A virtual singing group is providing thousands of older people from across the UK with a vital sense of community and friendship during the coronavirus lockdown.
The sessions are led by Dr Fay Hield, a critically acclaimed folk singer who is also a lecturer in ethnomusicology and music management at the University of Sheffield. They provide a virtual space in which amateur folk singers can continue to gather, sing songs and make friends following the closure of folk clubs due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
Many folk clubs in the UK were initially launched in the 1960s and continue to be popular with many of the same people, now in their 70s and 80s, as well as attracting younger musicians.
With older people already being especially vulnerable to loneliness before the coronavirus lockdown, the regular weekly meetings that folk clubs held were often one of the few chances that many older singers had to meet with friends and share their love of folk music. The social-distancing measures introduced in response to the coronavirus, together with older people being at a higher risk of developing the disease, has meant that some older folk fans have been cut-off from this vital part of their social lives.
Now, the sessions led by Dr Hield are enabling amateur folk singers to gather virtually through Zoom every Tuesday evening to sing songs together and share folk-related stories.
Launched last month, the online singarounds have already attracted more than 200 singers, as well as thousands of viewers each week. The sessions have also welcomed amateur folk singers from around the world, including people from countries such as Ireland, the USA and Canada. Anyone with an interest in folk music is welcome to take part.
The event uses Zoom for people who want to participate by singing songs, share folk-related stories or simply listen to others and feel part of a club. Each session is also livestreamed and saved on a Facebook page for those who want to tune in, listen and watch as the singers perform some of their favourite folk songs.
Aside from sharing a love of folk music, the sessions have also helped some older people use social media and technologies such as Facebook and Zoom for the first time.
Dr Hield, whose project The Full English won the Best Album and Best Group categories at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards in 2014, said: “It is just beautiful to see people interacting online in much the same way as they did face to face.
“ I wasn’t prepared for the ease of camaraderie we would achieve.
“Due to the time lag of being online we can’t all sing together, but when you see everyone else’s muted mouths going up and down like goldfish, and find yourself singing along at home, there is such a powerful sense of togetherness.”
The online singaround is held every Tuesday evening from 8pm to 10pm.