It is Sunday afternoon, on a rather cold Bank Holiday weekend. As I do from time-to-time, I combine baking with Radio 3’s broadcast of choral evensong. Both the listening and the production of shortbread are the kind of absorption that brings its own peace. It is not something I do routinely, but connects me with many moments across fifty years. A grandmother whose hands I can only ever remember as flour-dusted; the familiarity of a liturgy smoothed by the centuries; and a time of day that feels uniquely spacious.
The absence of live choral music, or any kind of group singing, has been striking in 2020. Sunday mornings do not feel the same without the hymns that bind a congregation and choir in a unity of intent. Words which should be sung feel flat if simply spoken.
In care homes singing has always been a powerful source of animation, bringing alive people who may have seemed lost in their own thoughts. At Methodist Homes (MHA) there is the added benefit of Music Therapists, combining the skills of musicians with the insights of psychology. A growing body of research underscores the value of music as a therapy which can be used effectively in the care of people living with dementia. The qualities of music to restore our senses and focus the mind go back at least as far as David’s playing of the harp for Saul (1 Samuel 16:23).
Perhaps this absence of singing will engender a new respect for something we too often take for granted. Music is for all seasons, and in our mourning and rejoicing it has a vital part to play. On Friday 4 September at 10:45 MHA will be holding a national memorial for everyone who has died during Covid-19. There will be a two-minute silence across all of MHA’s homes and schemes at 11 am. Sadly, the world will continue to lose people to the virus, but it feels right to pause at this point and recall those whose life on earth has ended. The online service contains pieces by our Music Therapists, and without them it would lack impact and the embodiment of our feelings.
Whether we are mourning or dancing, music lends any occasion a distinct dimension of expression and meaning. Without giving explanation, it can tell a powerful story. As we continue to journey through the days of Covid-19 we are in uncharted territory. The challenge is to find how we can sing the Lord’s song when the act of singing itself is the subject of concern. The absence of congregational singing removes one of our chief consolations at the moment we need it most. As choirs return I hope that we discover a new respect for the difference singing makes, and how music mingles with our souls.