjoy The Sixteen as you’ve never seen them. They are singing Sheppard’s Libera Nos (Deliver us) which has particular poignancy right now.

12 May edition

Musical opportunities this week come in very different forms.

Join the BBC Philharmonic to sing Hallelujah from Handel’s Messiah for broadcast on Ascension Day, 21 May at 8pm. Just record yourself at home:

The Self Isolation Choir is running a Summer School starting on 22 June with a week of John Rutter – see

Save the date – the Self Isolation Choir is showcasing its performance of Handel’s Messiah on 31 May at 7.30pm at

Some of you may know local ornithologist Andy Gosler. The lack of traffic has made us all more aware of the birds and he’s put together a website to help us identify 31 local birds from their song. Most of these Headington singers were recorded round here – very soothing as well as informative!  (Please note if you can’t get this to play from this page, try pasting the URL into your browser or simply waiting – the site is more popular than expected it seems!)

Back to basics … the local Co-op has asked us to spread the word about their home delivery service for vulnerable people who can’t get out to shop for food. If you know someone who needs their help and lives within three miles of one of their stores please put them in touch on 0800 435 902 or email Local volunteers are doing the deliveries – if you’re one of them let us know how it’s going.

Angela Houlston (S) enjoyed an almost traditional Oxford May Day

I moved to Oxford in 1987 and am ashamed to say that I have never attended the May Day celebrations, my excuse being that I was either working or recovering from working!  So when I learned that there was going to be a virtual May Morning celebration I knew this was my opportunity to join in – it seemed much more appealing to do this in my pyjamas!

So I got up at 5.45am and tuned in to watch the Magdalen College choir sing Hymnus Eucharisticus not from the top of the tower but via Zoom.  I found it to be a very moving experience and could see how many others were also watching, giving a sense of community I could never have expected from an online event.  Once the singing ended there were the traditional Morris dancers, in back gardens not the streets of Oxford, and useful clips outlining how to make breakfast bagels. My porridge didn’t seem quite as appealing as usual after that!

At 8am Horns of Plenty had arranged a communal rendition of Somewhere over the rainbow.  I tuned into Radio Oxford ready to join in but the time lag made me laugh so much that I didn’t manage to sing!  So May Day 2020 will be a memorable one for me. I’m glad I made the effort but not convinced that I’ll be getting up early next year!

(Scroll down to 28 April entry and you can enjoy this performance too.)

Eddie Murphy (B) has been putting his time to good use

As with many of you I’m sure, I’ve been taking advantage of house arrest and the good weather to do lots in the garden as well as some DIY and a big tidy in the garage and my shed. I’ve also been doing far too much cleaning, dusting and polishing!

On the music front, whenever I’m indoors I use YouTube to find and listen to all kinds of music but I remember the first thing I listened to was the Mozart Requiem! Since then there’s been lots of jazz, G&S, swing and popular music.

However the main musical benefit of the lockdown has been an opportunity to learn to play the tenor saxophone! Some of you are aware that I have been learning to play the alto sax for almost five years. I purchased a tenor saxophone about two years ago but I’ve only started to play it since the crisis began and I’m really enjoying it and progressing well. I played for the neighbours last Thursday at 8pm when we applauded the NHS workers and got a personal round of applause!  So when we return to choir I will have increased my ‘sax appeal’!  Stay safe and see all you soon.

Naomi Collyer (A) is meeting neighbours she didn’t know she had

So far we have no disasters to report! We get a delivery of groceries from Sainsbury’s once a week (help! The fridge is not big enough!) but I miss singing and church. I have taken to writing stories for the small ones in the family. I enjoy the Thursday evening cheer for the NHS and key workers which is also turning into a kind of street party. I’ve met neighbours I never knew before! Let’s hope this time will leave a legacy of stronger community ties.

Sally was singing on May morning too

I had fun on May morning singing Somewhere over the rainbow to people down our road and gave out lily-of-the-valley which is a French custom that means friendship. It was worth doing as I got to chat, at a distance, with folk I hadn’t seen in a while and hear their news. I have also been up Boars Hill and even found four newts in a pond and some St George’s Day mushrooms. I continue with piano teaching and circle dancing on Zoom and am going to be hosting an Alpha course on Friday afternoons at 2pm. If anyone would like to join me from 15 May sign up at:  Take care and God bless.

5 May edition

Jenny Hislop sang alto for many years before returning to her native Australia last year where she joined a choir, of course. She recently emailed Maureen.  

We had Zoom choir for the first time last night and, as you discovered, it just doesn’t work musically, with the time delay creating the most awful cacophonous din on the few occasions we tried it with our mute buttons off. It works OK when we mute but it’s just not the same as we can’t hear anyone, so it defeats the purpose of singing together in a choir.

