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THE SCOOP | Canadian Choirs Write Letter Calling For Fair Consideration To Re-Open

By Michael Vincent on June 24, 2020

The Vancouver Chamber Choir

Leaders from choral groups across Canada have released an open letter to the public regarding concerns about re-opening amid COVID-19.

They argue that since fitness centres and gyms, restaurants, bars, hair salons, air travel and schools across Canada are now being considered for opening, they too should be considered on equal footing. They cite examples of concerts restrictions being being lifted in Europe, as well as scientific studies outlining viable ways to mitigate the risk of singing and the transmission of COVID-19.

The letter mentions recent coverage from the CBC on choral singing that they state is “based on out-of-date, insufficiently researched, anecdotal and sensationalist information.”

See the full letter below.

To Whom It May Concern:

We are writing in response to the articles published by the CBC on June 16, No singing or dancing allowed even as Ontario patios, places of worship reopen, and June 20, Choirs reimagine themselves as singing proves an effective way to spread COVID-19. As a nationwide consortium of conductors and managing directors of all of the professional choirs across Canada, we represent ensembles from Prince Edward Island to British Columbia.

Canada is a nation of vibrant choral traditions consisting of not only world renowned professional choral ensembles, but also community and youth choirs, chamber vocal groups, opera choruses and church choirs. The recent articles, based on out-of-date, insufficiently researched, anecdotal and sensationalist information, are concerning for all of us. With new evidence coming out daily on how and when various essential services of the economy may begin returning to normal operations, we hope that Canada’s rich choral music sector — including both rehearsing and performing — will be treated with the same advocacy that is being accorded to fitness centres and gyms, restaurants, bars, hair salons, air travel and schools across Canada.

Recently, several European ensembles have resumed rehearsing and performing, and summer festivals, such as the Salzburg Festival in Austria, Festival Rossini de Pesaro and Festival Puccini de Torre del Lago in Italy, as well as a modified Bachfest Leipzig in Germany, have already taken place or will proceed this summer, mounting operas, choral and orchestral concerts, and more.

With new studies being published from various worldwide sources re-evaluating earlier claims on the risk of singing and the transmission of COVID-19, we feel that a new dialogue must ensue to ensure a safe, prudent return to choral singing in our communities on an equal footing with the reopening of other sectors. Singing and choral music represent not only the livelihood of so many in this country, but have a serious impact on the country’s economy, as well as on people’s social and personal mental health and well-being.

New scientific research by Dr. Christian Kähler and Dr. Rainer Hain, from the Institute of Fluid Mechanics and Aerodynamics at the Military University in Munich, has included a recent study [translated from German] on the risk of the coronavirus when singing and playing wind instruments. The study concludes that, “air is only set in motion in the immediate vicinity of the mouth when singing…the experiments showed that at a distance of around 0.5m, almost no air movement can be detected, regardless of how loud the sound was and what pitch was sung. It is therefore unlikely that the virus could spread beyond this limit via the air flow created during singing.” Their determination is that, for singers with a 2m distance between them (mouth to mouth), the spread of larger droplets and aerosols is extremely unlikely. Room size and ventilation are, of course, also important for safety, as well as the wearing of masks.

Dr. Kähler, who was asked by the German government to create a set of rules/guidelines to officially regulate the re-opening of music-making in Germany, writes, “I have advised many choirs and ensembles in the last weeks on how to make music safely….many choirs and musicians are already singing and playing again in the German-speaking countries. Our measures also protect against both droplet infection and aerosol infection. I don’t know why people are opening gyms and restaurants, but not the music business. Restaurants are much more dangerous…if you talk face to face over short distances, the risk of infection is much higher than if you sing to someone from behind.”

In the study entitled, Risk Assessment of a Coronavirus Infection in the Field of Music, from the Freiburg Institute for Musicians’ Medicine, their conclusion is that, “two metres will result in there being no increased risk of infection through droplets…there is no greater risk of being infected by singing than by speaking.” They also state that, “singing in very large enclosed spaces such as concert halls and church spaces appears to be very favourable.”

