During the coronavirus pandemic, most churches have adjusted their service options to online meetings or adopted responsible social distancing guidelines. These safety procedures are especially important for choirs, as singing increases the number of droplets that are expelled from the mouth and nose and may project them farther than simply breathing or talking. Many congregations are not willing to forego music altogether, though. Fortunately, there are actions that choirs can take to still incorporate singing into the worship experience without putting anyone at unnecessary risk.
In-Person Rehearsal Guidelines
The American Choral Directors Association has issued instructional models for various types of choirs that allow them to continue making music while ensuring that safety of all choir members and anyone with whom they come in contact remains a priority. The first order of business is finding a place where rehearsals take place, as most choir lofts do not allow for proper social distancing. If the choir is larger than ten people, it may not be possible to find a room large enough to fit everyone, so rehearsals should be divided by section. One alternative is to meet outside, where ventilation is better and thus the virus is less likely to spread. In order for in-person rehearsals to be safe, everyone present must be masked at all times, and since masks lose their effectiveness as they get wet, each person should bring extra masks to swap out when that happens.
The logistics of trying to get the whole choir involved at the same time may be problematic. Many members are likely in at-risk categories and may not feel comfortable being present. Smaller churches simply may not have the space to accommodate safety guidelines. Consider having smaller ensembles perform the selections that the choir would typically present. Instead of trying to fit 25–30 people in a room, a small group of three or four people can still cover all the parts and get a good recording for the online service. A smaller group still must wear masks and stay at least six feet apart, but they can at least be in the same room to record. All equipment used must be thoroughly sterilized once rehearsal is over.
Remote Rehearsal Options
When safety dictates that your regular rehearsals be so strictly limited, it is easy to become frustrated and tempting to delay meeting until everything can get back to normal again. Choir members still need to remain connected to each other, and there are other options for rehearsals that can happen online. While you may not be singing together, you can still meet weekly during your rehearsal time via Zoom or some other video-conferencing platform. You can provide digital copies of sheet music for members and play recordings of the songs to help them learn. Consider sending accompaniment tracks to each member and having them make a video recording of their part. With a little ingenuity and the services of someone who knows how to splice the videos together, you can have a virtual performance that closely resembles what the choir is used to presenting to the church.
Not everyone is technologically savvy, and many of your choir members may not currently have the capabilities to engage in remote rehearsals. The director, in cooperation with the church finance committee or budget officers, should work to make sure every member has the tools he or she needs to participate. It is also appropriate to ask for volunteers from the church to assist those who are not familiar with online tools via phone. If some members do not have a high-speed internet service, you can find options to ensure that they are still able to participate.
The current pandemic has put several obstacles in the way of how churches regularly do things, and few groups are as drastically affected as the choir. With a little creativity, however, your choir can still play a meaningful role in worship.