‘I’ve been working harder than ever!’Lockdown lives of 6 York singers

Lockdown has been tough for everyone – not least performers. Members of York Opera explain to PAULINE MARSHALL how they got through the pandemic

Q: Have you managed to keep working during the pandemic? If so, has your work changed in any way?

Paul Richardson, Chairman and chorus member: “Yes I have. I am a pharmacist and although ‘semi-retired’ I have been working harder than ever as a locum! Pharmacies are essential businesses and have remained open throughout. It was a struggle at first with very little PPE available. Doctors’ surgeries were closed which led to a huge increase in footfall/enquiries.”

Maggie Soper, Costume designer, chorus and solo singer: “I retired from my job as a children’s physiotherapist at the end of July so was working through most of the first lockdown. Two big changes – remote working and PPE. A lot of our work went online with telephone and video appointments so I spent a lot of time in the dining room in front of a laptop. Most of my work was in a special school which was open throughout so I did a day there most weeks and a few hospital appointments and home visits, all in apron, gloves and mask.”

Annabel van Griethuysen, Soprano soloist and actor: “I have continued to work throughout the pandemic as I am employed within the NHS. I have needed to go on to wards but have mostly been working from home remotely. My work has changed significantly due to the fact that I support patients over the phone, or via video link. It has been a big adjustment not seeing the rest of my team every day. On the wards, wearing PPE is a big change and something that I’m not sure I will ever get used to.”

Alex Davison, tenor soloist and actor: “I work at the University of York and we switched to working from home back in March during the first lockdown. It was quite a sudden change. Rather than telephone calls and face to face contact, everything switched to communicating via Zoom and email.”

Pat Mortimer, Make-up monitor and long-standing chorus soprano: “Apart from one visit to the office to collect my belongings I’ve not been to work since two days before the first lockdown – and no return in sight. I work from home full time in my upstairs craft room. My firm has provided home office equipment and the team stays in touch via Skype.”

If you are retired, how do you fill your time?

Paul: “I still have things to do as Chairman of York Opera. I like to keep in touch with as many people as I can. We are constantly trying to gauge when/if we can start singing again. As it happens, we had just decided to plan a very socially-distanced meeting for members to sing through some old favourites. Unfortunately the ‘rule of six’ was announced later that very same evening, so that had to be scrapped. I also keep in touch with the production team at York Theatre Royal – we still hope to perform there next autumn.”

Alasdair Jamieson, Musical Director: “Reading long books, playing the piano, cycling, walking the dog, working on the Italian language, writing prefaces for reprinted scores for a company in Munich. Lots of gardening.”

Maggie: “We’ve been out walking and have been trying to get out to places that are open as often as we can. Newby Hall and Harlow Carr have been favourites. I have finally managed to finish some new curtains, having treated myself to a new sewing machine, and there are various bits of painting and decorating.”

Pat: “As my office is in my craft room I’ve restarted machine embroidery downstairs, but that’s mainly weekends!”

Have you taken up any new hobbies?

Paul: “I have definitely been doing more crosswords! We like to walk when we can – the Dales ,the Moors, the Wolds… we are so lucky to live in Yorkshire.

Annabel: “I have tried! The difficulty I have found is that all of my hobbies were outside of my home (acting, singing, dancing, gym) and with the best will in the world, nothing has filled the hole that performance has left.”

Alex: “One advantage is that I’ve had the chance to play the piano much more than I usually would. I take part in a weekly quiz (over Zoom) and I had the bright idea of playing tunes and asking my friends to name them for a bit of entertainment. They enjoyed it so much that I kept using it for questions again and again.”

Have you managed to keep singing?

Paul: “Does singing in the car count? Or in the kitchen whilst cooking?”

Alasdair: “My wife and I record hymns for the church’s Zoom services on Sundays. The choir I sang with in Leeds has been having socially distanced rehearsals at Leeds Minster, but everything stopped when Leeds entered Tier 3/ lockdown.”

Maggie: “I’ve had Zoom rehearsals with the Theatre Royal choir and I’ve just taken part in an online Mozart Requiem organised by Run by Singers.”

Annabel: “Living in an apartment I have found this really challenging, as all my neighbours are also at home. I have discovered some good tips, including singing with my mouth closed, humming and singing very quietly, but it is sadly not the same.”

Alex: “Not as much as I normally would, but I’ve recorded a few hymns and anthems for my church choir. It’s certainly very strange doing this at home; normally you would be surrounded by other people all raising their voices in song, but now you can only hear yourself singing.”

Pat: “The only singing I’ve done is with my workplace choir, but it’s not the same as singing in a large group. I miss very much the fun and challenge of learning big opera choruses.”

How has the pandemic made you feel?

Alasdair: “Frustrated, monochrome, creatively sterile. We have kept fit mainly by exercising a fairly demanding dog, but the range of activities has not been there.”

Annabel: “Many things, some good, some bad. It has given me some really welcome quality time with my husband and cats. It has also made me value my friends and family so much more. You don’t realise how much you rely on and love something until it is gone.”

Alex: “In a word, exhausted. I think there was an element of novelty back in March when we were told to stay at home, but because we’re in a marathon, not a sprint, there is a tendency to become disheartened and wearied by the pandemic, especially when watching the news. However, there does seem to be a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel, particularly with the announcement of effective vaccines.”

What have you missed most about York Opera?

Paul: “Singing, obviously, and being part of a group. I miss the social side, seeing people, chatting to people. I miss going to our scenery store and sorting out what we need to build/paint/restore for our next production. I miss the whole process of a show, starting slowly, gaining momentum and then the whirlwind of a week of performances.”

Alasdair: “The people, the music, the sense of working towards a shared goal.”

Maggie: “Seeing everyone in person and having that feeling of being in the middle of a big sound.”

Annabel: “Singing of course! Performing, acting, dancing and being daft – nothing beats it.”

Alex: “To sing in a large group again! It has been so long.”

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