Covid: People scared to sing together after lockdowns

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Image source, RWCMD
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Only Boys Aloud founder Timothy Rhys-Evans said Wales had been "elevated by choral music for generations"

A generation of musicians could have been lost in lockdown as people are scared to sing again, Only Boys Aloud's founder has said.

Like so many things, choirs and music groups had to come to a sharp halt when lockdowns began.

Musical director Timothy Rhys-Evans said "concerted efforts" were needed to get singers back up to scratch as time away affected their voices.

He said young people needed to "get off TikTok" and perform together.

Like any muscle, those used to sing and play instruments need to be trained to be in top shape.

However, when you are performing with lagging Zoom calls, masks and mute buttons, it can be quite tempting for some to stay quiet.

Now the director of music at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD), Mr Rhys-Evans said: "For these last two years singers, brass players, woodwind players have almost been public enemy number one.

"It's something my whole musical life has been about, creating those opportunities for us to continue to sing as a nation and we were forbidden from doing that.

"So I have great concerns about the impact of that and what it will be like going back to rehearsal.

"The voice is a muscle and if you don't use a muscle it loses its flexibility, its strength and also the confidence people have when they sing is not going to be there.

"I'm sure we will come through it, but it's going to take some time."

Media caption,
Only Boys Aloud teach Japan's children Welsh hymns

He said that while people made online meetings work, he was "just starting to see people lose that freedom to let rip and sing".

"It's just such a joyful activity, when people have had a few drinks and they're watching Wales in the Six Nations, they burst into song. It's as natural to us as breathing, but when that's been taken away it's going to start to have an impact.

"I think the impact on mental health, particularly of teenagers who have not been able to socialise and discover who they are as musicians, but also discover who they are as people - is something we will be seeing the effects of for some years to come."

Image source, PA
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Elin Manahan Thomas says musicians have taken a "real knock"

'Singers need to train like athletes'

Classical singer Elin Manahan Thomas, from Swansea, sung at the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's wedding in 2018.

She said people were feeling nervous about performing again at all levels.

"It might seem like small fry in the great scheme of things, but actually they've had a huge knock," she said.

"Singing was first to go in the pandemic, very much the last to come back because it was seen as evil because we had to breathe in order to sing."

Media caption,
Elin Manahan Thomas talks about performing at Harry and Meghan's Wedding

She said people often forget how physical performing could be.

"It [the voice] needs training as much as athletes need to train - singers need to keep their voices going.

"The whole body is involved in making that sound and in tuning and perfecting it.

"So it's going to take a while for muscle memory to come back, for our breath support to be there, to get back to the level that everybody was at."

She said for a lot of choirs and musical groups, coming back together has been an "emotional experience" but many still lacked confidence.

Media caption,
Watch what happened when this online ICU staff choir met in person for the very first time

"It's about finding out the little tricks to warm up the voices, to practise getting the breath support, so that you can get back to the level you were on and reach that repertoire that maybe you've been aiming for a while, but you feel it isn't quite within your reach.

"I think more than anything it's a social experience singing in a choir, it's about listening to each other because it's about blend and tuning and it's about creating something as a team and that's not going be there straight away.

"It's going to get better and it's a lovely thing to do as a team. But do not put too much pressure on perfection, because it's going to take a while to get back to where you personally want to be, so that you as a team, can create that same volume of fantastic sound."