Music & Worship Restart (COVID-19) – June 1 Update
The information in this document should be considered as a supplement to regulations and guidance provided by the federal, state, and local health authorities, Territorial Headquarters, and the applicable Divisional Headquarters. The following only applies once a worship center has complied with the guidance provided by all the above and should be considered a guideline meant to assist in the decision making process for the commencing of safe and responsible worship services. These guidelines will be updated monthly as more research is done and more information can be shared.
Is Music Making Safe?
There has been limited medical and scientific studies conducted in this area. However, one (1) documented case of viral spread through a choir received significant media attention regarding a choir in Skagit County, Washington State. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, following a 2.5-hour choir practice attended by 61 persons, including a symptomatic index patient, 32 confirmed and 20 probable secondary COVID-19 cases occurred; three patients were hospitalized, and two died. That is an 87 percent infection rate.
The University of German Armed Forces in Munich studied the risk of infection when singing in a choir. Through practical experience, they wanted to find out the extent that singers distribute viruses. They focused on two things: the spread of large droplets and the movement of small droplets, called aerosols. According to the study, singing produces an aerosol cloud larger than normal speech does and perhaps more than coughing. Research would recommend 12 feet to be a useful regulation distance in case a singer should cough in between.
On the instrumental side, orchestras in Austria and Germany have taken the lead in doing aerosol testing using artificial fog and smoke clouds. The Bamberg Symphony found the following: “Initial investigations revealed hardly any measurable breathing air movements with woodwind and brass players. Neither on the bell of a bassoon nor on the bell of a trumpet were there any turbulences in the artificial fog.”
In Vienna, probes were inserted into orchestra musicians’ noses and they blew through aerosols while playing. Photos showed that a fog cloud of breathable air remained the same whether the musicians were in a playing or resting state. Research would suggest that wind instruments do not produce a greater number of aerosols than normal speech and 6 ft is recommended between instrumentalists
Should we have congregational singing?
Given the limited research findings, it appears that singing is still the highest risk for normal transmission of the virus. General guidance currently advises that a 12 ft (12 ft directionally & 6 ft non-directionally) space be kept in between singers. There is no mask that adequately stops droplets and aerosols from spreading when someone is singing.
• At the current time, congregational singing should not be encouraged.
• Singing with a mask should not be encouraged.
Should the brass band play for worship?
The limited research findings on playing brass instruments does seem to indicate that this is a low-risk activity. Regular standards of physical distancing would need to be maintained, and special care should be taken when emptying spit valves.
• Brass playing be permitted, in compliance with physical distancing guidelines of 6 ft.
• Conductor should remain an even greater distance away and wear a mask, if possible.
• Brass players be limited to ten (10) players until more research findings are available.
• The distance between instrumentalists can be less than 6 ft provided there are barriers between musicians (plexiglass shielding).
Should the worship team participate?
The worship team usually exists to lead, assist, and encourage congregational involvement and singing. It is important to remember that congregational singing should not be encouraged. A worship team consists of two parts: the vocalists and the instrumentalists. As previously mentioned, singing is considered a high-risk activity. With that said, it is also an integral part of church liturgy.
• The congregation should not be encouraged to sing at this time.
• All vocalists should be 12 ft (12 ft directionally & 6 ft non-directionally) from each other, instrumentalists, and the congregation.
• Microphones should be specific to each individual and sanitized immediately after use.
• Only one musician per instrument (do not share a piano, keyboard, guitar during service)
• Every instrument should be sanitized immediately following use.
• Instrumentalists should be masked and 6 ft apart from each other (12 ft if singing).
• Worship teams should not exceed six (6) individuals.
Should we have brass ensemble rehearsals?
Given the low risk currently associated with brass instrument playing, it is feasible for brass ensemble rehearsals to take place, provided the musicians comply with physical distancing requirements (6 ft minimum between each musician, front, back and side) and other local guidelines.
Should we have choir rehearsals?
Given the risks associated with singing, choir rehearsals should be suspended until there is more data available.
Should we restart youth music programs?
Regardless of the age of participants, there should be no singing or choir rehearsals. It is possible to hold theory and instrumental classes, provided each student has their own materials and instrument and all physical distancing protocols are followed, and instructors are masked. However, it is recommended to not offer these youth music programs until in-person schooling has reconvened.
Should we have any concerts?
For performances, audiences should be minimized and separated by at least six feet. Outdoor spaces generally allow for this type of spacing. Other options include broadcasting live sound over local/streaming radio and drive-in concerts in which the audience stays in their vehicles.
The studies being done have produced preliminary results that indicate playing of any instruments presents about the same amount of viral spread risk as talking and breathing normally. A phased approach to return to traditional ensemble rehearsal and performance is recommended and monthly updates will be provided from USA East Music Department.
Who should I contact?
For specific music and/or worship questions, please contact:
Derek W. Lance
Territorial Music Secretary
USA Eastern Territory
Sources Consulted & Additional Resources
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Singing and Reopening Safely in the Time of the Coronavirus
German Radio Orchestra Study
CDC Report on Washington State Choir
Wind Instruments May Not Be As Contagious as We Thought
Reopening New York: Guidelines for Religious and Funeral Services
National Association of Teachers of Singing
Army Band COVID-19 Risk Mitigation for Large Groups