Reasons to be cheerful

In a year when the world has been assailed by pestilence, fire and flood, you might wonder when we are going to get the famine, boils, and plagues of locusts. Shakespeare was right: when sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions. It is, of course, the pandemic that has turned our lives upside down, in ways that can be hard to bear for any length of time. For many musicians the impact has been devastating – livelihoods and audiences gone, choirs and orchestras unable to meet, performance venues mothballed, and an uncertain future ahead with the likelihood that our profession will emerge shrunken and cash-starved.

A Virtual Clare Benediction by Clare College Choir

Others have written eloquently of all this, but I do believe some positive things for music and musicians have emerged from the experience of the past few months, though I admit I can count them on not many fingers. First, we have discovered new ways for musicians to connect with each other and with their audiences. Virtual choirs have sprung up, attracting large numbers of amateur singers, some of whom have never sung in a choir before. I talked recently to the directors of one such choir, and they have been much moved by the messages of appreciation they have received from members who are (for example) housebound, disabled, living in remote places, unable to join a ‘normal’ choir because of irregular work patterns – or simply too shy to have come forward before. A virtual choir isn’t a replacement for a physical one, but it is a new star in the choral firmament, here to stay.

Livestreaming of concerts, recitals and church services is also here to stay. There’s nothing new, of course, in showing these events on television, but stripped of their sophisticated production values, there is an immediacy in a livestream from a musician’s front room which gives a different kind of pleasure. The CEO of a leading classical streaming platform said recently that their viewers especially appreciated the feeling of being brought closer to the performer if, for instance, a cat wanders across the screen halfway through a sonata. We all know that nothing beats the feeling of being present with others at a live concert, but a home concert if you can’t get out is still a blessing. These heartfelt offerings have necessarily been mostly small-scale, and I have heard more solo and chamber music in the last few months than for several whole years – an opportunity to revel in the beauty of an area of music it’s easy to overlook if your staple diet is mainly choral and orchestral music. Sometimes less is more. 

An unexpected bonus of social distancing is that choirs and orchestras, forced to space their members further apart than before, are sounding wonderful, perhaps because they have to listen harder, perhaps also from gratitude at being in action once more. I have enjoyed some lovely sounds from spaced-out orchestras and choirs at the BBC Proms.

I’m not sure we will be travelling a straight and shining road back to musical normality – there may be bumps in that road and wrong turnings – but we, the musical community, must not be daunted. Our present travails are not for ever, there are mounting stocks of the safe and effective Oxford vaccine just waiting in their freezer for permission to use them, and we shall recover. I hope the most lasting legacy of 2020 for musicians and music-lovers will be that often short-lived emotion, gratitude. You don’t always fully appreciate a gift until it is taken away. Music is a great gift to us all, and we should cherish it.


22 Responses to “Reasons to be cheerful”

  1. Ross Cobb

    Bless you, dear John, for these heartfelt and encouraging words.
    I do hope that you are keeping safe and healthy.
    O may we soon again renew that song!
    Much love from your many fans here in Sydney.

  2. Anne Srigley

    Thank you for your comments.Youhave brought great joy with your music. I appreciate it.

  3. Camille Hollingdale

    Thank you for all the joy and wisdom you keep giving us. I am grateful for our choral directors who continue to work creatively to make our Zoom rehearsals worthwhile. I am grateful, too, for being able to sing with my 2yo grandson who remembers the songs we make up better than I!
    Another Sydneysider.

  4. susan hudson

    Thank you so much for this. You have done an excellent job of reminding us that there are beautiful roses in spite of the thorns.
    Never having dreamed of having a way to communicate directly with you, I can’t let the opportunity pass to tell you how very much pleasure and joy your music has brought to my life and to the lives of countless others. Seeing your FB posts has helped me see you as a real person and not just the wonderful but faceless composer, arranger, director. I have loved your music and your choirs from the moment I was first introduced to them. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
    (still dreaming of managing to attend a sung service at King’s College)

  5. M V Joyce

    Good advice from a great musician.
    Missing the choir practice.Hopefully soon?

  6. Marian Walbert Wyble

    Thank you, Maestro, for such sensible, sensitive words of comfort and joy. But then, what else could one expect from someone whose work consistently gives comfort and joy to those who perform it and those who participate as the audience!

