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Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Socially Distanced Elementary Choir

After 18 months of no in-person chorus, this school year I have my choirs back! And while that's super exciting, it also presents many challenges- in my district, we are currently required to maintain 6 feet distance between singers with masks on. I had so many concerns about how this would work going into it, but now that we are a few weeks into the school year I am feeling much better about it- here are my top tips for making it work when your elementary chorus is socially distanced.

1. Choosing Songs

As much as I want to dive back into the 4-part a capella singing we were doing pre-pandemic, we're not there yet (and that's OK). Besides not having the background from missing over a year of choir, students are also not used to singing that much in a mask- and that's tiring. And because they are so spread out, it's harder for them to hear the other singers on their part. So I think going with simple part singing, or even unison pieces, is the way to go.

Along with an uncomplicated arrangement, I'm looking for songs where the vocal parts are easy to sing- lyrical lines in a limited range that's comfortable for everyone. Because they aren't taking as deep of breaths through their masks, they don't have as much breath support to sing vocally challenging parts. The songs should feel comfortable and good to sing!

The other most important consideration for me is to choose songs that are engaging and fun. One of the biggest difficulties with socially distanced choir is that students won't sing out as much because they can't hear the other singers' voices around them as much. They're more likely to get to a place where they're not too self-conscious to sing out confidently if it's a song in which they are invested and enjoy singing.

2. Seating

I have chairs in 6-feet-apart rows, all facing straight forward, with the rows staggered so nobody has another person right in front of them. I also made sure to put all the students from the same class / cohort together. As much as I would normally prefer to split them up by vocal range, right now minimizing spread has to take priority! Obviously this means I have assigned seating, in which I am a firm believer whether I'm dealing with pandemics or not. 

3. Regular Singing Breaks

To keep energy up while they're singing in a mask, I build regular breaks for the students into the rehearsal. Sometimes that's me talking to them, sometimes it's listening to a recording or me demonstrating something, sometimes it's a random team-building game etc, but I've found that even with the relatively short 30 minute rehearsals I have, the students need time to build up to singing that whole time. Building in some breaks in singing helps keep them from wearing out.

4. Turn Up the Volume

One of the biggest hurdles with socially distanced / masked singing is kids not being able to hear the others around them. My way of combatting that is to turn up my personal amplification microphone and sing along with them, and use recordings that have the singing and accompaniment for them to sing along with. So far I think this has been the most important change that has helped my singers sing more confidently!

I hope this helps any other music teachers teaching choir (or singing in general music) with these protocols in place. It's definitely not ideal but I try to keep reminding myself how grateful I am to have chorus happening in-person at all! If you have other tips that have worked for you, please leave them in the comments. I'd love to hear them!

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