So – schools are dismissed. Of my four students due for lessons this morning, only two turn up – the other two already in isolation at home. Seventeen year-old David [name changed] arrives promptly at 8.45, complaining of a gunky chest but sure it isn’t a symptom of Covid19…I reassure him that’s it’s not, and the gunk is sure to shift as we warm up. Very swiftly he grounds himself and swings through my ‘sirening’ exercises (‘you know – the sound of an emergency siren’ I say, thinking of the ambulance I passed in the drizzle on my way in, its warning screech searing through me as I imagined someone inside straining for breath). His voice is strong and clear, and for the first time I can remember he is pitching precisely. David has hearing difficulties and we have worked hard to overcome them by homing into the vibration and muscle memory of pitch…somehow, this morning it was all coming together.
‘So – this will be our last lesson for a while,’ I say. ‘Shall we go back over the songs you have done this term and remind ourselves of the best…which were your favourites?’ I run my finger down the list of music theatre numbers…If I were a Rich Man? Corner of the Sky from Pippin? Beauty and the Beast?
David pauses a moment and then says, ‘Can we sing, Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’?
‘Do you know it?’
‘I think so’.
And so we embark on the saddest possible song he could have chosen. I try and work positively – concentrate on the technical tricks needed for the high passages. He knows it really well – moving easily through changes of tempo and key and dynamics. Having broken the song apart and reassembled, we go back to perform it one time in its entirety,
‘Oh my friends forgive me – That I live and you are gone.’
My fingers are fumbling; I struggle to locate the pattern of quavers as my eyes blur. David is singing so well – so passionately and strongly. And I’m thinking – all these kids who won’t get their GCSE’s and A-levels and final degrees (my daughters being some of them); all the old people who are going to die, despite their grandchildren’s sacrifices, despite the long silence ahead of us. I don’t let him see my tears; I don’t want him to realise that I am the child in the room, and he is now the adult, that we are now all depending on his generation to save us.