News and comment from
Roy Lilley

One voice missing...

They look like they’ve landed from Mars but they sound like they’ve arrived from heaven.

It’s the Cowbridge Male Voice Choir, standing in a field.

They’re wearing full-face visors, so they can still sing. They perform, socially distanced. The keyboard player has an extension cable, trailing, plugged in, who knows where? Cardiff, perhaps?

It’s bizarre. There isn’t another word. Perhaps there is. It might be stoic.

The choir, at full strength, is 80 strong and such is the way of so many choirs, the majority of the members are… err… full of the years of life. 

Not one of their members has been a victim of Covid.

They are rehearsing in a field. Only 30 at a time. Public Health Wales reviewed their risk assessment and they are on ITV, Good Morning Britain 6.10am, on Thursday. Much to the delight of grandkids, the astonishment of sons and daughters and doubtless, the trepidation of partners.

They have no idea when they can next perform in front of a real audience. But, they are together and that’s the point.

Throughout Covid they have had weekly Zoom get-togethers. Cake-making competitions, drinks-parties, fancy-hat competitions. They’ve done everything, although apart, to keep the group feeling they are together.

Yes, it is not only young people who can make Zoom work. I swear, if I hear any more ageist claptrap about older people and technology, I will explode.

Surviving this far, in a pandemic, is the real triumph of age. Many of the choir have been shielding. But, the important bit is this... they’ve been determined to keep themselves going.

They’ve been rehearsing, every week, through lockdown. Who is to say, without that, their numbers may easily have been depleted. They've kept going for each other.

Covid kills but loneliness is an assassin.

I remember talking with an elderly gentleman. On Remembrance Sunday, in Camberley in Surrey, during the time I was the Mayor. It was a freezing cold day. The act of remembrance over, we took refuge at the British Legion and a welcome cuppa. 

He told me about his war service. He'd been widowed for three years. I asked him how he was coping.

He leaned back in the chair, his medals glinting in a shaft of wintry sun, that found its way in through the window.

Not too bad,” he said. He paused, as if unsure about saying what was on his mind. 

I waited… he went on… “but there are still times, when I’m in bed at night, I find myself reaching out for her hand...”

His eyes filled with tears. So did mine. 

It’s the Legion that keeps me going,” he said.

God bless the British Legion and the Cowbridge Male Voice Choir and all the other organisations that keep people going.

Friendship, kinship, shared interests, a laugh together... may not be a vaccination but it is the sort of injection we all need, to keep us going.

We all feel lonely, sometimes. You can’t be lonely if you haven’t lived. 

If you’ve never been in the room when a choir, like Cowbridge are giving it some welly, you haven’t lived. 

The warm swell of the base, the mellifluous middle ranges and the crystal clarity of the top tenors. It’s goose-bump good.

  • During the first month of lockdown the ONS reported, the equivalent of 7.4 million people said their well-being was affected through feeling lonely.

  • Lonely people were more likely than others to be struggling to find things to help them cope and were also less likely to feel they had support networks to fall back on.

Loneliness and the loss of contact is an emotional poverty we have to define a currency we can use to buy-it-out and it wont be money.

It will be thoughtfulness, kindness, camaraderie. Looking out for each other.

Loneliness is where our deepest thoughts begin, where our emotions take charge and our hopes fade into an obscurity.

Music has been the antidote for the gentlemen of Cowbridge. 

They can live in the space between the notes, be as one to the rhythm and know they wouldn’t sound the same, with one voice missing.
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