Meet the COVID choir finding togetherness through singing for the King
Recording a special Coronation anthem is enabling people living with Long COVID to combat isolation and feel part of the celebrations
Singing and recording an anthem written for the Coronation of King Charles III is enabling people living with Long COVID to combat isolation and feel part of the celebrations, the director of a ‘wellbeing choir’ has said.
Merel van der Knoop, musical director of the Long Covid Choir, said more than half the 200 members of her online choir have been left housebound because of the condition.
However, she told BBC Music Magazine that members were enjoying learning a new work, The Mountains Shall Bring Peace, by Joanna Forbes L’Estrange, which has been commissioned by the Royal School of Church Music (RSCM) for choirs to learn and sing over the time of the Coronation.
The RSCM estimates that 500 choirs and around 6,000 singers are taking part in the initiative, known as Sing for the King, including the four cathedral choirs and a choir in Bahrain.
Van der Knoop said that the initiative gave members of her choir a way to join in with the festivities and feel connected to the rest of the UK. Although most choirs will sing the work during a concert or church service, the Long Covid Choir has rehearsed the piece over Zoom, recorded their parts in their own time at home, and this week published a recording online.
'This is a really special moment in history,’ she said. ‘And having that music, to be able to take part in it – from our position as an online wellbeing choir – to be able to still partake in this historical event, I thought would be a lovely way to do it.’
Being part of Sing for the King and knowing ‘that other choirs are doing this as well … they really feel that they have been able to take part in this event to mark the coronation.’
The anthem, which sets verses from Psalms 72 and 149, has been written to be accessible to choirs of differing abilities. Ensembles can sing it in parts or in unison, and learn the whole five-minute work or just the closing section.
'The piece is accessible; you can make it work for you, which is a requirement for our choir,’ Van der Knoop added. The Long Covid Choir has learnt and recorded the closing section, which features a broad, hymn-like melody. Even that section is ‘quite a big sing,’ she added.
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Van der Knoop, who has had Long Covid since December 2021, says that between half and three-quarters of the choir are still unable to leave the house because of Long Covid. Some are bed-bound.
Rehearsals are tailored to members’ health needs. ‘We always do breathing exercises, mindfulness exercises. We do a lot of humming, because that's proven to be really beneficial for vagus nerve stimulation, [which] calms everything down.’
She offers cognitive exercises as well, such as combining small movements with speech, ‘because we struggle with finding the right words, or sometimes we can't remember how to phrase a sentence.’
The Long Covid Kids Choir, which Van der Knoop founded, has also recorded a work for the coronation, When We Celebrate by Lin Marsh. Many have to miss school because of their symptoms. ‘They’re in the stage of their lives where they need to be outside running and connecting with their friends and going to school,’ Van der Knoop says.
According to March data from the Office for National Statistics, 1.9 million people in the UK including 62,000 children reported having Long Covid symptoms and 381,000 people including 10,000 children said those symptoms ‘limited a lot’ their day-to-day activities.
The children’s rehearsals include breathing exercises and mindfulness, and music is the focus. ‘Although we're all there with Long Covid, I'm trying to give them some time away from Long Covid – give them a moment of something else,’ she adds.
Abigail Frymann Rouch
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