  7. Lisa Micali

    Heartening words (and on today, my 46th wedding anniversary!). Your own collaboration with Self Isolation Choir and soon with Stay at Home Choir has been an extra blessing and new star in the musical firmament, as you say. It has been amazing how many musicians are making lemonade out of these lemons handed to us, and I personally have noticed an improvement in my singing and musicianship due to the expert tuition as well as the recording process, where one can examine ones performance in a quite new way! Thank you so much!

  8. Linda ten Bras

    We sang live this afternoon, with less singers( not everyone feel comfort to do or have health issues)and wider apart. The conductor mentioned how good the sound was, some of the singers mentioned how special it was this afternoon, every thing went very well, the singing and seeing each felt special, the light through the stained windows as a blessing. I mentioned just because we stand wider apart we need to listen more carefully, normally we are asked to come closer to each other what now wasn’t aloud, so we had to be more alert.

  9. Frances Boesch

    Since I have moved to Austin, and gone away from Tallowood Baptist Church, I have not been in a choral setting that comes close to what they have there. To hear your music on this computer does not compare to singing your compositions with a beautiful sounding choir. I miss my choir. I sing anyway, just to make sure I don’t loose my voice. Singing is for my JOY from God.

  10. Mary

    Thankyou for your music. We are still hoping to see you in Ottawa at our Music and Beyond Festival in the future. Meanwhile, we have the gifts of internet technology.

  11. Karen Thacker

    Firstke excuse my mistakes due toimpaired vision but i do want to say thanks. Thank you for yoursensitive x positive words. And i thank you very belayedly for a wonderful singing day you led in sheffield a few years ago.itried to speak to you at the end but you were mobbed mainly by youger wonen wanting t9be photographed with you. ! Singing and listening to your music has both enhanced and nourished my life x in theses days comforted x cheered me. In spite of loving your unusual pieces i still respond to your hugely popular pueces , The Lord bless you… andDeep peace as if i am hearing or singing them for the first time. My deep gratitude – and not least thank you for being such a caring x kind human being,

  12. Malcolm Herbert

    I direct a Community Choir which we describe as a choir for those who think and/or were told, they can’t sing. Yes there’s a lot of Abba etc but… when asked their favourite pieces… invariably the name John Rutter comes up and not just at Christmas… thank you John for your vision of singing as gift and a vital expression of community… and of course for giving us the wonderful songs and tunes to make that a tangible reality. Even if at the moment it comes via Zoom.

  13. Bingham Vick

    Thank you so much, John, for reminding all of us to be grateful for music. We here in Greenville SC all still remember that wonderful weekend you shared with us back in 1985/86 (?) performing your music at the Furman University Church Music Conference. Thank you for sharing so much great music with us over the years. Thank you for giving sound to words making them even more meaningful.
    cheers, Bing and Judy

  14. Joni Thieme-Weinberg

    Thank you so much, John, for your thoughtful and inspiring comments. My partner, Jim, and I met you backstage at Carnegie Hall about five years ago, when we sang there under your direction. While I had always admired you as a musician and director, you are a wonderful, thoughtful person as well!!!!

  15. Abe Lee

    “If the world and the universe I see were ugly and malformed, I could be an atheist too.” May the songs of God proclaim the undeniable beauty of God in all we see and know.

  16. Barbara Mangles

    So very grateful for all your music and for your positive thoughts in these challenging times.
    Music and family ( sadly at a distance) are the only things keeping me and my husband ( 72 and 75)
    sane ( well, sane ish….) Our son was a chorister at church and loved singing your works.
    Stay safe, and please keep encouraging us to remember the good things.


    Yes, it’s said, You don’t miss your water, ’till the well’s run dry. Be encouraged!

  18. Natalie Windsor

    Thank you for your kind thoughts. The current situation, although frustrating and at times isolating and miserable, has enabled me to get back to me. The fundamental reasons I make music: love and connection, offering joy to others, whether perfectly or imperfectly executed. I hadn’t realised that a part of me, however small, was keen on the whole fame and glory thing, comparing myself to others! And a little too focused on making a living (necessary of course) at the expense of giving my gift whenever needed, appreciating that we are all one great community, no matter what our successes and accolades may be.