Empowering the Freelance Economy

The song’s not over yet for BBC Singers’ freelancers

Following intense discussions with the MU over the last few weeks, the BBC have announced today that they will not be closing the BBC Singers on 30 September
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BBC’s plans to axe its BBC Singers programme have been thwarted by public outcry and Musician Union negotiations leaving the future of freelancers and young singers across the UK with a renewed sense of hope.

In recent days, the fates of thousands of freelancers, budding singers and musicians across the UK have been hanging in the balance.

On 23 March, the Musician’s Union announced that the BBC had plans to stop the BBC Singers programme, which would impact the livelihoods of thousands of freelance musicians and educators.

In a letter to the BBC, ad hoc member of the BBC Singers Lorna Price explained the specific challenges facing freelancers and young singers, and what the BBC Singers means to them.

“I am 25 and starting out in the world of professional singing. The BBC Singers was my only stable and regular work. I hope you can understand the concern of many of my fellow ad hoc colleagues, not to mention the sheer impact on the opportunities thousands of singers of us feel on our work,” she said.

Straight out of uni, it was my only regular work, and I could name hundreds of singers for whom this is also true. Those on the ad hoc list were regularly engaged as freelancers at fair rates and via a fair process. There are hundreds on that list. Anyone could apply, and we were all heard and given a fair chance.

Lorna Price

This is crucial. It is quality unionised jobs with decent pay that enable freelancers and in particular young singers to build their careers in the sector. Axing the UK’s only full-time professional choir will have a big impact on the future of choral and classical music in the UK.

Stable, regular work is necessary to truly improve equality, diversity and inclusion

Lorna’s letter to the BBC also highlighted the importance of fair audition processes and stable employment to improving equality, diversity and inclusion.

The press release speaks of improving diversity and opportunity, yet the decision made has quite literally destroyed the only stable work opportunity of every freelance classical singer out there. 

Lorna explained, “The BBC Singers have not only been exemplary in their performance but in my audition experience, I have never known a fairer process. Their programming of marginalised groups is unparalleled, and the BBC Singers employ thousands of ad hoc singers and composers every year of all ages. There is not a more diverse institution out there in this world of classical music.”

Where words fail, music speaks 

Hans Christian Andersen

Backed by the full-time BBC Singers

In a video for the Musicians’ Union, a full-time BBC Singer employee, an alto called Margaret, shared her story of how as a student in the 1980s she was first inspired by attending a BBC Singers concert. That experience would launch her freelance career with the BBC Singers and later full-time membership with the performing group.

Freelancer voices were heard

Following  intense discussions with the MU and a petition reaching over 120,000 signatures, and musicians and supporters rallying against the proposed job cuts, the BBC changed its tactics and decided to keep BBC Singers open.

The union reported that the BBC Singers will resume their “rightful place” in this year’s Proms programme and union reps will be entering into consultation with the BBC to ensure the ensemble has a secure and extremely bright future.

“We will also be talking to the BBC about the BBC Concert Orchestra, Philharmonic Orchestra and Symphony Orchestra and we will be fighting against the proposed 20% cuts,” said the MU.

Naomi Pohl, MU General Secretary, said, “the outpouring of love for the BBC Singers and Orchestras over the past few weeks has been incredible and we know our members are hugely grateful for all the support they’ve received.

“We hope the BBC recognises the real quality and value they bring to the UK’s music industry, international music makers and fans and BBC Licence fee payers who will be keener than ever to see them in action live and via broadcast. The work they do in music education is also crucial. They are frankly irreplaceable.”

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