Originally Published May 11, 2021
Revised November 29, 2021
Communal singing is one of the great joys of congregational life and an experience that’s nearly impossible to replicate online. We know that congregants are eager to be able to sing together and to enjoy the singing of their choir and soloists, but we need to exercise caution.
December 2021 Message
Congregational leaders are eager to provide special opportunities for their members to connect and celebrate together throughout the holiday season. Singing is an integral part of worship all year round – but even more so during the holidays.
Unfortunately, this seems to be as complicated a time as ever with respect to the pandemic. As of this writing, infection rates are stubbornly high in many parts of the country and news of the Omicron variant has just made headlines. It has become increasingly difficult for us to offer specific guidance. However, this is a good time to reinforce the following:
- December 9 addition: With the recent increase in accessibility of, and emphasis on, rapid tests, consider implementing a rapid testing protocol, testing within the hour before gathering, for activities involving singers and speakers.
- Singing is higher risk than speaking due to greater aerosol spread. That means rules and policies about masks, distancing, and ventilation need to be stricter for singing than for other activities.
- Members and friends, as well as staff and key volunteers, have different risk profiles and comfort levels. Whenever possible, offer options to accommodate this range of needs and circumstances, e.g., multi-platform worship, the ability to work from home.
- Keep in mind our Key Planning Principles:
- Root decisions in the values of inclusion and consent. In particular, your staff and others significantly impacted should be involved in your decision-making processes. Get consent from staff and volunteers regarding their responsibilities, especially if something new or different is being asked of them during the holiday season.
- Follow the science. Pay attention to the latest CDC information and your local public health regulations. (We recognize that information may be in flux for some time.)
- Go slow and be flexible. Do the best you can to plan while being prepared to pivot. Strive to provide options that accommodate different levels of risk and comfort.
- Be humane and realistic in your expectations of yourself and others. The holidays can be a particularly stressful time. Remember self-care and compassion for others. Perfection is not the goal and you don't need to do it all.
As you consider your plans for worship and singing in December and beyond, we are grateful for your commitment to safety as well as to joyful, meaningful human connection.
We, too, are striving to plan while staying flexible and being ready to pivot. We expect to revisit the guidance on this page after the holidays, but will update it sooner if advisable.
Fall 2021 Singing Guidance (Delta Variant)
Based on August 2021 recommendations from national experts
For our most recent general guidance on gathering in person, see Updated Gathering Guidance (Delta and Emerging Variants).
As we grapple with the Delta surge, we have once again turned to our public health advisors. Their collective wisdom about singing, in particular, boils down to two points:
- No indoor singing at this time.
- For outdoor singing (where outdoor gatherings have been deemed safe), all singers should wear well-fitted masks and stay at least 10 to 12 feet apart (due both to the greater transmissibility of Delta and to the high level of aerosol spread inherent in singing)
We know this is hard. You might be asking, "But what about...?" It is impossible to provide simple, useful, universal guidance. Nearly all of our advisors made clear that any form of singing inside a building is problematic and ill-advised for now, especially as the science around delta transmission is still emerging.
Sadly, from a COVID-19 transmission standpoint, singing is markedly riskier than talking and most other interactions. Whatever degree of distancing you might consider acceptable for other purposes, you should increase it significantly if singing is involved. Special attention should be given to the quality and fit of masks. If you've set time limits for gatherings, you might shorten them when there's singing. For indoor singing, when the time comes, good ventilation will be important.
We will update this guidance when appropriate.
Especially with ensemble singing in mind, the Association for UU Music Ministries (AUUMM) offers this guidance.
What Kinds of Singing Are Possible?
While regular choir rehearsals and congregational singing (as we were accustomed) will have to wait, it may be possible, with a little creativity, for singing to be part of your congregation’s offerings when local conditions allow you to gather outdoors. What about a masked and distanced sing-along, accompanied by guitar or electric keyboard? Or a hymn-sing (again, masked and distanced) with the congregation's sound system?
Resources on Congregational Singing During COVID-19
The UUA's Guidance on Gathering page includes sample policies that address various kinds of congregational activities.
These singing-specific resources are from the spring of 2021. The Delta variant has likely changed some of the calculus, but you might still find these resources interesting and useful as we await newer articles from professionals in the field.
Measurements and Simulations of Aerosol Released while Singing and Playing Wind Instruments is a scientific peer-reviewed journal article about aerosols and COVID-19 risk in music performance. The results of this study ground our recommendations.
- The International Coalition Performing Arts Aerosol Study recommendations (PDF) updated March 2021 provide guidance for safety.
- Slideshow: Reopening, Unmasking, and Face-to-Face Teaching (PDF) by the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS).