Planning for the future 2a: Meeting and rehearsing

This article is part of our COVID-19: Planning for the future resource.

Updates to this page:

  • Link added to English translation of the Freiburg University risk assessment of musical activity (8 June 2020)
  • Link added to abcd paper summarising the current state of research (8 June 2020)
  • Link added to Church Times article (8 June 2020)
  • Clarification added on Norwegian Music Council guidance (10 June 2020)
  • Link added to Danish study on aerosol from brass and wind instruments (22 June 2020)
  • The University of Freiburg updated their risk assessment on 1 July (updates are clearly marked in their PDF document)
  • Link added to Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra research into concert staging (3 July 2020)

What is the risk?

  • Group members catch/give Covid-19 from/to other group members in a rehearsal
  • Group members catch Covid-19 by travelling to/from rehearsal room
  • Group members have underlying health conditions/are in high risk/vulnerable group/ are key workers/live in a household with any of the above, so should avoid exposure to potential infection

What do we know and therefore what can we do?

Research takes time and meanwhile reliable information is scarce; and there is much hype and misinformation around. We suggest that you always start with current government and public health guidance and information in your nation. Don’t take the media’s summary or angle on it for gospel, read it yourself.

Useful general information links:

Specific research and guidance on playing or singing together:

  • There is research underway in Europe (Germany/Munich, Norway) and the US, and research proposals in the UK
  • Some limited studies have published results in Germany and Austria (Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic) and there is guidance commissioned by the Berlin orchestras (German only)
  • See the guidance for music activity from the Norwegian Music Council, approved by their public health authority, including recommended room sizes
  • An Australian webinar on singing
  • Association of British Choral Directors (abcd) have published a paper summarising the current state of research by Professor Martin Ashley.
  • Resource from the European Choral Association with links to research and rules in different European countries (see summary in appendix)
  • Europe is ahead of the UK, as lockdowns have been eased already, so it is always a good idea to read up about how Germany, Italy and France are handling matters
  • Also see this Danish study on the measurement of aerosol from brass and wind instruments (22 June 2020)
  • Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra and conductor Kazushi Ono have shared their research into new layouts for concert staging

Most useful piece of research so far:

The University of Freiburg, Germany, have produced a risk assessment for musical activity based on research available to the authors. This is now also available in English, but we have taken the most useful information from it and used it below (The University of Freiburg updated this on 1 July, updates are clearly marked in their PDF document). Note that the report emphasises throughout that the first guiding principle must be the regulations in place in your country at the time.

And a disclaimer: there is no guarantee that following their suggestions makes meeting up and rehearsing totally safe; however, we were impressed by the detail and the practical suggestions, which is why we have reproduced some here, to give you some ideas on potential risk minimisation measures and whether/how you might implement them for your group.

General transmission of COVID-19

  • Via droplets which are heavier than air and thus fall down. If they land on a surface which we then touch with our hands (e.g. table), we may pick them up. Subsequently touching our face could then lead to infection
    • General prevention measures: wash hands frequently, do not touch face, clean surfaces often, wear gloves if handling items which may be touched by several people is unavoidable
  • Via aerosols; these are much lighter than droplets and can therefore linger in the air, for up to 3 hours, researchers say, if there is no ventilation or draft. This makes it more likely that someone else walks through and inhales this virus ‘cloud’.
    • General prevention: face coverings, meet in large spaces, social distancing, good and frequent ventilation
  • Via other secretions from mouth/nose (sneezes, mucus, saliva)
    • General prevention: sneeze into a tissue and dispose of it; cough/ sneeze into crook of arm; do not share items/wear gloves

Music-specific risk-minimisation

  • Reduce risk at entry point by excluding:
    • those in high risk groups
    • anyone who has been in contact with someone with symptoms of Covid-19 in the previous 5-6 days
    • anyone who has symptoms
    • anyone with a temperature above 37.5C
      • how? Questionnaire prior to rehearsal for each attendee
      • how? Measure temperature at entrance to rehearsal each time
    • neither of these will be completely reliable or exclude all potential carriers of Covid-19, but both will keep everyone’s awareness raised and therefore also support compliance with other measures
  • Reduce risk by creating low risk environment:
    • Play/sing outside: current research suggests that, provided recommended distances between people are kept, this is a low risk activity; follow official guidance re size of group allowed to gather
    • If in a building:
      • Frequent ventilation, ideally from windows, rather than mechanical
      • Use much larger rooms than you might usually, so that social distancing is possible to current guidance
      • Shorten rehearsals: length overall, but also rehearse in 15 min bouts, interspersed with ventilating the room
      • Ensure social distancing also possible at break times
  • Reduce risk through safety measures applied to individuals:
    • Face coverings: only medical grade will prevent you from picking up the virus, but all face coverings will reduce the chance that the wearer emits aerosols and droplets; they must be well-fitted and worn to be effective
    • Distance between people: at least 2m radius around each singer or player (general – see specifics below)
    • Frequent handwashing or hand sanitising; consider gloves also
    • Specific measures for different kinds of musicians (see below)