I think we all enjoyed the opportunity to catch up – over 60 people tuned in (our choir is like HS in numbers, so usually around 80-90 people) but the incidental chats to people were missing.

Our choir leader, Michelle, doesn’t expect to be able to run choir this term, but is commissioning some works by young composers around the theme of Covid-19 which should be interesting.  

Like you, I’d never heard of Zoom till a month ago. Now Zoom chats with family and friends are keeping us all sane and we’re making the best of things. But it isn’t how we planned to live our lives this year (I was looking forward to a trip to Oxford) and we’re all aching to get back together in person.

Do pass on my love to Sally and all the choir committee and members. Stay safe and well.

Carolyn Gulliver (A) expresses one small frustration in verse!

 On not shopping

One of the things that came with isolation
Was lack of shopping at my main location
A kindly friend has taken on the job
And weekly ventures forth amongst the mob
Provided with my detailed ordered list
Clutched firmly in a neatly begloved fist
Returning with the results of the task
Most everything available – at last!
I realise that this was quite a feat –
Am truly grateful – I can eat!
But how I miss the chance of delving
Mongst products new-arrived upon the shelving
So I no longer have the chance to choose
But know that there are far worse things to lose!

Sally is keeping up her exercise

On Thursday mornings for an hour I set up my laptop and dance in the conservatory with about 20 other dancers from a Circle Dancing group. We cannot see each other thank goodness! We do a wide mixture of dances from Taize Easter tide songs to wild Hungarian dances that I never seem to get the hang of. Sometimes my husband, John, looks in the window and laughs at me trying to circle his double bass stool as a focal point. I prefer the dances where I can express myself in extempore movement to songs like Sing a Rainbow which is a bit like conducting (as I know no-one is watching)! Some of the dances are from Findhorn in Scotland and these often developed out of free improvisations.

We end by ‘sending the light’ of a candle that we blow out while thinking of a particular group of people affected by the corona virus. One week we thought of people who experience domestic violence. Then I heard that a friend of mine, who is a dustman in Cardiff, found a young mother and her child running out to their van in the early hours. She sheltered with him while the police were called. I was so glad he was able to support her and get her to safety and was sure it was an answer to that prayer.

Some of you might enjoy this poem, from Wales: .

Ruth Newman (S) is ‘finding ridiculous amounts of things to do’, one of them being choir-spotting

To mark 40 days of lockdown in the UK, Stile Antico has created a socially-distanced recording of Thomas Tallis’ legendary 40-part motet, Spem in alium, using smartphones and tablets. Two of the singers are the Ashby sisters, one of whom sang the Pie Jesu when we performed Faure’s Requiem some years ago. And Mum, Rhiannon, often plays the cello in the orchestra. A very gifted family …

28 April edition

Your local community band, Horns of Plenty, invited us all to join in and welcome the spring from our own homes on Friday 1 May at 8 am. Band members played Somewhere over the rainbow all over the city from their own doors and windows. Well done to those of you who joined in!

And we learned that Magdalen College was doing a virtual May morning at 6 am on 1 May. Find it on their Facebook page:

Jackie Wheatley has found us another musical gem – Bach as you’ve never heard him

Sally Mears welcomes a new work by Will Todd

Many of you will remember Will Todd’s amazing Mass in Blue which we performed in 2018. I keep in touch with Will’s aunt who lives in Abingdon and through her learned that Will has written a new piece for the times – Like a rainbow shining. It’s so beautiful and appropriate – and it’s free to use. See Will’s website

Janet Masters (S) has returned to nursing to help in this crisis

I joined the choir in January having retired from a career in District Nursing in October. In January I returned to work on a sessional contract running a community clinic three mornings a week for people having chemo. With the arrival of corona virus, the patients needed to self-isolate, so I have returned to visiting them at home. This has meant an increase in hours but I feel that I am helping to support my colleagues who have also had an increase in work as so many of their patients are housebound, frail and vulnerable. Many colleagues have returned from retirement and staff from other disciplines have been re-deployed into the DN service.

My husband says that it is the shortest retirement in history! But we have a role reversal in that he has been furloughed and has become the shopper for a number of neighbours as well as ourselves. Off duty I am enjoying the garden and have planted a number of vegetables. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to be outside, even though it is under such challenging circumstances.

A mural in Dene Road speaks for all of us

Jackie Wheatley (A) offers some home thoughts in a time of pestilence

How are you all doing in these weird times? I’m ok essentially, though aware of a vague feeling of anxiety much of the time. I went from a crisis about loo roll to a Hunger Games end-of-days scenario in less than 30 seconds in my mind at the outset of all this. I have rather too much time in my own head. 

