Howard Goodall writes choral tribute to health workers who died of coronavirus

Tim Jonze
Photograph: Maureen McLean/REX/Shutterstock

Choirs may have been forced to stop gathering due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but the London Symphony Chorus has found a way to keep singing – while honouring the key workers who’ve lost their lives to the disease.

Their new song, Never to Forget, was recorded remotely and pays tribute to the first 122 health and care workers to have lost their lives fighting the coronavirus. Each name is sung aloud clearly in Howard Goodall’s composition, which is intended to be extended with more names until everyone who sacrificed their life has been paid tribute to. There are currently more than 300 names to be memorialised.

“It is a living memorial in music to the people who work in healthcare who have lost their lives in the fight against Covid-19,” said Goodall. “It is very important to me that each name is heard once very clearly on its own. We want to honour these names. I was trying incredibly hard to make sure that when a relative heard the name of their mother or father or grandfather or daughter that it wouldn’t be jarring in any way, that it would sound respectful to them.”

Care home nurse Rahima Bibi Sidhanee, who died of coronavirus in April. Photograph: Family Handout/PA

He added: “The dedication and sacrifice of key health and care workers has been truly humbling. A choral work, even one that could initially be compiled from singers’ own homes, seemed fitting. Unlike a stone memorial, though, this work will continue to grow and honour its fallen heroes.”

The composer took his list of names from the nursing news website Nursing Notes. One of those names was Rahima Bibi Sidhanee, a care home nurse in Sutton, London, who lost her life to Covid-19 on Easter Sunday. The 68-year-old mother of three apparently refused to retire so that she could continue caring for patients and was described by her family as someone who “gave her life to nursing”.

Her son Abu, a children’s physiotherapist for University College London Hospitals, believes the choral work is a fitting tribute. “To hear my mum’s name as part of this, it does mean a lot,” he said. “One of my worries was that after everything had finished, the people who looked after people and helped people through this might be forgotten. So knowing that these tributes are being done, we’re really grateful for that.”

One hundred singers recorded their parts individually, alongside members of the London Symphony Orchestra and Goodall himself. Jo Buchan recorded her alto part during lockdown while her husband Gavin, a fellow singer, was in hospital recovering from the virus.

“I wanted to be part of it because we both owe so much to the NHS,” she said. “And so does the country.”

The performance will be premiered online on Sunday 5 July at 10am GMT on the London Symphony Chorus’s official YouTube channel. The date marks 72 years to the day since the founding of the NHS. Plans are also afoot to perform the completed piece live when it is safe to do so.