What COVID-19 Means for Singing in Church

We are a singing church. We express our faith through song. For months now, many of us have been unable to attend services because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We miss hearing our hymns and singing them—praying them—together. We yearn to enter our churches once again and lift our voices in song. But singing together may not be possible for some time—even after our church reopens.

While research is rapidly changing what we know about COVID-19, mounting evidence strongly suggests that singing significantly increases the transmission of the disease. Scientists and medical professionals classify singing as a high-risk activity due to the manner in which singing encourages aerosol spread. Aerosol particles are light enough to remain suspended in the air for hours at a time, and can travel anywhere from three to twenty-seven feet from the “emitter.” When those aerosol particles carry COVID-19, they pose a serious risk for anyone unlucky enough to breathe them in. Singers are therefore considered “super-spreaders.” And exactly how far each person emits is unpredictable.

Recently, the choral community was rocked by a webinar co-hosted by the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) and the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) entitled, “What Science and Data Say about the Near-term Future of Singing. The medical experts laid out some difficult facts, concluding that there is no safe way for choirs and congregations to sing together until a vaccine is widely available or a 95% effective treatment is in place. (Of course, this statement could change at any given moment.) Masks do not sufficiently contain the aerosol spread caused by singing (although a specially designed “singers mask” is in the prototype stage and hopefully will be available soon). In addition, the customary 6-ft social distancing recommendation does not protect singers from the virus, due to the varying aerosol clouds emitted by singers. As such, these experts recommended that all in-person group and congregational singing activities be postponed through the fall and perhaps longer.

What does this mean for the congregation in the pew? A group of STL Presbyterian music directors (WGPC, Ladue Chapel, Kirkwood Presbyterian and 2nd Presbyterian) recently met to discuss these topics and how they affect each age group and each choir we direct. The discussion also included the effects of congregational singing. We were unanimous in our decision that choir singing will look different in the upcoming months. Singing choirs will not be standing shoulder to shoulder for some time, however, there will be accommodations to allow those that feel safe to sing in a small group). We also agreed that for now, we ask our congregations to “meditate” on the texts of the hymn as they are led by a soloist or small group of singers adequately distanced from the front. You may hum if you like but for the safety of all, we ask that you refrain from singing.

It is a sad time for our profession; however, we will sing again. For now, we march forward and continue to make music in the best way that we can. It is all for the glory of God, and we know that even in our silence God can still be praised!

Shawn Portell, Director of Music/Organist

We seek to live Christ's love, welcome all people and joyfully serve God.