Earworms are back


Written by: Roger Blitz

Earworms are back. Little catches of music that stick in the mind after repeated rehearsing were giving London Symphony Chorus members sleepless nights in May and June. Anyone still trying to shake off “Come and join with us in chorus” from Errollyn Wallen’s After Winter?

Until this summer, earworms threatened becoming an endangered species, as choirs across the country and beyond wondered when and how they would sing again.

It was an altogether calmer world back in early 2020. On February 24, London Symphony Orchestra choral projects manager Sumita Menon dispatched an email to LSC members containing the proposed schedule for the 2020-21 season – 10 mouth-watering projects, including trips to the south of France and Manchester, and a BBC Prom. Simon Rattle, Gianandrea Noseda and François-Xavier Roth were all to feature on the podium.

What followed was a long period of anxiety and doubt, as the pandemic took hold. Bit by bit, that season was consigned to the scrapheap. The health and well-being of family, friends, and colleagues were paramount.

No-one wants a repeat of this period of uncertainty. And yet we may look back at this makeshift 20-21 season as a remarkable one when the chorus held its collective nerve and ploughed on into a Zoom-laden world to keep on singing while other choirs were forced into silence.

Lockdown and social restrictions were made bearable with bursts of choral activity – a particularly chilly outdoor Christmas concert at the Guildhall Yard, carols at Old Spitalfields Market, a summer concert at Spitalfields  Music Festival, a recording at LSO St Lukes and the DIY video recording of the Howard Goodall commission Never To Forget. All this was made possible thanks to at-home, then in-person, rehearsals, the heroic organisational efforts of the LSC council and infinite patience. Some projects were carefully planned and organised, only to get cancelled. “It was forever changing, but we kept going and looked at opportunities to do things,” said Owen Hanmer, LSC Chair.

Lifting the gloom were the amuses bouches of Andrew Fuller’s 12th Night online party, the bonkers but highly entertaining Lockdown Relay video, and the “Zadok the Priest” and Mozart Ave Verum singalongs.

What also kept us going was a constant stream of information, even if much of it related to rehearsals and projects that never saw the light of day. Other news was relayed about how to lobby for the return of choirs to public life and the Rattle/Pappano switcheroo, while the indefatigable Jo Buchan printed up and posted us scores in preparation for those online rehearsals.

Behind the scenes, auditions signed up 14 new members, the marketing, diversity, and data teams discussed how to modernise the LSC and the music team looked at expanding the repertoire. “There was a lot of time to think and research,” Simon told the AGM.

Seventeen months on from Sumita’s email, and a new schedule lands in Chorus members’ mailboxes, the 2021-22 programme containing projects no less ambitious and enticing than the previous ill-fated schedule.

How much of this one gets fulfilled is anyone’s guess. If there’s one thing the Chorus has learned this past year and a half of uncertainty, it is to plan ahead, prepare for all eventualities and assume nothing.

“We are proceeding cautiously and will continue to exercise care,” said Owen. Government guidelines will be maintained, such as distancing and ventilation. In the early months at least, the season contains smaller-scale projects designed to minimise the risk of cancellation. Early concerts in the new season will see the LSC dispersed around buildings. “The sensible thing is not to do too much too quickly.” As Simon told members, “everyone understands they will come back from this terrible time at their own speed”.

With a dollop of luck, the 21-22 season stands a better chance of staying largely intact. And come spring 2022, who knows – the outlook may be altogether more promising. The Chorus is ready for anything thrown it’s way. You included, cursed earworms.

Roger Blitz (Bass)