Choir Changes Due to COVID-19

WOU Concert Choir performs in McArthur Field stadium. Approximately 20 students are spread out along the red bleachers, wearing masks and face shields.

COVID-19 has, unfortunately, affected the way many of us go about our daily lives. From the switch to online distance learning to the avoidance of social gatherings, the pandemic has changed the world. However, one thing the pandemic has been unable to change is the indomitable spirit of WOU. WOU faculty, staff, and students are finding new ways to stay connected, to stay active, and to stay learning.

While a lot of courses have experienced a fairly smooth transition to online learning, some courses found it incredibly difficult to meet remotely, and have thus adapted the course to allow for in-person meetings. WOU choirs have done just this. The choirs, both the Concert Choir and the Chamber Singers, are now able to meet in-person once again, albeit in a different way than before. The choirs are now rehearsing at McArthur Stadium, and are following strict safety measures. Here are some of the changes the choirs have enacted to ensure the safety of participants: 

  1. Small team who sets up rehearsal space
  2. Check-in table with contactless computer check-in, hand sanitizer, and Lysol wipes. Students use an app to scan a QR code that checks them in
  3. There is a 40 student limit for rehearsals, and each student is spaced well over six feet apart
  4. Students wear both face coverings and face shields, which they sanitize prior to each rehearsal
  5. After 30 minutes, there is a 5 minute break to allow air filtration
  6. Students are welcome to rehearse remotely, and they can sign-in via the aforementioned app and rehearse with the choir through Zoom

We spoke with choral director Dr. James Reddan, and he mentioned that, while “there are plenty of protocols that we have to follow, other than the space, mask, and shield, and set-up the rehearsal itself is still fairly normal. Just the location and strict protocols for safety have really made the biggest impact on where and how the rehearsal set-up really happens.”

WOU Chamber Singers rehearse while physically distancing. Approximately 20 students are spread out along the red bleachers, wearing face masks and face shields.
WOU Chamber Singers rehearse while physically distancing

Reddan mentioned that students have been incredibly receptive to these changes, and that they know this is the best option available. In the spring, these rehearsals were all done entirely online, and all students participating in the in-person rehearsals have agreed that these meetings are greatly preferable to those conducted over Zoom. He mentioned that “everyone has been diligent, holding themselves accountable, and not risking anything.” While choir students are certainly looking forward to a return to the status quo, they have shown incredible resilience and tenacity throughout this time. 

Elizabeth Cornforth, an ASL major from Salem, shared what this return to in-person rehearsals means to her: “Being in person really changes how a musician can interpret and perform their music. It’s critical to have an ensemble be together in person  to be able to produce enthusiastic and passionate music.” She mentioned that the prior term’s usage of Zoom made it difficult to discern how well she was performing, and that she is grateful to be back rehearsing with her peers. 

Kira Nelsen, a Music Education major from Keizer, shared similar statements, discussing how adapting to the strict COVID-19 safety measures has been difficult, but the ability to once again rehearse in-person has been incredibly rewarding. She mentioned that professors within the music department “will do anything to ensure that students are retaining the material and information,” and that it has been inspiring to see everyone work together to create a semblance of normalcy.

As well, Noah Miller, a Music Education major from McMinnville, spoke about his experience adapting to these new safety measures and the tremendous support he has received from those in the music department. He mentioned that adapting to these measures has “definitely been an exercise in patience for all of us.” Miller said that the support from his professors and choir directors have been integral to his success at WOU, especially during COVID-19: “I’ve said it multiple times over the past two terms, but the fact that we’re able to rehearse in this format at all is completely due to the hardworking nature of our directors, Dr. Reddan and Dr. Hudkins. I’m so thankful that we have such amazing people at the helm of the choirs.”

In a time when so much is uncertain, and when so many departments have made necessary changes, it is inspiring to see the choirs’ ability to adapt and overcome these challenges. If you’re interested in checking out some of the choral performances, recordings are available at WOUTV.

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