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Ensemble Rehearsals and Performances After Lockdown

22nd May 2020

Coronavirus (COVID-19) raises specific concerns for orchestras and choirs who rehearse together in close proximity, with many questions being asked about what’s safe going forward. Last weekend The Guardian published an article on the issue outlining cases of Coronavirus spreading through choirs and highlighting the varied responses to the issue in the scientific community. At Music Mark we are aware of and assessing existing guidance and advice. We have commissioned our colleague, Music Education consultant Gary Griffiths, to lead on creating an advisory document for our membership. We’re researching the empirical scientific guidance on how best to manage singing, wind and brass teaching going forward (including consulting with scientists directly).

The advice for the general population is to maintain 2-metres of social distancing when meeting those outside of your household, but  would this measure be enough to protect musicians rehearsing together? Much of what we have found is currently based on anxious speculation or older guidance. This virus is new and not enough research has been done into the specific spread of COVID-19. That said, we understand this is a timely issue for many of our members and so wanted to share with you some of the best advice and guidance we’ve found so far.

University of Freiburg, Report on the Spread of Coronavirus (updated version 19th May IN GERMAN).  A translation of this document published by the University of Freiburg originally in German has been generously provided by one of our Music Service members. The scope of the report covers singers and all wind musicians typically found in an orchestra. The study included both qualitative investigation into flow visualisation and quantitative measurements of air velocity at different intervals. The initial conclusion found that no difference in airflow was detectable for wind players or singers at a 2-metre distance, as compared to normal.

You can read an English translation of an earlier version here.

Chorus America and a number of American associations from the sector recently held a webinar called ‘What Do Science and Data Say About the Near Term Future of Singing’, which is available to view online here. It included substantial contributions from Dr Donald Milton, Professor at the School of Public Health (Institute for Applied Environmental Health, Maryland) and Dr Lucinda Halstead, Laryngologist at the Medical University of South Carolina and President Elect of the Performing Arts Medica Association. There is another webinar called Singing: What We Can Do on 26th May at 10pm BST.

Most likely is that for some time to come, choirs and ensembles of all kinds will be rehearsing one to a stand with large gaps (at least 2m and possibly up to 5m) between members.  Some groups however, such as the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, have warned that this is impossible and not conducive to high-quality music-making.

Hygiene will undoubtedly be of the utmost importance and the guidance from the National Federation of State High School Association (available here) is a helpful reminder of how to effectively clean instruments to get rid of the majority of bacteria and viruses.  It clarifies differences between sterilisation and disinfection and provides clear guidance for how to thoroughly clean different instrument groups and their parts.

Please do get in touch with us with your thoughts and concerns. We look forward to publishing our detailed report in the near future.