Singing in the pandemic

Before the pandemic, if you stepped inside many churches on a Sunday morning, you'd be greeted with song. Now, with new regulations, many are wondering when the music will play again.

Saint Augustine Parish in South Bend is just one example. Their Gospel Choir is unique-- they sing Gospel music inside a Catholic church.

La Donna Flynn is the choir director at Saint Augustine. She says music is important part of worship, but this choir has a special meaning to her.

"My father was the original choir director that started the gospel music here, the traditions, so I'm just carrying on his legacy," Flynn says.

Even though music is important to their worship service, the Gospel Choir hasn't performed or rehearsed as a full ensemble during the pandemic.

The CDC strongly encourages people to wear masks when participating in activities such as singing, chanting, or shouting-- anything where people raise their voices.

Singing spreads germs, pandemic or not. When projecting your voice to sing, air comes out of your mouth a little more forcefully than when talking. Germs can spread over six feet, then linger in the air. With small rehearsal spaces, close proximity to other singers, and long periods of time performing in the same area, it's an easy recipe to spread germs. Even if you aren't singing, just sitting in the audience, you can be exposed to germs from singers.

Saint Augustine is just one of many churches across the country that decided to take a break from singing during the pandemic in order to slow the spread.

Not all hope is lost for singing.

Recently, Saint Augustine has featured a single cantor, sometimes with a piano, to add to their Sunday service. While it isn't ideal, Director Flynn says the congregation still enjoys this innovation.

"The people in the congregation still sing, you know, in their masks, they hum, they clap, and that just shows how important music is in terms of worship," Director Flynn says.

The church has also created a virtual prayer service each week. At the end of the online service, there is a video of the full choir performing from before the pandemic. Flynn believes this is important for others to hear.

"It's a form of expression, release, communication, and worship," she says about music.

During a pandemic, we all could use a little release. For now though, keep the singing at home and keep your mask handy until the spread slows. There aren't any signs for when the full choir can perform again at Saint Augustine, but the single cantor is a step in the right direction for Flynn and her congregation.

"I'm so grateful that we at least have one person who can sing in church," she says. "Music is my best friend. I think music soothes, it assists, and it helps everyone. So music is important, period. Liturgical or not."

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