I thought it would be good to reflect upon the times, but struggle to think of anything interesting to say. I feel like Miss Bates at Box Hill in Jane Austen’s Emma. Only very dull things come to mind and I cannot limit them to only three. (You may have to look up the reference to make any sense of this. But it will pass the time.)

My day starts early. Mr Tom (cat, ancient) likes an early breakfast at about 6 am. I have a cuppa and go back to bed and read something undemanding. Go back to sleep, a state of thin dreaming that does not refresh.

Then the day proper starts. A walk. Take photos to make sure I notice the good bits and ground myself in the moment. Then do something in the garden. Yesterday was manure and mulching. It will look like Kew this year. Shame no one will get to see it.

The novel and symphony remain unwritten. Turns out that all those jobs I never got round to because I had too little time are no more appealing now I have lots. The amount of time available was clearly not the issue. There is still that habitual pile of unopened post cluttering up the bottom step on the stairs. Rather than laziness, the usual reason, I can at least make the excuse it is ‘decontaminating’.

I find I settle best to practical stuff. Have had my sewing machine out for the first time in yonks, making good last summer’s clothes, ready for action in this crazy good weather. Have purchased a new sketchbook to encourage myself to do something more creative. I make a lot of phone calls to both my mum and my aunt and try to make sure they have what they need. I get to both of them on the M40, but unfortunately (and somehow inevitably) in opposite directions.

Later, I watch the afternoon briefing, the only news I can face. Then I start to wonder how long it is before I can go to bed. I have spent a number of afternoons protecting the NHS and saving lives from my sunbed. Hero.

Meals are the main structure to the day. Also a lot of time online, connecting with friends and family. My top half is often well dressed in comparison to below the waist as I get set to Zoom. Tiara and jewels up top, a nice shawl wrapped around, pyjamas down below. I am dressing for comfort these days and only stretchy stuff will do. My leggings (and perhaps the sofa itself) will need to be surgically removed from my increasingly ample backside when this is all over.

(It’s sometimes hard to fit it all in when you get up at 9 and retire at 10. NB Hard liquor is never taken before 10 am. Standards.)

The day of the triffids opens with the line: ‘When a day you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.’ It all feels like Sunday afternoon in Hinckley, the town where I grew up. Marking time. Waiting for life to start. But with a little more menace. One of my neighbours has died a covid-related death and Matija next door is now working in intensive care rolling patients. He may be the last person I see if I get ill. At least he is handsome.

I know in my heart that this will not all last forever and look forward to better times to come for us all. One day I’ll wake up and realise Monday has finally come. Over and out. Now wash your hands.

Rhonda Riachi’s (A) role has never been more relevant

I work at the Oxford Centre for Spirituality and Wellbeing at Brookes and manage the Thames Valley Wellbeing Network for health and social care staff. The network is all about finding ways to support each other and stay well. I’m enjoying working at home, busy transferring all my workshops to online formats. Our new webinars are popular (using Zoom) and we are recording some of them for later viewing. Any health and care staff and volunteers are welcome to join – email

Keep the news coming!

21 April edition

Your committee really did try to run the choir online!

The technology for bringing people together online has never been better with Zoom* the emerging favourite. It’s easy to hold a meeting via Zoom, would it work for singing together? After two hilarious attempts we had to conclude, NO! Because of the time lags from each computer, singers are anything but together!

If you wonder how Gareth Malone and the like do it, they have resources we don’t have – every voice is recorded separately and then combined to produce the full sound. If we have any aspiring sound engineers out there we could give it another go!  

*Editor’s note: Zoom is a video-conferencing program, free and utterly brilliant – see   Facetime is a similar program for I-phone/Pad users.

Sally Mears has taken to baking and enjoying music on the radio

I had two bags of bread flour delivered by Elizabeth Mills (Alto) who cycled from Oxford to Abingdon and back to bring it! As I didn’t have any yeast I made lots of gingerbread biscuits using packets of unusual spices that I had never noticed before at the back of the cupboard. A kind neighbour has now given me yeast so I can make proper bread for our lunches.

On Good Friday I resorted to cleaning the kitchen thoroughly while listening to Bach’s St John’s Passion on Radio 3. What should materialise on top of our fridge but a poster for the same work that I conducted in 2017 in St Helen’s Church, Abingdon! It featured lots of names you will recognise –  Will Orr, Sara Stowe, Peter Willis and Lynton Appel as our continuo cellist. When it got to the aria Es ist vollbracht (“It is finished”) I discovered some coffee liqueur and matza crackers and so I had my own private Communion service in tears at the beauty of it all.

Hope you are all well and enjoying this lovely weather. I have been cycling, gardening and walking, but not shopping as I am asthmatic. I am Zooming all my piano pupils so now term has started I am pretty busy again. I send you all aVIRtuAL hug!