One of B.C.’s top health officials, Dr. Reka Gustafson, stated in early June on CTV News Vancouver that “the overwhelming majority of (COVID-19) transmissions occur through close, prolonged contact.”

Earlier reports included anecdotes about “super-spreader” outbreaks that occurred with choirs in Washington, Amsterdam and Berlin during the first days of the pandemic, before any lockdowns or social distancing measures were in place. Since then, further information has come forth that has linked the outbreaks to circumstances other than singing, and yet these unfortunate and isolated incidents are still being put forward as proof of how “deadly” singing is during the COVID crisis.

While we come from a consultatory place, we certainly concur with maintaining recommendations from the medical community and public health on social distancing, hand washing, proper ventilation and mask wearing. However, we ask for a more collaborative dialogue in establishing guidelines on reopening this important sector of society, as has occurred in industries with similar health concerns. To segregate one important activity that impacts so much of Canada’s culture, history, economy, tourism, education and mental health, is troublesome for all of us and has not provided a balanced, positive and safe way to move forward into the future.

Choral singing is an essential service — it is a powerful and necessary expression of our collective humanity and must go hand-in-hand with the resumption of all other essential services in our society.

Lydia Adams, Conductor and Artistic Director, Elmer Iseler Singers (Toronto)
Russell Braun, OC, International Singer, Educator University of Toronto (Toronto)
Karen Burke, Co-founder and Artistic Director, Toronto Mass Choir (Toronto)
Dr. Lisette Canton, Founder and Artistic Director, Ottawa Bach Choir (Ottawa)
Dr. Julia Davids, Artistic Director, Canadian Chamber Choir (Canada)
Andy Rice, General Manager, Canadian Chamber Choir (Canada)
Beth Peterkin, Board Chair, Canadian Chamber Choir (Canada)
Howard Dyck, CM, Artistic Director, Nota Bene Baroque Players & Singers (Kitchener-Waterloo)
Andrew McAnerney, Directeur artistique, Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal (Montréal)
Diane Leboeuf, Directrice générale, Studio de musique ancienne de Montréal (Montréal)
Musica Intima Vocal Ensemble (Vancouver)
Dr. Margot Rejskind, Artistic Director, Luminos Ensemble (Charlottetown)
Dr. Timothy Shantz, Founder and Artistic Director, Luminous Voices (Calgary)
Krisztina Szabó, Mezzo-Soprano & Voice Faculty at University of Toronto (Toronto)
Ivars Taurins, Director, Tafelmusik Chamber Choir (Toronto)
Carol Kehoe, Executive Director, Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir (Toronto)
Daniel Taylor, Founder and Artistic Director, Theatre of Early Music (Toronto)
Dr. Kari Turunen, Artistic Director, Vancouver Chamber Choir (Vancouver)
Steven Bélanger, Executive Director, Vancouver Chamber Choir (Vancouver)
Dr. Mark Vuorinen, Artistic Director, The Elora Singers (Elora); President, Choirs Ontario
Laura Adlers, Executive Director, The Elora Singers (Elora)
John Wiens, Artistic Director & Conductor, Polycoro Chamber Choir (Winnipeg)
Michael Zaugg, Managing and Artistic Director/Principal Conductor, Pro Coro Canada (Edmonton)
Graeme Climie, Business Manager, Pro Coro Canada (Edmonton)

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Michael Vincent

Michael Vincent is the Editor-in-chief Ludwig Van and CEO of Museland Media. He publishes regularly and writes occasionally. A specialist in digital media for over 15 years, he has worked as a senior editor and is a former freelance classical music critic for the Toronto Star. Michael holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Toronto.
Michael Vincent
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Follow me

Michael Vincent

Michael Vincent is the Editor-in-chief Ludwig Van and CEO of Museland Media. He publishes regularly and writes occasionally. A specialist in digital media for over 15 years, he has worked as a senior editor and is a former freelance classical music critic for the Toronto Star. Michael holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Toronto.
Michael Vincent
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