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Reply to "Re-opening (?) Sunday School During the Pandemic: Options, Ideas, Recommendations, Resources"

Experts advise us not to sing as usual
when we get back together

Tip: View creative ideas for safely "singing with kids in the time of COVID

In brief:
Experts in both the mechanics of singing and science of epidemiology (infection) backed by a large body of research are warning that the "forceful mechanics" of singing turns those infected into "super-spreaders" -- projecting virus-containing droplets in larger quantities over greater distances in confined spaces such as sanctuaries and classrooms that normal social distancing practices and common masks are largely ineffective against. Their findings are being taken seriously by performing arts organizations, choral leaders, and a growing number of worship experts across the country, as should those of us who sing with children and adults. See the articles below for more info.

Simply put, when we get back together,
among other things we should NOT be singing as usual.

This is no joke or over-reaction. Ask the members of Living Spirit United Church or Mt Vernon Presbyterian choir practice. They practiced hand-washing and safe distancing at their gatherings, but nearly half got sick and in both churches, two people died. There are other examples where infection rates soared after singing together. These are facts.

The initial "worship guidelines" from major denominations were not overly cautious about singing together in worship, but updates are now warning churches to change their practices. Check your denomination's COVID resources. Christian news outlets such as Christianity Today and the Religious News Service have also published warnings.

“Based on the science that we are learning about this week, we are urging and I am personally urging extreme caution,” said Rev. John Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“Singing together in congregations is a practice that we dearly love and are eager to promote, but loving our neighbor is job one here and so a time for fasting from this wonderful practice may be longer than any of us would like.” (RNS)

Here are two more additional articles about it. Be sure to read the suggestions at the end of this post and feel free to share your own in light of these important facts.

1) Singing, the Church, and COVID-19: A Caution for Moving Forward in Our Current Pandemic, written by Heather R. Nelson, Ph.D with numerous scientific citations and explanations about the "aerosol" effect of singing, concludes:

"For now, it is not safe to sing together." 

Dr. Nelson is church music director who also happens to be a vocologist and a voice teacher with a PhD in Vocal Pedagogy and Voice Science. 

What about masks? The cloth variety everyone is wearing are no more than 20-40% effective, and many homemade masks much less so. Even the "N95" masks used by first-responders are only 95% effective (that's what the "95" means).

2)  An expert panel assembled by the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), Chorus America, the Barbershop Harmony Society, and the Performing Arts Medical Association (PAMA) laid out a sobering vision for the future of public singing in America, concluding that "there is no safe way for choirs to rehearse together until there is a vaccine or 95% effective treatment in place."  (This quote comes from Dr. Lucinda Halstead, president of the Performing Arts Medical Association, and the medical director of the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of South Carolina.) 

"Singers are super-spreaders."

Singing emits about the same amount of particles as a cough, but unlike a cough, singing is constant and multiplied by the number of singers. 

This information needs to be shared with worship leaders and even solo singers -- who should all be wearing masks in gathering and enclosed spaces. In this season of COVID, angels speak and sing with muffled voices.

View more COVID & Singing related resources from that seminar.
Read the Washington Post's May 2020 article on the subject.

Posting this article hurts. I LOVE to sing. I love congregational singing and singing with kids. But I also try not to be stupid.

Dr. Nelson concludes with this note of hope that speaks to me as someone who sees problems as opportunities to learn something new:

I think it could actually be an amazingly instructional time for us as churches to dive more deeply into what worship means besides singing in our public gatherings. We can worship with preaching, testimony, prayer, contemplation…all things that are true worship that just happen to not be set to music.

I think it can also be a wonderful opportunity to take music out of the church building and put it back into homes. As a worship leader and a music educator, I have long wanted to empower people to use music in their home lives, making music on their own for worship and entertainment. Too long we’ve left the music to the professionals, and this could be a wonderful opportunity for the church to sing everywhere.

Children's ministry folks also know that not all joyful noises require an open mouth! "Singing" can be done using instruments, rhythm, body movement, and hand motions. Perhaps this is something adult worship leaders could take a page from.

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Last edited by Neil MacQueen

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