I am music-mad, whether singing, listening or (incompetently) playing, but I don't need to tell Gazette readers that one of the greatest joys of Herefordshire is its music.
From the choristers and lay clerks of the Cathedral to the church choirs to local musical groups to the Musical Theatre Company and Gilbert and Sullivan Society and Ross Choral Society, to great events such as the Three Choirs Festival and the Gathering Wave--it is all fantastic.
I was reminded of this the other day at the memorial service for Prince Philip at St Mary's in Ross, which featured some lovely singing by the choir. It was the first live choral music I had heard for ages, and it was glorious.
But since then I have been amazed to discover a global phenomenon being created in our own Ross-on-Wye: Sing Out Strong, a choral movement founded by singer, composer, vocal coach and conductor Emma Rowland.
The mission of Sing Out Strong is to create mental and physical wellbeing through singing, and during lockdown Emma and a remarkable group of volunteers took it around the world.
The result is "I've Been Waiting", a new song which they released only a few weeks ago. Starting in Emma's living room twice a week, the group reached almost 10,000 singers across 100 countries, with a year's worth of free rehearsals and projects to help people improve their mental health. All from Ross-on-Wye!
The virtual group has also been featured on the BBC and ITV, as well as several national magazines. And, although delayed due to COVID-19, I understand that Sing Out Strong will also be setting up a new Ross men’s choir, which is no less exciting.
All this singing is not just wonderful to listen to; taking part is good for the soul, and a vital support for people's mental and physical health. That is one reason why I have been pressing the Government so hard to clarify the rules over live indoor practising and performance for choirs.
At the moment, the rules do not hang together. Professional choirs are exempt, amateur and semi-professional choirs not, although many of the latter are fully as good as professional choirs--and Covid does not discriminate.
There seems to be an important loophole: the limits "do not apply to activity taking place for work, or commercial activity". But the sooner we can get back to normal, the better.
First published in the Ross Gazette