COVID-19 creates "grim" outlook for choirs, singing in group settings

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Even as businesses reopen and expand capacity and more Alaskan get back to work, it could be considerably longer before people sing in or listen to a choir perform.

Earlier this month, several choral music organizations held a webinar with specialists looking at the future of singing and COVID-19.

"It looks really grim," Grant Cochran, Professor of Music at UAA and conductor of the Anchorage Concert Chorus said. "Singing is a really effective way of spreading the virus if you're sick. And speaking as the conductor of a group in town, I have about 150 singers. The demographic skews on the older side. We rehearse in a fairly small space. Obviously, we're inside, and that is a breeding ground for germs and for folks getting sick."

Singing casts particles further than regular speech and choir members are typically positioned in close proximity. That and other factors increase the likelihood of transmission.

However, the risk is not merely hypothetical. The CDC says that a choir practice in Washington in early March resulted in the novel coronavirus spreading from one symptomatic person to 53 cases, including two deaths.

"It's a little scary. I mean obviously I'm concerned for certainly next year if not two years from now, whether my colleagues and I will have jobs and whether our groups will be able to get together and do what we love," Cochran said. "Until there is an effective vaccine, an effective way of testing, I'm not really sure that we can do our thing."

The outlook for singing doesn't only impact school and community groups, but it also will influence how churches hold services as restrictions are eased.

"In church services, almost all church services that I'm aware of there's always full congregational singing," David Hagen, choir director at First Presbyterian Church said. "So in that sense, your chorus is suddenly expanding to hundreds of people. So I can certainly see if we get back to regular in-person church services, perhaps not doing group singing for some time and maybe just listening to music. I could see that as a possibility."

Hagen says that even though state mandate may allow more people to gather, the choir will take a cautious approach.

"We're all kind of in a wait and see mode hoping that we can return to normal," Hagen said. "But we're trying to find ways to operate if that is not the case."

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