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Choir in the Age of Covid

To Choir or Not to Choir…that is the question. It’s not all that many weeks till choir season resumes. If the covid epidemic hasn’t passed by then…well…???? Then what?

Our church has been closed for weeks, and with it the wonderful, exceptional music program. This is a huge loss to our community…not just the religious types, but parents who avail themselves of the outstanding youth music training programs, open to all kids in our city, not just those of our co-religionists. And indeed, before I became a co-religionist, occasionally I would attend a Sunday service just to listen to the music: a typical Sunday morning service amounted to a free chamber music program. Still does, come to think of it.

For me, the prospect of an extended closure for the program, even if religious services resume, is difficult to contemplate. Choir is my main source of social interaction. As a hermit, I don’t really need human interaction to chug along happily enough. But…I’ve come to like it. I’ve gotten used to it. And I’m already missing it.

Meanwhile, I remain hunkered down at the Funny Farm, avoiding human contact as much as possible. This is not much of a problem for me, because I’m a solitary being that, weirdly (from what one can tell), enjoys solitude. I’m not going out until a vaccine is developed — and that’s likely to be a couple of years, pace our moronic excuse for a President.

Even if the present wave of infection subsides, in the absence of a vaccine the disease will certainly resurge, very likely with a vengeance. And a likely source of vengeful resurgence is a choir. Obviously, any interaction in public places will put you at risk. But choir groups, in particular, are high-risk environments during a contagion. This is because when you are singing and projecting and socializing and sharing snacks and generally carrying on in a group, you are also sharing your microbes.

In Washington state, one person suffering an active case of covid-19  (yes, that’s 1 person) attended a choir practice. Within two days, six other choir members came down with it. A total of 53 members ultimately developed the disease, and two died from it.

Welp, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve picked up colds and the flu from fellow choir members. Choir practice requires close contact with your fellow singers, and often people show up whether they’re sick or not. This habit, it appears, is a part of American culture: gotta keep on going no matter what.

The state of Arizona is busily “re-opening” — prematurely, in the view of many experts. This will mean a lot more of the virus will be circulating than we had during our half-baked “quarantine,” when plenty of disease has been on the float. One of the risk factors that ups your chances of severe disease and death is simply having survived to age 65 and beyond. I am 75. And though I have no (zero, none) underlying conditions, just the fact that I’ve managed to cling to life this long puts me in the high-risk category.

Well, wait: we do have one underlying issue: I am exceptionally, irrationally susceptible to respiratory infections. If there’s a bug on the float, it’s not a question of whether I will catch it but when I will catch it. One doctor I had, noticing this predilection, ran a series of tests — just out of curiosity. And what did he come up with? Turns out there’s a small factor in my immune system that is essentially missing, so weak is it. And that, he hypothesized, explains why I pick up every bug that comes down the pike.

It is, as a matter of fact, surprising that I haven’t caught the covid thing yet. That probably is because a) I don’t live in a nursing home or life-care community; b) I rarely socialize; c) my son has been trying the best he can to keep me supplied so as to persuade me not to leave the house; and d) Arizona’s covid figures are relatively modest compared to other parts of the country.

Returning to choir in the fall, before a vaccine comes available, will almost guarantee that I catch it. And since there’s no such thing as “just the flu” for me — the flu is a serious thing when I catch it — that means I would be most foolhardy to go back to singing until such time as I can get a shot for covid.

I dunno. Maybe I’d druther be dead than linger on indefinitely without human company.


2 thoughts on “Choir in the Age of Covid”

  1. Hah, as a (lowly) paid church musician, I had to cackle when I read “free chamber music concert.” Perhaps the beauty and setting of the music might persuade one to drop a farthing or two into the plate? If only to keep the organist stocked with off-brand Ibuprophen for his rheumatizz?

    Here in the PR of Canada, at least near my hut, the guidance now is to allow worship again, in well-distanced and small numbers, but ABSOLUTELY NO SINGING. The daily new cases of COVID are now down to single digits in my city, so the fall is looking good for resumption of normal rehearsals and such. Can’t wait.

    • 😀 Yeah, well, “free” is a matter of perspective: five bucks in the plate is a far cry from $30, $40, or more per seat at a concert. If you buy season tickets to the chamber music society here, you’d pay $42 for each of the seven concerts. And believe me, down at our Cult HQ we are truly privileged to enjoy professional level performances not only from our paid staff but also from our chamber choir (about a third of the choir is made up of professional-level singers).

      Pay probably depends on the denomination. When I looked in to applying for an administrative job with the Episcopals, it appeared that overall, salaries are on the low end (possible understatement?), BUT the benefits are very good. Excellent health care benefits. Excellent retirement benefits. Also, high rates of job satisfaction among the clergy and staff.

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