SWEMF Chair’s Report 2020
(as delivered to the virtual AGM on 22/08/2020)

None of us could have imagined, when we held our last AGM, the circumstances under which we would be meeting this year – and it’s hard to recall that before everything shut down in late March, we had already had more than half a year of successful activity.  So let’s remember the excellent meetings we enjoyed pre-covid-19, including Gawain Glenton’s Praetorius day in a great new venue in Cheltenham, the usual very popular chamber music and Renaissance Wind Band days, and the very enjoyable workshop-cum-social event on West Country Carols with Eddie Upton, in yet another good new venue.  Sadly, the Sherborne workshop shown on the agenda did actually have to be cancelled, since it was scheduled for the weekend just before lockdown.  We are very grateful to everyone who helped in any way with workshop organisation.

Of course it has been an enormous disappointment to have to cancel – or at least, we hope, postpone – a number of planned events, particularly the baroque orchestra day which had been a long time in the planning, and for which we had just agreed Culmstock village hall as the venue.  At this time it is not clear when we might be able to resume face-to-face meetings.  Some of you may have seen reports in the press of a research study on the spreading of the virus via aerosols generated in singing and playing wind and brass instruments, a pre-print of which was issued this week.  I’ve had access to this via the Association of Teachers of Singing website, and having waded through the science, I’m afraid the findings are not as clear-cut as many musicians had hoped – it does seem that the volume, both of singing and speaking, has a crucial effect on the emission of particles – so we will all have to sing very quietly.  There is also advice on the Making Music website, which we’re keeping an eye on – one of our problems may be finding venues which are willing to host events like ours, given all the requirements for deep cleaning etc.  So no simple answers.  As for the government advice, there is still a good deal of confusion.

So I think we need to resign ourselves to at least several months longer with no ‘live’ activity, though we’ll keep the situation under frequent review.  Of course, people are being enormously inventive in devising online activities to keep everyone busy, and we are hugely indebted to Sara, our web editor, for the extensive lists of links which she is circulating every week and posting on the website.  We are also very conscious of the difficulties faced by many of our tutors, most of whom are self-employed, and so with the dual aim of helping them and providing some activity for our members, your committee agreed that we would commission tutors to produce some content specifically for the SWEMF website.  You will have seen the brilliant session which Ali Kinder created for us, and we are expecting a contribution from David Allinson soon.  Jonathan will have more to say about setting aside a budget for this kind of activity when he present the accounts, but meanwhile I hope you agree it’s a good thing to be doing.  And if you have any further ideas for things you’d like us to do during this period, please let us know – all suggestions are welcome.

I am very pleased to welcome Rick Fitzsimmons who has been our Diary editor from the start of the year.  The Diary is necessarily rather slender at the moment, since there are no reports of workshops, but if you have any ideas for contributions, do get in touch with Rick.  We took the decision to send out hard copy Diaries in June only to those members for whom we do not have email addresses, as it would not have been possible to hold our usual ‘envelope stuffing party’, and a mailing to all members would be a great deal of work for one person.

Finally, I would like to offer my very warm thanks to everyone who is working to support SWEMF at this difficult time.  All our committee members invariably respond quickly and constructively in any discussion, and I’m glad that they have all expressed a willingness to continue in post for a further year.  We are still in need of representatives for Devon and Wiltshire, so if you live in either of those counties and think you might be able to help, do get in touch.  Fenella looks after membership with great efficiency, Althea as secretary ensures that we operate smoothly and in line with the requirements of the Charity Commission, while Jonathan maintains our finances in immaculate order.  But this year in particular I think the biggest vote of thanks has to go to Sara, for keeping us all in touch and up-to-date at a time when the website and emails are our lifeline.

Stay safe and keep well everyone, and let’s look forward to the time, hopefully not too distant, when we can meet once more to engage in the music-making which we all love so much.

– Clare Griffel (SWEMF Chair)