Greetings St. Mary’s Family,
I hope you are all well given the worldwide pandemic that has changed so much of our day-to-day existence. For me personally, it has been a trying time. Like many of us, I was thrust into drastically changing the way I do my job, which in my case meant massive changes to my entire course load at William Jewell College with a week’s notice this past March. Over the summer, I spent a great deal of time researching and re-thinking how music is taught, performed, and experienced in preparation for teaching this fall. Through this process, I gained some ideas that I think might work for St. Mary’s as well.
I know I speak for our St. George’s Choristers when I say that we greatly miss the community of the church, the solemnity of our worship, and the beauty of our choral and communal singing. In light of this, I do want to take a moment and publicly thank our St. George’s Scholars for their hard work learning difficult mass settings in ancient chant and solo after solo so that we could continue to have beautiful music in our services throughout the summer and into this fall.
Singing and COVID-19
Many of you may already know most of this information, but it does apply to all of us as we participate in a tradition with a history of communal singing. Early in the pandemic, a church choir from the west coast was identified as causing widespread transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that would lead to the coronavirus disease COVID-19. This put the music community on high alert and, across the country, music organizations closed their doors and canceled their seasons as a precautionary measure. We quickly realized that we would need music-specific studies that would inform us as to what are best practices to mitigate the transmission of the virus and keep our colleagues, friends, and families safe. In light of this need, several major music organizations (ACDA, NAfMe, CBDNA, etc.) banded together and funded a study through the University of Colorado. The second round of preliminary data released on August 6th with more on the way. If you’d like to explore this information, I encourage you to go here: https://www.nfhs.org/articles/unprecedented-international-coalition-led-by-performing-arts-organizations-to-commission-covid-19-study/
Basically, what we’ve found out is that the virus is transmitted through the air in tiny particles that are much more present when people are singing and playing instruments due to the speed and intensity of the air necessary for this activity. So, the accepted thought right now is that we can sing in small groups IF we wear well-fitting masks, stay socially distanced (6ft minimum depending on the location), rehearse outside or in a very well-ventilated area, and keep the singing to 30 (preferably fewer) minutes. However, this still increases risk, particularly for those who are immunocompromised or are in other high-risk categories as you’ve undoubtedly seen all over the news and social media. Therefore service the way we used to know it (at least musically) will not be able to happen until we have access to quick and accurate testing or a readily available vaccine.
What does this mean for music at St. Mary’s?
Fr. Charles and I are exploring every option to allow for some singing to occur during our services. We have reached out to local experts and colleagues from churches around the country to get a feel for what is and isn’t working with regards to pandemic-influenced music making. However, we will not make an irresponsible decision that would intentionally endanger anyone. So, there may be some beautiful harmony coming our way at some point this fall, but it won’t be until we have vetted the ideas and made sure we are mitigating as much risk of transmission as possible.
In the meantime, the St. George’s Scholars are attempting an experiment this week and they will be recording our first virtual anthem. I have already met with several of the singers to get started on the project and I think it will be lovely. Many of the St. George’s Choristers have said they would like to participate in future projects once we’ve mastered how to do this! If all works out, we will use this unconventional medium as an opportunity for the St. Mary’s music program to reach people through our YouTube channel and other social media platforms, and perhaps help us grow interest in our services both streaming and in person. So, keep an eye out! We will hopefully have our first offering done by this coming weekend (September 20 or so).
Thank you for your constant support of the music program at St. Mary’s. I love being part of this community and I look forward to the day that we can sing together again.
Dr. Anthony J. Maglione
Director of Music and Choirmaster
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Fr. Charles Everson's love for music and liturgy led him to a suburban parish as a simple chorister, and as of late, to St. Mary's as a priest. He feels called to share the love of Jesus Christ with a broken world in desperate need of hope and reconciliation.