The First Week – Online Children’s Choirs 

In mid-March, members of the Leeds Cathedral Junior Choirs and Children’s Choir had been enjoying learning songs for our Spring Concert and were excited about the performance.  Some of us were becoming slightly anxious about the progress of Coronavirus around the world, but we generally continued as normal, singing a full choral Mass as recently as 15th March, albeit with extra hygiene measures in place and a few children missing.  On the morning of 17th March, we received the devastating news that all our Diocesan choirs would be suspended for the foreseeable future with all rehearsals, Masses and concerts cancelled. Within days, all the schools closed, so our regular visits as part of the Diocese of Leeds Schools Singing Programme also ceased.

The Diocese of Leeds Music team sprang into action almost immediately, with everyone contributing ideas for how to continue our work in new ways.  We quickly decided to move our whole choral programme online, the thought of which I found overwhelming. However, there was a relentless sense of optimism amongst the staff and we became a very close group, regularly sending each other supportive text messages out of hours, which we rarely felt the need to do before the pandemic. 

Within days, my colleagues and I were practising delivering online choir sessions to each other.  I was rather daunted at first, but soon realised that this was incredibly fun! Being part of a large team (covering large swathes of West Yorkshire including Leeds, Bradford, Keighley, Huddersfield, Wakefield, Pontefract and Halifax) was a definite advantage.  We all assimilated the new techniques very quickly, as we were able to learn from each other’s mistakes. I also arranged extra online practice sessions with members of my family. I gradually became more confident and started to look forward to starting the sessions with the choir children.  I received many encouraging emails from parents: ‘M. is really excited about the first online rehearsal: I’m sure it will be the highlight of her week’.

The first online rehearsal I took was with the Cathedral Junior Boys’ Choir.  We had the singers muted for most of the rehearsal: unfortunately, due to time delays, it isn’t possible to have everyone singing together. However, it was wonderful to see all the boys’ faces and to know that everyone was coping with the current crisis.  The boys were also delighted to see each other on the screen. After the rehearsal, my inbox was flooded with messages from parents: ‘Our children loved their session today. They had wide smiles and we couldn’t help but notice yours too. It is wonderful to see the obvious enjoyment that you get from your work.’, ‘Well done, Lucy – M. loved it and is very happy. He says he misses you all a lot.’,  My child absolutely loved it! I think the online lessons will benefit everyone, not only the children.  We need something to keep us going during this difficult time. We are so grateful that you can continue to teach the children, as it will improve their mental health.  My son is so happy that he can still learn to sing with you and continue to see his friends from choir, even though he can’t go out.’

None of us knows what the future holds, or how long it will be before we can all sing together again in person.  But boys and girls will always love to sing: we believe that the spiritual, emotional, social and educational benefits of choir membership are now more important than ever.  

Written by: Lucy Haigh, Cathedral Choral Director, Diocese of Leeds