Choirs urged to be cautious over COVID-19

The group that advises the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference on liturgical music has urged parishes and dioceses to review local health and government advice when deciding on the return of choirs.

The experience of choirs overseas suggests that COVID-19 can be spread easily within choirs, with large outbreaks in Europe and the United States traced back to choir members. In some instances, as many as 90 per cent of choir members were infected after practices or performances.

Experts explain that aerosols – tiny clumps of liquid or solid particles people create when they breathe, talk or cough – transmit COVID-19 from an infected person to others. When people sing, the associated deep breathing and the projection of one’s voice amplify the amount of aerosols created.

After a number of enquiries were received in Australia, the National Liturgical Music Council was asked to provide advice to bishops and dioceses on the resumption of choirs. That advice was sent to bishops on July 28.

“The resumption of choral ministries within liturgical celebrations in your region, diocese or parish will depend on the level of response required to comply with official government advice currently operative in your location,” the advice stated.

“Recent studies have indicated that the virus can be spread easily among groups singing in close proximity during rehearsals, concerts or liturgies.

“Before recommencing choral ministries in your region, diocese or parish, official government advice regarding what it considered safe behaviour in your locale must be considered carefully and complied with fully.”

The Council went on to say that while adherence with local government advice might see the ongoing suspension of choral music in liturgical settings, that need not mean a cessation of liturgical music.

“All liturgies should continue to include music as a normal element of celebrations, and musical leadership should be provided in the form of (at minimum) a trained cantor and accompanist to support the song of the assembly,” the Council suggested.

Paul Taylor, director of the Bishops Conference’s National Liturgy Office, said where congregational singing has resumed, the current social distancing requirements for public worship help limit the spread of COVID-19 through aerosol transmission.