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Successful Group Singing During a Pandemic

By By Jaime Babbitt

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2020 has proven to be a very trying year for singers and choral directors alike. This year, there have been many super-spreader events linked to choir rehearsals – below are some examples:

  • Very early on (December 2019/January 2020), a church in the UK was affected when a member’s partner returned from Wuhan, China with a wicked illness/cough
  • In March, an 80-person choir in Berlin had one chorister attend while infected with COVID-19, only to have over 60 people subsequently test positive
  • Also in early March, the Amsterdam Mixed Choir (in the Netherlands) had 102 out of 130 choir members catch the disease. Several people associated with the choir died
  • In March/April, The Skagit Valley Chorale in Washington State had 52 of 61 members felled by illness, with several deaths occurring as well

COVID-19 has made it virtually impossible for us to do what we love to do most of all. Well, let me amend that: COVID-19 has made it somewhat possible for us to “virtually” do what we love to do most of all. But, how, if at all, have choir rehearsals occurred? If they did, it’s been amid snags, time lags, and laughing/crying jags. To the intrepid choir directors and singers who keep trying to rehearse via Zoom or other platforms: I feel your pain. Also, I understand and appreciate the power of the mute button.

Nevertheless, we must remember: this too shall pass.

Luckily, many ingenious and intrepid choral directors, scholars, and product inventors are finding that there’s more than one way to skin a proverbial cat-that-can’t-safely-sing-indoors-in-the-presence-of-other-singing-cats. I’d like to shine a light on some of them and the ways in which they continue raising the bar, while simultaneously raising the spirit of choir members and communities alike.

Mrs. Musical Pants A passionate Slovenian choir director for grammar, middle, and high school choirs in Japan, Mrs. Musical Pants made sure her students stayed on top of their game throughout their school year. Her YouTube channel is filled with handy sight-singing and music theory videos, and she did great virtual work (like this):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6iJj-7de40E

…in addition to gorgeous (and safe) in-person work:

https://fb.watch/1NnP0OmuK5/

The University of Bristol, UK Since the UK allowed choirs to rehearse again on August 15, many are back in the live rehearsal saddle. However, they’re adhering to recommendations from scientific studies conducted in Britain. Their findings: singing itself poses no greater risk of spreading aerosols than speaking or even breathing. However, interested parties must take into account volume, proximity and duration of time spent together. Here’s the study, for all the science geeks: bit.ly/3faoQJR

In addition, studies from two universities in the U.S. show that choir members pose far less risk rehearsing indoors in person if they are masked, at least six feet apart, and together for no more than 30 minutes at one time, in one location. Many, like the Citizens of the World choir in London, adhere (somewhat) to the suggestions. This choir keeps its 14 members at least six feet apart, opens windows and doors to bring in plenty of fresh air and rehearses in two 30-minute sessions, with a break in between to air out the room.

The Singer’s Mask Developed by the Broadway Relief Project, this mask is a wonderful tool for singers. What makes it different? Firstly, your purchase helps bring money back to Broadway, which has been dark since March, and plans to be dark until at least June 2021. Secondly, it’s developed by singers, and addresses many concerns specific to singers. (Also, it’s a great choice for non-singers who want a mask that keeps fabric far away from their mouths, or for any who hold anxiety around having to wear a mask at all.) Thirdly, it’s made from three layers of fabric, so while it isn’t an N-95, it offers a recommended level of protection. I own one and I can attest to its comfort. I hope you buy one for yourself or for singers you know and love at www.broadwayreliefproject.com/singersmask

Making Music Together During Covid (Facebook Page) I came across this organization about a week ago, and they’ve completely restored my faith in humanity. Their project, the Driveway Choir, is the brainchild of Bryce Denney and Kathryn Troup Denney. There truly is nothing like it. Please take a look: https://bit.ly/thedennys

To summarize, this musical couple from Massachusetts was tired of Zoom/Skype virtual choir rehearsals so they thought outside the box — literally. They devised a way to rehearse — and ultimately perform — with speakers, mixing boards and wireless microphones given to choir members who sit in their cars and sing in church parking lots, school parking lots, and driveways!

Not only are they doing it for their own, they’re creating databases with info on equipment and funding to help other churches, choirs, and schools set up Driveway Choirs for themselves! They’ve even found a way to create a radio broadcast so that vocalists can hear themselves and their choirmates on their car radios while singing, as well as coming from the outside speaker(s)! I am over the moon about this idea, and want to salute the heck out of the Denneys. Please go to their Facebook page and show them some love: bit.ly/dennysfb

Please, directors and choristas, don’t give up. Find ways for your voices to find their ways back to the world…safely, of course. Be healthy, live long and prosper, and never stop singing!

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