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Liverpool Cathedral online music programme lifted pandemic gloom, study finds

26 August 2022

They never walked alone, says researcher


Liverpool Cathedral’s L64 adult choir sing in a pre-recorded online performance of “Walking in the Air”, in March 2022.

Liverpool Cathedral’s L64 adult choir sing in a pre-recorded online performance of “Walking in the Air”, in March 2022.

LIVERPOOL CATHEDRAL’s online music-outreach programme helped to mitigate the negative effects of lockdown, research has found.

The report of the findings, The Digital Turn: Exploring the social value of Liverpool Cathedral’s online music outreach programme during the Covid-19 pandemic, is by Dr Simone Krüger Bridge, a Reader in Music at Liverpool John Moores University. It was published last month. Dr Krüger Bridge attempted to understand the value of the online engagement provided by the Liverpool Cathedral School of Music’s outreach programme.

Liverpool Cathedral School of Music — which has the strapline “An encounter for every age” — encompasses interactive music sessions for babies and children, a choice of choirs, music theory and instrumental tuition, a music programme for schools, and opportunities for music performance.

Its participants range from children from birth to age ten; young people up to 18; and adults, including a community choir, Liverpool64, which attracts more than 100 singers of varying abilities.

When the first lockdown was announced, all Liverpool Cathedral’s music outreach activity moved online, and was delivered by pre-recorded podcast and on Zoom. The partial easing of lockdown in summer 2020 led to a hybrid programme, before a return to online-only sessions when restrictions tightened again. Some performances featured individual video recording of the singers in their home environments. The annual Festival of Music moved online as a live stream on YouTube.

Dr Krüger Bridge conducted her research by means of an online questionnaire. The responses showed “in profound ways how music played a vital role across all sorts of social, cultural, educational and wellbeing dimensions during the Covid-19 pandemic”, her report says.

“For example, through observations and talking to babies’ parents, the research showed that online music participation in Teeny Maestro sessions played a vital role for the babies’ socialization and relationship building, and their social, emotional and cognitive development.

“And while a Zoom choir experience will never match the experience of collective singing inside the marvellous interior of Liverpool Cathedral, the weekly online rehearsals provided routine, belonging, friendship, enjoyment and, above all, real hope, particularly to those choir participants classified as ‘shielding’.”

The regular online activities provided “much needed structure, distraction and enjoyment” during very challenging times for both adults and children, along with “a sense of normality and routine”.

Most respondents (77 per cent) said that they enjoyed the activity and appreciated the choral leader and/or teacher (also 77 per cent). Seventy-one per cent reported that the musical activity “maintained some normality”; 64 per cent said that they felt connected to other people; 69 per cent said that it felt good; 52 per cent had had fun; and 41 per cent appreciated seeing their friends.

More than half the questionnaire respondents (54 per cent) felt that their online music participation helped them to get through the lockdown. Many (44 per cent) agreed that the activity provided important distraction from the pandemic. Thirty-five per cent reported that their participation had helped to relieve stress and anxiety.

“This research has shown that Liverpool Cathedral’s online music participation in social isolation helped alleviate many participants’ sense of purpose, learning, belonging and wellbeing,” the report says.

Dr Krüger Bridge concluded that the adaptation to digital and online technologies represented a “continuing attempt” by the cathedral to reach out to wider audiences. “For instance, the virtual message ‘from one Cathedral to the Other’ addressed to Liverpool Football Club by Liverpool Cathedral’s Dean Sue Jones on the musical theme of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ was significant as it represented how the Church is opening in acceptance, encapsulating football and church culture.

“While engagement with the creative arts can have a positive impact on people’s wellbeing the value — social, cultural, educational and wellbeing — of Liverpool Cathedral’s switch to online music participation cannot be overstated.”

Liverpool Cathedral provided “a social, aesthetic and spiritual experience” of musical participation as a means for connecting with the self, as well as with others, the report says. “Importantly, too, Liverpool Cathedral’s School of Music provided critical social support and contact for like-minded people of all ages, enhancing their sense of belonging to something bigger, and helping them to cope with the uncertainties and anxieties of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

At the launch of the report last month, Dr Krüger Bridge said that she acknowledged “the important work conducted by Liverpool Cathedral’s music staff during these difficult times. They provided much-needed support and real hope to people suffering the negative consequences of the pandemic.”

The Director of Music at the cathedral, Stephen Mannings, said that the research provided valuable insight. “This insight has helped us steer what we do now as we’ve slowly returned to more normal methods of operating, albeit retaining many digital engagement methods to enhance what we do.”

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