Maureen Cooper has managed to keep up her teaching too

Apart from keeping busy round the house I have given online piano lessons for the first time in my life, using Facetime and Zoom. One of my daughters introduced me to Zoom which I had never heard of before! Teaching via video is tiring as one can’t physically point to the music, so it involves a lot of talking and explaining. But the lessons give more structure to my day.

I have also enjoyed keeping fit doing PE with Joe Wicks most days. My yoga teacher is also doing a weekly online lesson.

Angela Houlston (S) is training nurses for the frontline

A few weeks ago I spent my working life supporting both student nurses and nursing associate trainees on the wards. I am a children’s nurse but my role covers all areas of the John Radcliffe Hospital, including both the adult and children’s critical care units. Suddenly everything changed … all but the 3rd year student nurses left their placements and the nursing associate course was suspended, the trainees reverting to Care Support Workers. I can no longer go on the wards but continue to keep in touch with my students via email and Zoom.

As a member of the corporate education department at the JR I am helping to develop a range of courses to quickly train a range of nurses to return to the clinical areas to help out. A typical day involves delivering three different courses in a lecture theatre (everyone appropriately distanced of course!). I am also a PPE trainer so have delivered sessions to a range of frontline staff so that they understand how to protect both themselves and their patients from infection.

It’s been a steep learning curve, exhausting but also rewarding as I have been part of the team that has helped to provide more frontline workers to care for Covid-19 patients.  I am also on standby to work clinically myself, should the need arise.

Jane Coulter (A) enjoys the daily music in her street

Every evening at 6pm we enjoy five minutes of music from Spike Wilson and Kate Bailey (cello and violin) who live down the road (and who were two of the original musicians who performed in our orchestra). The music varies from classical to popular – they have been looking online for new variations suitable for violin and cello duets.  It has proved so popular that many residents now take their exercise at that time each day – pausing at a discreet social distance of course!  It really seems to lift people’s spirits, judging from the regular comments on the local WhatsApp group.

Two of our extended family work in hospitals, which is worrying for all of us.

Penny Clark (A) passes on her top tips for surviving lockdown

1. Keep moving while on the phone! I walk round my flat and cover about four miles a day. 2. Look on any of the creative arts websites for live streaming eg. Royal Opera House, Met Opera, National Theatre, Garsington Opera.  3. Have something to occupy your mind and fingers eg crossword, jigsaw, knitting.

Priscilla Goldby (A), our Librarian, has tried an online choir

The Self Isolation Choir is being promoted by ChoraLine and is currently rehearsing Messiah. The conductor is on YouTube and so you just sing along with him and a keyboard, but it feels like a proper rehearsal, with warm-ups, etc. At the end ‘we’ sing through what was rehearsed with a recording. There is a live chat stream – which gives the illusion of togetherness!

There is a ‘full’ recap on Monday evenings and then separate voice parts on different nights (but all rehearsals can be accessed on YouTube at any time). A small subscription fee goes to support musicians. The aim is to create a performance at the end of May by singers sending in recordings of themselves (!), but I don’t think all the technical details have been worked out… the whole thing is a work in progress!

See also the Sofa Singers who do a different song each week.

Tim Bolton (T) our Concert Master is one of many volunteering to support people in need

Pat and I both registered with the RVS Goodsam site a month ago offering to deliver prescriptions and phone isolated people for a bit of social contact. We’ve had no call to arms yet – I went on the You and Yours programme to talk about it – we suspect they are overwhelmed and it might be best to connect through local initiatives.

Hermione Mowat (S) is enjoying being in touch with family

We are all well in the Mowat family. We had a big family Zoom Party on Easter Sunday afternoon, which most of the family managed to attend, including from as far away as Thailand!

Jackie Wheatley (A) is still in CROP mode and finding us some gorgeous music

Ravel’s Bolero at a suitable distance …

Ian (Treasurer) and Tricia Simmons (T and A) marked an anniversary

For Tricia and me, 17 April was the first anniversary of our move to Oxford and we have to say that Headington Singers has played a major part in our settling in here.

I’ve enjoyed being in touch with our orchestral players, many of whom refused to take payment for the concert even though they had attended a rehearsal and no doubt practised at home. We’re touched by their generosity.

Carolyn Gulliver (A) says hello and hooray for gardens – there’s always a job to do!

As for your blogger … I bumble along, tied to the computer for much of the week and then making exciting discoveries in little-explored parts of the house. What is that weird stuff at the back of the freezer? Was it for us or the cat? So that’s where the moths live? Is it safe to eat chickpeas best before September 2015? (Some of us were best before this century and we’re still OK.) Seriously, we have enjoyed our proximity to Rectory Farm shop (the asparagus is now in!) and the Cornfield Bakery in Wheatley which has bread FLOUR! Keep that to yourself …

And keep us posted!