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These are extraordinary times

Reading back through my post in April, we had no idea of how long or how widespread the pandemic would become. We had already closed the rehearsals and gradually over the summer, all the concerts were cancelled or postponed. We had started our internet support groups via email and on WhatsApp but just how long would this thing last?

There was a faint glimmer of hope around June when some of the local organisations started to ask their members about the conditions that they would accept in an effort for them to be able to operate again. It felt a good time to ask our members how they felt and we were somewhat relieved to find that about 80% would be interested in returning to rehearsals under safe conditions and when the time was right - when we receive the green light to start rehearsals again. Having relocated our home to the West Maldon Community Centre, we would have to hope that they would be open before we could even vaguely contemplate rehearsals again.

Around this same time making composite videos of players all performing their notes for the same tune became a possibility. We decided to start with We All Stand Together. Very apt for our current situation and having performed this in the Christmas 2019 concert, it should still be relatively fresh in most players minds. This proved to be a very steep learning curve as any tune which changes tempo or includes 'pauses' needs a conductor to literally hold the players together, but was brilliant to see so many of our players and for many, it was the first time that they had played their instruments since March.

These videos have now become a monthly occurrence. The choice of tune is absolutely key to its final success. It needs to ideally be the same tempo all the way through with the only change being at the end. We are fortunate to have some very willing players who are happy to provide a video of their strong playing. These usually form the foundations to build the videos. We also have multi-instrument players who I have always wished we could clone to create additional players - these videos allow for just that and is their chance to shine. Now into the construction of our fifth video, these have become a joy to create and watch.

During August we were notified by the West Maldon Community Centre that they hoped to be open in September. Watching the Government Guidance for orchestras being able to rehearse again soon became an emotional rollercoaster until on 11th September, we were able to return to rehearsals again, six months after we had closed. I call these meetings 'rehearsals' but they are nothing like those from before. Part of our planning in June was to calculate how many players we could safely accommodate in the WMCC with 2m social distancing? The answer was 27. With over 50 members, it was going to mean two groups. Taking into consideration family groups, friendship groups, car sharers, key holders, reducing the length to allow for setting up and clearing away, and which instrument people play, the Orchestra was split into two groups with the only person common to both being our Music Director. We have no concerts to work towards so our MD has chosen a selection of music for us to rehearse. Our half-number group rehearsals are being supported with further half numbers mostly due to the genuine fear that our members are experiencing with regards to returning to rehearsals despite the face-coverings, social distancing, copious use of hand sanitiser and operating in a Covid secure venue.

These are worrying times and we don't know how long we will be able to continue in this format before further restrictions are imposed which will force us to close again. Then in my email inbox last week came the notification that the Orchestra has been nominated for the Queen's Award for Voluntary Services. Having been in existence for over 70 years in the Maldon community doing what we do whether that is rehearsing in the Quaker's Hall with just a few players or giving consideration as to how we could possibly accommodate over 50 players in a local community hall, just being nominated for this award has been an honour in itself. The concerts gave us the opportunity to spread the word and raise some much needed funds for local charities but during these difficult and dark times, this is truly extraordinary.


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