What are Orchestra Choruses and Church Choirs going to do in the age of COVID-19?

Update (11 April 2022): I have heard some Orchestra Choruses (reduced size however) in the EU perform (mainly in Amsterdam) and they wore face masks and distanced and they performed beautifully. Their mask didn’t seem to mute their sound or their diction. And even though they were distanced, their perfect intonation was unchanged. A bit difficult really when you can’t hear the person standing on either side of you because of the distance. But I was very impressed that they performed as well as they did with those COVID guidelines.

Hola a todos. If you haven’t heard, singing is one of the ways that COVID-19 infection is spread, along with not wearing a facial mask and not social distancing.

How can choristers sing properly wearing a mask? Well, they can’t. How can choristers sing properly when they can’t hear each other well — due to social-distancing — to focus on the perfect blending of their voices (perfect intonation)? They can’t.

And who is to know who is infected and who is not within the Chorus when a chorister can be a-symptomatic? Although choristers don’t breathe on each other. Mi amigo/my friend told me he read that it’s difficult to become infected from an a-symptomatic person, but it does happen.

For years, Chorus Directors and Choirmasters have felt that — due to the public’s lack of interest in choral music other than the annual Messiah ritual around the holidays — that choral ensembles have been on the verge of extinction. They can die at any time. Well, I’m not saying that will happen but considering most major symphony orchestras have abandoned anything but The Big Three symphonic choral works, I can see an Orchestra’s Symphony Chorus, or regional Orchestra Choruses or Church Choirs likely having to take a respite of a couple years (at least) until COVID-19 and its mutations have run their course.

Some organisations/ensembles may try to “tough it out” and take a failed herd-immune mentality. Choristers could sing with masks, but I’m not sure how effective a mask would be in a close-quarters singing context in preventing infection. And with a mask the projection of their voices would be muted. Also, one might as well forget choral diction since what they’re singing would sound like mumble, which is how some inferior choral ensemble already sound. You can’t understand a word they’re singing. “If you can’t sound good, you can at least have good diction.”—Dr Paul Traver, Founder and Director of the superb and renowned University of Maryland Chorus.

The Chorus with the best symphonic choral season for 2019-20 that I saw was James Burton’s Tanglewood Festival Chorus (TFC), the Official Chorus of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Boston Pops. Their repertoire was not a repeat of the same old repertoire. It was quite a good season and I had wondered if that was due to James’s influence with the Boston Symphony Orchestra? But unfortunately, some of their performances were/have been cancelled with the BSO because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Maybe they will move that repertoire to a future season when the TFC can safely perform it.

Recently, I saw an orchestra in Paris trying to figure out how to do rehearsals after France started re-opening. Each musician had their own desk (music stand) instead of two musicians sharing a stand as is customary, and they were spread out 6′ apart. But it was only the winds and the brass on stage. They sounded excellent so maybe in their acoustics/hall they were able to hear each other well all spread out. But they need a stage twice as large as the original stage in the COVID-19 world. The stage was pretty full and the string section wasn’t even there. The winds and brass alone filled the stage. I guess they’ll have to remove some of the front rows of the orchestra seating to expand the stage to accommodate the string section. And no symphonic choral works will likely be performed anytime soon since there’s no room for the Orchestra Chorus. In various original Concert Halls and their acoustics (before COVID-19), some string musicians seated in the back complained that they couldn’t hear the rest of the Orchestra well. So, being all spread out can result in that problem.

We’ll see how this plays out.

On another COVID-19 related topic and not related to music: What sane and reasonable person would be rushing to eat in a restaurant that just opened after being closed for weeks as I’ve seen happening in Italia and in France? What food are you eating and how long has that food been hanging around in that closed restaurant? What’s the expiration date on it? If asked, the server or manager would say, “Oh we just got it in today (or yesterday).” And you’d believe that? Oh it might “taste fine” but if you wonder why you might have a case of food poisoning, that might be the cause. I don’t eat in restaurants anymore and haven’t for years after seeing restaurant kitchens and what goes on in the kitchens. And I certainly wouldn’t eat in a restaurant for a couple of months or so after the restaurant opened during this pandemic. Anything other than that doesn’t seem intelligent to me. And they’re talking about opening up bars with health protocols in place. People sitting or standing 6′ apart in a small enclosed bar? Wearing face masks except to drink? Or will the bar patrons be told to stand on the sidewalk in front so that the local residents can complain about the noise from the bar? And you’re only allowed in the bar to order your drink and to use the bathroom with a mask? I’m sure these protocols will go over splendidly when one is drunk. That’s why many people go to bars: to get drunk.

Oh, and I just read that the world’s insane orange thug is going to have one of his cult rallies on 19 June 2020 in Tulsa OK, the first cult rally in months. As of this writing, COVID-19 confirmed infections are soaring in Oklahoma. His cultists are among the same crowd that believes it’s all a hoax and doesn’t believe in wearing masks or social distancing. His cultists will have to sign a disclaimer that if they get sick they will not sue the campaign or the venue. Why is that? I thought it was all a hoax? Politically, I’m an independent — nonpartisan — but I thought that according to the orange thug that coronavirus was all a “Democratic Party hoax?” So why is he requiring his cultists to sign a disclaimer over something that they consider a hoax? Then about two weeks ago, his son said that COVID-19 will disappear after the election. A virus knows when a country is having an election? A virus is not political or partisan. But this one certainly has been made out to be political due to denial, proud willful-ignorance and disrespect for the medical sciences by the orange thug’s septic regime. One wonders why the orange thug go for physicals at Walter Reed Medical Centre when he has no respect for the medical sciences. Well he goes so that his enabling medical doctor (who I should think has no credibility at all at this point) at Walter Reed will say he’s in perfect health — no matter what his health problems are — and his devout cultists will believe that. Obesity is a sign of perfect health? Yeah, one is always in perfect health when one’s menu consists of nothing but junk “food.” Insanity. Chau.—el barrio rosa