Singing

  • Other forms of transmission present no larger risk than for other musicians, but whether there is increased risk of aerosol transmission for singers is not currently sufficiently well researched; there may be higher risk due to increased output of aerosols by singers combined with deeper in-breaths
  • Report on choir in US referenced, where 53 of 61 choir members were infected, 3 were hospitalised and 2 died; aerosol transmission is discussed in the report, but other factors may have contributed: median age of choir 69; all 3 hospitalised cases had pre-existing health conditions; distance between chairs was only 15-25cms; the rehearsal lasted 2.5 hours with one 15 minute break; furthermore, the person suspected of having spread the infection had had symptoms for 3 days before the rehearsal and had also attended the previous week (before having symptoms, but potentially already infectious)
  • Additional preventative measures suggested:
    • Nothing additional, but rigorous application of all suggested measures above and particularly social distancing and face coverings

Wind Instruments

  • Droplet transmission: does not seem more significant for either brass or wood wind instruments than for other instruments, therefore 2m radius distance deemed sufficient
  • Aerosol transmission: research currently insufficient about transmission via aerosols for brass instrument players and flautists and whether their deeper in-breaths may also present an additional risk factor
  • Additional preventative measures therefore suggested:
    • Use of a tightly woven fabric cover over the bell of brass instruments and flutes recommended and/or plastic screens between players
    • French horn players/any player coming into contact with saliva/ secretions/the inside of their instrument should observe extra thorough and frequent hand washing (at least 30 seconds)
    • For brass instruments – disposal of saliva which may be infected; this should not be emptied on to the floor, but caught in a container or with absorbent paper then disposed of safely; ideally cleaning should take place outside/ away from the rehearsal room

Other instruments/ensembles

  • No specific increased risk of transmission due to their musical activity, but recommendations as above for 2m distance between players etc.
  • In general: do not share instruments/drum sticks/music
  • People who have to handle items touched by other people should wear gloves for their own and others’ protection (e.g. if setting up chairs/percussion)
  • Pianists/accompanists:
    • Instruments cleaned/disinfected between players
    • Any player before starting should wash hands for at least 30 seconds
    • Remember 2m distance to anyone else in the room/group

Other matters to consider

These are missing from the German risk assessment, but consider:

  • Travel to rehearsals; can people drive, walk or cycle and thus avoid the risks associated with public transport? Is there parking and/or secure cycle storage at your usual or temporary (e.g. park) rehearsal venue
  • Toilets; are there enough in your rehearsal venue; how often/when will they be cleaned – should you pay for additional cleaning before and after your session from the rehearsal venue’s team; what about during rehearsals; what happens if someone needs the toilet whilst rehearsals are going on – how do they reach the bathrooms; what about rehearsing outside – are there public toilets nearby, are they open again
  • Break times; where will people spend the break, are they still able to stick to social distancing? You may have to remind them often
  • Refreshments; probably easiest not to provide and to ask everyone to bring their own water/coffee/biscuits
  • Equipment and instruments; these should not be shared or handled by more than one person ideally, so the poor percussionist may have to set up their kit on their own for now, with no help from the rest of the group; ensure people bring their own music stands etc.; do rehearsal chairs need cleaning? Can everyone set up their own chair, rather than one or two people setting out chairs for a rehearsal? How will they be cleaned at the end? It is currently not entirely clear how long droplets can last on different surfaces, so better to err on the side of too much cleaning.
  • Music; everyone should have a set of music and not share; consider therefore the handing out of music at rehearsals or whether you can avoid that; can people take music home for now and be in charge of their own set of sheet music?

Your venue

  • Is your usual venue open and/or will they allow you to use it right now?
  • What conditions might they have in place for you meeting at the moment?
  • Parking/access for pedestrians/cyclists
  • Large enough space for your full group? if not, can you change space; or consider rehearsals with only part of a group
  • Can you ventilate the space well? Again, consider changing venue if not
  • Is the venue cleaned before your rehearsal and after the last use by someone else? If not, you may wish to request this; but be aware that may incur additional cost
  • The toilet situation
  • Outdoors: do you need electricity? Can everyone bring a camping chair or folding stool? Their own music stand? Don’t forget clothes pegs or magnets to stop the music from flying away; if the rehearsal is in a public space (i.e. not a private garden), then consider that PRS will likely be due, as if you were performing

Everyone included?

