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Adapting to the 'new normal' with COVID-19

Mon Jul 20 2020

Message from the President - Dr. Debra Shearer-Dirié

It was great to read what choirs around the country have been doing during the pandemic in Sing Out. It is even better to see that the choral community across Australia cannot be beaten by this pandemic which is forcing us to rethink much of our everyday way of life. The activity of singing can be experienced in many different ways and the sense of singing communities has not been weakened just because we cannot be in the same room as each other. It is fabulous to see such innovation coming out of musicians and artists at this time and look forward to seeing how this influences our performance outcomes over the next 12 months. Thank you to those groups who have sent in videos of their activities to the National office. These will be featured soon.

Up until a few weeks ago our active case numbers within Australia were looking very good and a flicker of hope appeared to perhaps return to face to face singing. I feel for the Victorian choirs with an increase in their active cases and hope that you are all staying healthy and wearing face masks.
In the States where there are no, or very few active cases, I feel there is a shift in thinking as we all contemplate returning to our rehearsal rooms. If there are relatively few active and new cases of COVID-19 in the community, then the actual risk of contracting the virus is low. However, this needs to be monitored on a daily basis because as we have seen, a second wave can spread quickly. 
Now, more than ever, we need to assess how much risk we are willing to take and continue to assess that risk on a day to day basis. By now, singing organizations will have had to create their own COVID-19 policy and plan and have discussed this with their members. Each organization needs to decide and manage their own level of risk for their own singers, conductor and accompanist. 
ANCA encourages all choirs to regularly revisit the advice offered by their State Governments and health experts and follow the State and Territory guidelines issued by these departments.

Debra Shearer-Dirié
ANCA President 

Mon Jun 22 2020 

We have made it through to the middle of June, nearly four months since many choirs in Australia had to stop meeting together in rehearsals because of the initial scare of the COVID-19 pandemic. I am sure there are many conductors and leaders of our choral organizations that feel very proud and creative as to how they have engaged with their members and kept the singing alive through this time. Unfortunately, however, we are not out of the woods yet with this pandemic. We don’t know if there is going to be another spike inactive cases, particularly with the gathering together of the protests in several cities and regional towns. We don’t know how the winter months are going to unfold and mix with the pandemic. And finally, but most importantly, there are still many things medical experts don’t know about this virus, particularly when it comes to the activity of singing. We are being guided by the Governments in each State as each State travels along their journey at different rates.

In conjunction with other associations, we recognise: 

  • The only definitive authority is State & Territory Health departments. 
  • There are significant differences in transmission and infection rates, levels of restrictions and easing of restrictions between the States and Territories. 
  • It appears that there are differences in transmission and infection rates between people of different ages.
  • The aerosols and droplets that are projected into the air while singing are dispersed further than when talking and these tiny particles can stay suspended in the air depending on the ventilation system in place. 

These are only a few suggested statements that have been presented by epidemiologists and health experts, but there is still much that is unknown about the COVID-19 virus, and for this reason, ANCA cannot say when choirs in Australia can or should return to face to face rehearsals. We are still assessing the situation on a day to day basis and need to adjust our short and long term outlooks on how we sing with each other whilst ensuring that whatever decisions are made, that the health and safety of our singers, conductors, accompanists is at the centre, minimizing the risk of community transmission. We cannot stress strongly enough the need to reintroduce singing together, whenever this happens in each State, in a cautious and methodical manner.

This may mean that only small groups of the choir can start rehearsing back together in each session. It also may mean that:

  • The rehearsal sessions need to be shorter,
  • The singers need to be more than the suggested social distance from each other (1.5 metres is not enough space between each person when singing),
  • There needs to be increased ventilation in the space,
  • You need to ensure every person signs-in when entering the rehearsal space (to ensure contact tracing if needed),
  • All surfaces are cleaned after each rehearsal,
  • Singers should stay home if they have any signs (even the most minute) of feeling unwell.

Every singing group in the country will have to assess their own situation as there are many variables that are at play here – age of singers, rehearsal space, high risk vulnerable people in the group. We are coming into the winter months when there generally tends to be more colds and flus. 

ANCA encourage all choirs to

  • Revisit the advice offered by their State Governments and health experts,
  • Create a COVID-safe policy, for the purposes of documentation
  • Encourage their singers to undertake individual and personal approaches to risk assessment and management
  • Make sure the safety of singers, the conductor, and the accompanist are being taking into consideration
  • Re-assess the situation on a daily basis depending on their State/region’s situation.

Each ANCA State Chapter is organizing webinar and/or discussion opportunities which allow choirs in each State to talk with other choir conductors and singers. I urge you to become a part of these discussions as you find a path back to singing with your group. 

On a much more positive note, we would like you to send in videos or recordings of what your choir has been up to over the last 4 months. We are sure there will be some absolutely magical musical moments that we would like to share with our ANCA community. More information below.

Over the next few months we look forward to hearing from choirs who are returning to singing together and hope that the music making experience will lift your spirits to great heights. 

Debra Shearer-Dirié
ANCA President 

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