An article published in the Making Music Magazine in January 2021
Matthew Cox, trustee and pianist, on how Fleetville Swing Band found a new home
Our swing band held its first in-person rehearsal for six months on the first of September. Since then, we've held weekly COVID-secure rehearsals in line with the government’s guidance for the performing arts.
The terrace of a local cricket pavilion has provided an outdoor area, protected from the rain, with enough space to position twenty musicians at intervals of at least two metres apart.
As I set up our sound system recently I noticed a poster by the pavilion doorway advertising a cricket match between "Denis Compton's International Team" and "The Hertfordshire Eleven". Framed memorabilia from decades before. I wondered what the spectators would have made of the musicians currently rehearsing on their terrace each week.
Our committee arrive early each time to set up and disinfect chairs. We have signage to create a one-way system and remind everyone of the social distancing rules. Attendees wear facemasks until the rehearsal begins and we purchased bell covers for the wind instruments. We limit the playing time to one hour.
Everyone is required to complete a health questionnaire before each rehearsal, and we distribute a seating plan along with a list of expected behaviours and our risk assessment based on the Making Music template. The latter was completed by our treasurer and agreed by our committee in August. We reassess it each week in light of local infection rates and changes to government guidelines.
The top concerns raised by our members in August were that some attendees might not adhere to social distancing rules and that we might not be able to protect our higher-risk members. We've been able to mitigate these concerns but have stressed that we can't reduce the transmission risk to zero so it is an individual's own decision on whether to attend.
We've had around twenty members joining each time, out of a total membership of thirty, and the feedback has been positive. For those unable to join, we've tried putting the rehearsal online and sending out an audio recording afterwards.
One particular highlight has been the comments we’ve received from the other park users: "A perfect end to the day! Children absolutely loved listening too. We would love to come and see you again." "Well done to the band! Such a fillip after all the doom and gloom of the news today. Hope to see you next week."
In terms of advice we could offer other groups: 1) Find the right venue. Our members were understandably more reluctant to attend any rehearsals indoors. 2) Don't be put off by the work ahead of the first rehearsal. It saves time in subsequent weeks and will hopefully be far outweighed by the mental health benefits to your members (and passers-by!) 3) Find volunteers who can arrive early to set-up and someone to marshal others when they arrive. Congestion and confusion will only increase the chances of social distancing guidelines being breached. As winter draws in, we may have to switch our gatherings to a weekend afternoon rather than an evening. But the previous park users have also faced challenging times. The Denis Compton International team never made it to Hertfordshire all those years ago, as the small print below the poster explained. The match, which was scheduled for 3rd September 1939, had to be cancelled due to the outbreak of the Second World War two days before. So if we have to postpone any upcoming rehearsals, it won't be the first time that difficult conditions have stopped play. Matthew Cox, October 2020