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Ding dong merrily outside: carol concerts go alfresco as UK Covid restrictions hit | Christmas


Clad in mittens and bobble hats, carol singers are moving back to traditional open-air performance this Christmas in response to health concerns. A string of scheduled professional and amateur choral concerts will now take place outside, while many streets are organising door-to-door carolling for charity.

Last year, group singing of any kind was deemed unsafe and, as Covid social restrictions return this December, singing alfresco has emerged as one of relatively few sanctioned communal activities.

Choir master and composer Harvey Brough, who leads Vox Holloway in north London, called on occasional singers to embrace the opportunity, adding that a concert changes its nature in the fresh air. “It is a different audience. People stop and sing along with you, although it is hard work for the singers, as the sound drops right to the ground,” said Brough, who performed in the jazz vocal band Harvey and the Wallbangers in the 1980s.

Brough and his singers entertained outside a fire station in Stoke Newington, north London, last week: “We did half an hour and it was great. I would encourage everyone to try it. Even those who rarely sing feel emboldened. There is much more spontaneity.”

The old custom of wassailing at the close of the year is to be adopted by more than a third of the nation this week, according to research. A new study of 2,000 people conducted by Perspectus Global found that 36% plan to sing carols to make up for missing out last year.

And the favourite carol among respondents was one of the most traditional: Silent Night.The tune, composed in 1818 by an Austrian primary schoolteacher, also featured in the line-up of an outdoor concert held on Saturday night in the garden of long-established singing coach Jennifer Lilleystone.

“Every year, I hold a Christmas concert for a different children’s charity,” she told the Observer. “Last year, it was to raise money for Place2Be, supporting young people’s mental health. But the lockdown prevented us from performing, so we moved outside, and I promised we would do it properly again this year, especially after the terrible time children and teenagers have had.”

Members of the Royal Choral Society are more familiar with the stage of the Albert Hall than the pavement, but the future of their upcoming concerts is unsure. The general manager of the society, Richard Reeves, said he hopes to avoid a repeat of last year, when lockdown was imposed on the day of the dress rehearsal for their series of eight Christmas concerts in the famous Kensington venue.

The choir has given some concerts this year, managing a socially distanced performance of Handel’s Messiah in May. But as Reeves’s colleague, Jackie Freshfield, points out, this was unusual: “Most choirs were not able to meet at all in person in 2021 until September, so this Christmas has seen choirs taking every opportunity to sing, and there appear to be concerts every night of the week. There is such comfort in the music of the Christmas season, and everyone loves to share the joy and memories that these familiar melodies evoke. It feeds body and soul.”



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