for enquires and ticket sales: 07729 618226
or please use our contact form.
Our usual rehearsal venue is:
St. John the Evangelist
Canon's Hill, Old Coulsdon, Surrey, CR5 1HA
We rehearse every Monday evening from
8pm - 10pm
(during term time)
Come along and try a session!
We have a stock of scores available to hire 30p per copy per month. Please visit www.gerontious.net to see what music we have for hire then email with your requirements.
This is where you can find the latest news about us and our activities.
Sadly it has been over a year since we have been able to do any public singing, we have however been singing in our own homes since Easter 2020 via Zoom, ably run by our MD Thomas. We have sung a wide variety of music and even a recorded one piece of music, which was edited together by Thomas, though it was a bit strange singing into our phones at home, we enjoyed the result greatly!
The life of a working musician in Lockdown
It is well documented that the coronavirus pandemic has turned the arts world upside down. The arts in the UK are a multibillion-pound industry which was already struggling before the pandemic due to low funding and government cuts. Since the lockdown of March 2020, it is safe to say that the industry has been brought to its knees. The latest budget announcement has promised an injection of funding into the arts, but it is not the thousands of freelance musicians that will see any benefit from this but the large and more commercial companies and institutions that will already be financially secure in the post-pandemic era. So, what has it been like for me and other freelance musicians during the last year?
Personally, I have been absolutely fine and consider myself lucky for many reasons, however I have many friends and colleagues who have not had such an easy journey. The main avenue of work that has been decimated since the first lockdown is performance. Before March 2020 I was a regular singer in the choir of Holy Trinity, Sloane Square however due to financial problems the church decided to part company with their musicians. I also regularly sing as a deputy at many of the Cathedrals and churches in London with professional choirs on a freelance basis, however, this work has been very sparse as many choirs have been forced to stop entirely, sing with reduced numbers or come together on an ad hoc basis whenever possible. All this combined means that unless you are in a salaried job, then there is very little money to be earned from choral singing but a relatively large pool of singers still vying for what remains. Whilst I have lost earnings from the lack of performance opportunities, I am lucky that singing is not my main source of income. For many of my friends though, it is, and it has been devastating, not just for this year but potentially for their whole career. Think of those opera singers who were just breaking through, or had contracts which could have been a stepping stone to better things. A lot of my friends are in their early 30’s which is an important time for young artists as they start to make their mark in the profession. Large opera companies, such The Royal Opera House and Glyndebourne, will survive in the post pandemic era, but what about those smaller opera companies that are so valuable for experience of up-and-coming singers. It is a huge setback, and it is no wonder that so many have already left the profession or have found other work to tide them over. Professional musicians are working in call centres, testing centres, as delivery drivers and supermarket cashiers. These are highly skilled professionals, many with Master’s degrees, who once had bright futures. Government grants like SEISS have been helpful in the short term but will not repair the potential damage that could take years to repair, if at all.
It is fortunate therefore that I have not pursued just one channel of music and have spread myself across a few different musical vocations. Choir leaders across the country have had to adapt very quickly to a new way of working and have done so rather successfully. Members of The Downland Chorale will be only too familiar now with the pros and cons of having a rehearsal over Zoom. Naturally, it is nothing like the real thing, but the majority agree that it is better than nothing. Sadly, it is the experience of our voices coming together that is lost. We lose the achievement of starting something from scratch in the first rehearsal, right through to performing it in front of friends and family. What remains though is still valuable and underlines why millions nationally are still involving themselves in a variety of online activities every night of the week, such as art, yoga or dance classes. Every session is a social occasion and an enriching educational experience. Our mental health is improved by doing it and we are still part of something that will be able to come together again. But, we cannot forget that at the heart of all these classes there is a leader, a professional, who has had to work out, on the fly, how to deliver this session in order to still achieve all these things.
It has been the same for school teachers. I teach classroom music on Fridays at Westminster Under School as well as two days of singing teaching. The classroom work, as you will know from the news, has gone back and forth between online and live. It has been a tremendous challenge for schools to adapt and a huge upheaval for families. As a part timer I am lucky enough to just do what I am told but having the online choir leading experience made the leap to online school far less daunting.
