During our time in lockdown, the choir of Hampstead Parish Church has felt a profound sense of loss – as if some part of each one of us had been amputated, carved out; estranged from each other, and in so being, estranged from ourselves. In a busy life as an aspiring soloist, it’s easy to ascribe to the cult of the individual, but if lockdown has reminded us of anything, it’s the profound, joyful interdependence at the heart of music-making. Concert, recital, opera cancellations were indeed wounding, and relentlessly so, but it wasn’t until the closing of churches, that we looked at the centre of things, and realised that the anchor of which we’d only just noticed the existence had become dislodged. It’s not until you’re lost, that you realise exactly what tethered you, and in most cases that tethering is arrestingly simple, shaming you for needlessly searching for complexity elsewhere. Lockdown aside, the life of a young musician is frightening, lonely, map-less: we may be aspiring soloists, but for many of us, choral singing had been our way into music, and coming together on Sundays was a way of honouring that, and maintaining our connection with the source of our identities as musicians.
As Jeremy said in his first sermon following the closing of church, the Coronavirus is forcing us to re-evaluate the intuitive behavioural manifestations of connection, and learn a new language of love: one in which to be physically distant is to be emotionally proximate. We think Hampstead Parish Church has exemplified that new language, widened its vocabulary, made it so aptly fit this new reality, and in so doing, invited the entire community to learn and speak it together during lockdown. We’re profoundly grateful to have been able to continue in some capacity our work as a choir. But we’ve too had to find a new language of music-making: each standing alone in front of a screen, singing at a stressed looking avatar of ourselves, listening to the obstinate unmusicality of a click track. Or holding an Inspector Gadget-worthy array of devices, accumulating a collective blooper reel increasingly at odds with the fourth commandment. The spectacle of this might be funny, and we’d certainly have rather done it than not, but it has reminded us of what a profoundly bodily and inter-relational act music-making is.
Lockdown, however, has not been defined by what we lack. This new climate has provided us with the opportunity to connect more deeply with each other: whether it’s been recording the weekly anthem and hymn, attending virtual services, or characteristically meeting in a ‘zoom pub’ every Sunday, we’ve been held in a reassuring mesh of group purpose and pattern. We’ve never been the sort of choir to “take the money and run”, and have long been profoundly affected by the sense of loving community at Hampstead Parish Church, finding friends and collaborators in the clergy and congregation, and never feeling like an appendage to the community. Lockdown has only brought this into sharper relief: extreme resourcefulness has come into its own in an outpouring of creative compassion, as a cursory glance at the website, hpcinexile.org, will show. We want to contribute further to that outpouring.
Being deprived of the thing you love gives you the time, space, and deep sadness to examine it from almost every angle. As a group, we started to examine our musical dreams and ideas, those projects we’d always wanted to do, but had written off as pipe dreams, incompatible with the busy and often necessarily reactionary life of freelance musicians. Historically, plagues are followed by periods of abundant artistic activity, and we’d hate to break the precedent.
We are a very strong group of musicians with a profound sense of musical, intellectual, and human curiosity, and that is a very fertile breeding ground for exemplary, joyous, enlivened music making. We also work very well as a team: each member of the group is a fantastic musician and person in their own right, and we want to explore the notion of non-hierarchised music-making, which celebrates the multifaceted strengths of each person. Devising a season which showcases our abilities as soloists, ensemble singers, conductors, pianists, organists, curators, and perhaps even the odd rogue trumpeter, is a lovely way for HPC’s congregation to get to know us better, and for audiences outside HPC to realise what a wellspring of creativity this church can be. Going even further, our sacred meditations invite members of the congregation to become part of The Hampstead Collective, as readers of the selected texts for the evening, celebrating confluence and cultivating our pre-existing friendships beyond the choir.
Our proposed season aims in no way to detract from our official role within church worship, or indeed to undermine the pre-existing hierarchy of Music Director, Organist, and Choir. We delineate our objectives in this venture by adopting the name, ‘The Hampstead Collective’, and restricting our activity to Monday evenings.
We do however wish to acknowledge our provenance. The Hampstead Collective has grown organically out of Hampstead Parish Church Choir. We have hugely valued the liturgical punctuation of the year afforded by HPC continuing its worship during lockdown. A common grievance within this new landscape has been a collective feeling of listlessness, a nebulous, featureless topography, unmarked and vast, horizon pending, us pining for shape and direction. Following and participating in the cadences of the liturgical year has been a source of deep comfort for us in lockdown, and we wish to celebrate that, ‘riff off’ that if you like; musically illuminate the enlivening seasonality of the church calendar. Again, this is in no way to detract from our primary contributions as a church choir, but rather, to complement these contributions, to extend our musical reach into repertoire beyond the scope of Sunday services.
THE HAMPSTEAD COLLECTIVE