Just four days after Prime Minister Boris Johnson told us, “You should not be meeting friends,” Simon Berridge, newly called High Councillor with responsibility for music, offered a great solution to help people in Hitchin connect with one another. “I felt there was a need to provide an uplift and I was the one person blessed to be able to help,” Simon recalled.
From his home in Bedfordshire, Simon has held weekly singing sessions for all who want to join in from their homes on Friday morning or Sunday afternoon. These ‘Social Distance Sing’ sessions have been a valuable lifeline and allowed participants to feel joy and togetherness as they have sung.
Simon is a talented, professional concert singer who has performed internationally. He has appeared in musical programmes on BBC television and radio, and for the last 30 years, he has been singing with the world-famous ensemble ‘The Sixteen’. Simon is currently serving as High Councillor in the St Albans Stake and brings his experience and enthusiasm to the group while encouraging everyone to join in. He said, getting together in this way “allows the opportunity to see the faces of those you know … which is really important at the moment”.
During rehearsals, group members can see one another on-screen while singing along with Simon and his piano. Occasionally Simon’s wife Rachel sings harmony and encourages other members to have a go. Sometimes Simon enjoys creating “moments of chaos” when he unmutes everyone and allows the group to sing together – according to their Internet speed! Simon arranged the sessions for members of the Hitchin ward and St Albans Stake, as well as members of Simon’s other choirs, but Simon is happy for anyone to join in.
Friday’s sessions have included pop classics whilst Sunday sessions have been for sacred music. For the session on Good Friday, choir members selected their favourite hymns and shared why they liked the hymns they had chosen. This was a lovely way to prepare for the Easter weekend.
In the first few sessions, the group prepared a ‘virtual’ musical item for a Stake Presidency fireside that was broadcast on 10th May 2020. Each choir member recorded their own voice; these recordings were combined into a single video performance of the whole choir. There were as many non-member friends in the choir as there were members. Several attended the online Stake fireside to view their performance and remained to listen to the talks that followed. The music provided a wonderful spiritual highlight for the fireside.
“Music has the ability to lift us and unite us,” says Becky Staines, Relief Society President of the Hitchin Ward. “The online sing-along has really helped.”