For children, classroom learning has been maintained well online and I do not think we will see any knock-on effect. The bigger issue has been the lack of extracurricular activity and the impact on children’s socialisation. To bring this back to music, schools have been unable to have full choirs and orchestras as classes have been in bubbles. We have done what we can, but regulations and guidelines have made music making incredibly difficult and for many young people this is where they really flourish. Music is best taught practically and the knock-on effect of not having this vital education could be damaging to the entire industry in years to come.
My singing teaching at the school has been carried out entirely online and the boys there have not had a face-to-face music lesson for over a year. I only started as a singing teacher there in September, so I am still yet to teach my pupils live and it has thrown up several challenges. Lessons must be delivered entirely unaccompanied, and this is tricky for young students who are learning largely by ear. It makes teaching songs rather inefficient, and they do not get the experience of working with their teacher to create a performance. Teaching the younger boys is challenging because it is harder to keep their attention for the whole session when you are not physically with them. As I was a new teacher for them in September, we have had to establish a fresh teacher-pupil relationship but through Microsoft Teams this feels frustratingly impersonal. This has been easier with my private piano students as we had already established a way of working so online lessons feels very much more like it is tiding us over; in the same way it does with Downland.
So, in a period where many in my line of work have barely changed out of their pyjama bottoms, I have been rather busy with my work as a teacher and choir leader. It has also felt as though every second not spent working has been spent raising a child since my wife and I welcomed Elodie to the world in May 2020. Lockdown has been a blessing and a curse in this sense. As the vast majority of my work has been done from home, I’ve been able to spend considerably more time getting to know my daughter and helping Lucy than I otherwise would have. On the other hand, it has been really tough not having consistent access to baby classes, support groups or health visitors and her Grandparents have missed out on a great deal of her first year.
For various reasons therefore, I do not really feel that my experience of the pandemic has been proportionate to other freelance musicians. For many it has been a time of severe anxiety, boredom and frustration. For me it has been about keeping life on track so that when things are back to normal, I can ease my way comfortably back into working life. To be honest, I do not enjoy working online and I do not feel as though the quality of my work is good enough. This is because I know what I can achieve in live choir rehearsals and music lessons. It is a means to an end, but it is better than nothing and the most important thing is that we are able to continue as we left off in early 2020. This will not be the case for many in the music world and is why my overall feeling is of gratitude to those who continue give me the opportunity to work with them. Whilst I fear for the industry, I have every faith that it will recover because I know that as a society, we cannot live without it.
Thomas Chapman (March 2021)
With our Musical Director Thomas Chapman.
We had a great time at our Folk Rock for Choirs Workshop day on
February. We learnt songs from the repertoire of Simon and Garfunkel,
Crosby, Stills and Nash, The Byrds, Fairport Convention and Steeleye
Span, which were enthusiastically interpreted by our intrepid Music
Director, who managed to teach us orally without a note of music in
front of us, aided and abetted on the piano by our valiant accompanist.
We had some wonderfully complimentary comments from our audience, saying how much they had enjoyed the day, and that it was possibly the best of our workshops that they had ever been to.
Winter concert December 2020
A most enjoyable event. We sang Haydn's Missa Sancti Nicolai, which was very appropriate for the Christmas period as St. Nicholas is commonly known these days as Santa Claus. The mass was composed in 1772 when Haydn was employed by Prince Nicolaus Esterhazy whose birthday fell on 6th December, the feast day of St Nicholas. We presented the mass in the first half of the concert, while the second half featured a variety of carols, some for audience participation. Our accompanist performed piano solos by Grieg in both halves of the concert. We had four wonderful soloists for the mass, and the whole concert was accompanied by a professional orchestral ensemble.
We are now looking forward to our Spring concert, when we will be performing Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle. We hope to see you there.
THE SUMMER CONCERT.
What's playing at the Roxy?
Everyone had great fun learning what was playing at the Roxy at our
Summer concert. We were delighted to welcome such a large audience who
seemed to hugely enjoy hearing once again the well-loved hit tunes from
Guys and Dolls and South Pacific. Add to this the three piano solos by
Thomas 'Fats' Waller played by our brilliant accompanist and a medley of
jazzy showstoppers plus folk favourites from the UK and America and you
have all the ingredients for a light-hearted summer evening's
entertainment. A big thank you to our highly esteemed Music Director
for choosing such a great programme.