Choir singer outdoors © Studi43

Fall is here – Get creative about rehearsing safely

Ideas for safe choir rehearsals in fall and winter

World of Voices

As teams around the globe work toward a vaccine, singers and conductors are grappling with how to resume their singing in this "new normality" and now that “Zoom fatigue” is a real thing.

With so many activities shut down, considering whether to resume singing or not might sound trivial in comparison, but millions of lives hang on this as an essential source of emotional and mental wellbeing. After all, singing together is not only integral to all sorts of cultural traditions, religious and otherwise, but it is also a fundamental way of bonding, communicating, and expressing emotion. No wonder that the isolation following the pandemic has left many choir members feeling blue and depressed.

As a result, singers and conductors have come up with unique ideas about how to go on rehearsing. Here are a few ideas reported so far.

Getting creative with the venues – Experts’s recommendations are for venues that are large in volume to accommodate spacing (at least two meters in all directions, both for performers and conductors) and, if indoor, with proper ventilation. The go-to option for many choirs has been to rehearse in parks, as you can see here. However, other choirs have added some variety by singing in the garden (see here), on a terrace in Italy, in a field in Germany (see here), on a beach (see here), in parking garages in Norway (see here), in a stadium (see here) and quite surprisingly in a car, drive-in choirs (see here).

Getting creative with protective gear – Wearing a mask is highly recommended for rehearsing, both singing indoor (see here) and outdoor (see here). But everyone knows masks are not very comfortable, and especially so while singing. New masks are therefore being developed to make singing easier, like the Singer’s Mask, sold by the Broadway Relief Project, which protrudes from the face. Additionally, Kym Scott, director of choral activities and assistant professor at West Virginia University choir School of Music has invented a performer’s mask that allows choir members to sing without the muffling effects of a standard face mask (see here). And this is not all! The Chœur de l'Opéra du Rhin has rehearsed between Plexiglass partitions (see here). As for face shields, many scientists and researchers stress the fact that face shields cannot replace face masks. While they will protect against bigger droplets, they do not hold back aerosols.

Getting creative with singing time and arrangements – Many choirs are planning small group singing (like two singers for each voice) for 20 to 30 minutes. “Some choirs in the United States were getting around the suggested time limit by swapping rooms after 30 minutes”, said Allen Henderson, the executive director of the National Association of Teachers of Singing. Another alternative is to have rehearsals in two half-hour sessions with a break to air the room.

Getting creative with repertoire - A BBC article in August reported about a study released by the University of Bristol and backed by Public Health England and the government Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, which claimed that singing was no riskier than talking since “it does not produce more respiratory particles than speaking at a similar volume”. The scientist co-leading the project, Jonathan Reid, said “it is not about the vocalization, it is about the volume. Just by singing a little bit more softly, you really reduce the risk.” So, here’s another push to experiment with your repertoire while keeping the risk down.

So, what was it like to sing again?

 “It was such a delight being able to sing together again. You can release whatever’s inside, and it feels so good”, said Aref Hussaini of the Citizens of the World Choir.

“I remember it so well... we were so happy and thankful for being together and were eager to start singing, but at the very first note we started to cry...! It was so emotional,” said Sabrina de Luca of Animae Voces choir in Italy.  

“The opportunity the pandemic has created for me is to step away from traditional music making models and say, have I always wanted to sing in a sculpture park? Or have I always wanted to be a soundscape for another experience? What about a traveling concert? This has provided an opportunity to be really out of the box”, said Danielle Cozart Steele, a Cincinnati choral director.

And if you would like to feed yourself some more choral inspiration, join this great project launched by Funky Voices which aims to bring the choir community alive by bringing together hundreds of singers on October 1 singing "You're The Voice" LIVE on Facebook. Sign up by clicking here.

Remember: Choral music has survived everything that the world has thrown at it, and will survive this as well. Stay positive! This too shall pass!