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 lockdown, 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 email@example.com – all contributions welcome, whether you’re on the frontline or in the front garden.
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: pic.twitter.com/QqU9pxRwYc
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 www.theselfisolationchoir.com/messiah-at-home
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 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BDUVh0j-y4
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 https://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poem/these-are-hands/)
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: www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/3bQgBNrmm3tChSTmhpv3rJS/sing-hallelujah-with-the-bbc-philharmonic
The Self Isolation Choir is running a Summer School starting on 22 June with a week of John Rutter – see www.theselfisolationchoir.com/summer-school-2020
Save the date – the Self Isolation Choir is showcasing its performance of Handel’s Messiah on 31 May at 7.30pm at https://www.theselfisolationchoir.com/messiah-at-home
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 email@example.com. 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: https://cca.uk.net/explore-faith/ 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: .https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vdGjRM9HD8
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 … https://youtu.be/QfnEbwcLq0E
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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVqkV2Vl_SQ
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 https://willtodd.co.uk/2020/04/22/like-a-rainbow-shining-new-free-song-for-choirs/
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 https://zoom.us 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 https://www.thesofasingers.com/ 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!