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You Can Unmute Now

It’s not been easy.

All those months since the end of last March. Complete sterility. Frustration. A burden on the soul.

Oh, I’m not talking about Covid, ghastly though that has been. No, what’s really worn me down is b****y Zoom rehearsals.

I say rehearsals, though listening to the presto section in Gerontius through a mobile phone speaker while trying to find the right page in the score isn’t my idea of a rehearsal. And miming the words because you can’t really hear what key it’s in. I never thought it possible, but I begin to feel some sympathy with those singers on Top of the Pops.

This is how it goes. At five minutes to seven, I prop the mobile up on the mantelpiece, in the space between the photo of Mother and me at Filey in 1971 and the Toby Jug with the spare pens in. I have found that there’s an optimal angle – too steep and it topples over, too shallow and it slides down. I devised a kind of stop with Blutak but Maureen keeps cleaning it up and now I’ve run out of Blutak. But accuracy of pitch is vital, as always in choral work. In the spirit that knowledge should be freely shared, I can report that a pitch of 12 degrees to the vertical seems to be it.

Then I step back out of the hearth, having learnt from bitter experience to avoid the guardrail and the fire irons. Why we need irons for a “CosiFlame” gas fire is not within my, no doubt limited, powers of comprehension.

I clear my throat and stare at the screen until 7:03 when I realise that I need to find the Choir Secretary’s latest e-mail and use the embedded link. You will glean from this that I am now au courant with all the technical jargon.

So back into the hearth, fiddle with the phone (why are the keyboards so tiny?), prop it up at 12 degrees to the vertical, out of the hearth again.

By now, though, our voice coach Joyce is well into her warm up exercises. Roll your shoulders (Ow). Now the other way (Oo). Look up at the ceiling. That patch again where the Artex is cracked. Really must get that seen to. Look as far as you can to the right, now to the left. Look down at your feet. I do, and meet the expectant gaze of the dog who mistakes this unwonted burst of activity as a signal for her walk.

In the one direction I can’t look – though it’s surely only a matter of time before Joyce introduces an exercise which requires you to rotate your head through a full half turn – in that one direction is the sofa; and Maureen, knitting.

“I thought this was choir practice, not Pilates,” she observes, helpfully. But now we’re on to imitating a siren up and down the scale so she changes her line of attack. “I hope that’s not in your next concert,” she says, casting off.

No, it certainly hasn’t been easy. You see, you can’t sing at concert volume in your own living room, even without a knitting spouse within earshot. And quite apart from any marital concern, there is the question of consideration for the neighbours. And if it comes to that, the dog, who has developed a pretty effective tenor howl which would have worked well in the John Adams concert.

It will be a great relief to be able to rehearse together again. And a relief not only for me. I can’t help feeling that I have contributed to mental fragility in the immediate vicinity of the Growler home.

Multiply that up by all the choir members and it probably has a statistically significant impact on Huddersfield’s health data. And once or twice on Tuesday evenings I’ve looked round and caught the eye of Maureen, knitting needles paused and poised, regarding me with a speculative air which does not bode, to my way of thinking, well.

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