Maybe your group and everyone in it will return to meeting weekly, as before Covid-19, very soon. But the likelihood is that some people will not feel able to turn up immediately – they may be in a high risk category or live with someone who is, they may be a key worker who cannot risk exposing themselves to potential infection, or they may simply be fearful for themselves or others.

So you may have a situation where some of your group return to meeting in person, but not everybody. But presumably you’d like to make those who can’t yet attend still feel part of your group, so think about what you could do. Can you livestream the rehearsal? Carry on with some online meet-ups/rehearsals? Broadcast a message from the absentees to the rest of the group? Keep in contact via email, post or telephone?

You will likely have other ideas and also of course will know your group. Just remember, in some way, those who may be stuck at home for longer than the rest.

Other informative articles

APPENDIX: European guidelines and recommendations

From European Choral Association resource on Covid-19:

Please note: As European federation we are not in the position to say that one protocol developed in one country is better / more correct / to be recommended more than a protocol from another country. We are simply collecting the protocols we are aware of as inspiration for those who are looking for examples.

Some organisations in different countries have already collected information on music or specifically on choral singing or published documents which you can find below (using google translator or DeepL translator you will be able to understand most of these texts).:

A Coeur Joie in France published a press release with an evaluation of what will be possible or rather not be possible in the near future.

The Norwegian directorate of health for music rehearsals have published guidlines (update from April 30th). Some general guidelines from this text are for example calculation methods on how you could calculate the space needed for rehearsals keeping a distance from each other of minimum of 1m (instead of 1,5m which was mentioned before) :

Group size       

additional buffer       

3m2 per person        

minimum m2 in total

< 5               

10 m²                       

15 m²                       

25 m²       

< 15  

20 m²                       

45 m²                       

65 m²       

< 30

30 m²                       

90 m²                        

120 m²       

>50   

30 m²                       

150m²                       

180 m²       

ATTENTION: these are GENERAL guidelines for musicians, not specifically for singers!
There is an English summary for choirs (however, still with the rule of 4m2 person and no mention of special risk for singers compared to others).

Several Norwegian choirs have started rehearsing and performing since the end of April, standing at a distance but without wearing face masks. Find out more in example one and example two. 

In Germany there are national recommendations so far, but first regions have permitted rehearsals again. Nordrhein-Westfalen published rules saying that singers have to stand 3 metres apart from each other and with a distance of 6 metres between the rows. Outside they say 1,5 metres distance is sufficient. Read an example of guidelines from a choir in Nordrhein-Westfalen. 

The VBG (work insurance) there are guidelines for theatres etc., so for the professional performing arts sector - which originally recommend a distance of 6 metres between singers and 20m2 per person when for rehearsal spaces - updated its standards after recent research to a distance of 3 metres between musicians including singers

At the beginning of May the Music University (Musikhochschule) in Freiburg together with the Institute of Musical Medicine in Freiburg updated its recommendations. They will update recommendations further once the detailed results are there. They now suggest that a distance of 2 metres may be sufficient also for singers and wind instruments (based on recent research done in Bamberg, see below), and that big halls with a good air situation might reduce the risk. ln the text they mention the cases of choirs where rehearsals in March seem to have been moments of spreading the virus but they also say that there is no proof for this and no existing research specifically on music-making and singing, that, however, one should be careful as long as there is no proof.

One of the German Choir association VDKC published their own guidelines. (A choir in Hamburg consulted different experts and came up with rules saying: maximum 20-25 people, singing with face mask, singing at 5 m distance from each other and some additional rules).

The German orchestra association published suggested guidelines for re-opening orchestra and choir life, available in English, saying that these should be checked by doctors and hygiene experts. A German conductor has created a page where he is compiling all relevant texts for Germany

When church services were allowed again, a warning was issued that loud singing should not happen during services. Music Schools reopened on May 4th in some regions, only with individual classes and in some regions groups of 6, for most instruments there have to be min. 5m² per person, for wind instruments and singing 10m² per person.

The federation of choirs in Madrid (Spain) has formulated a set of rules for rehearsals after Lockdown

In Catalonia, Spain, FCEC has been working on a document with clear rules for choirs for the possible return to life rehearsals once the government will allow group activities again (maybe in September/October, to be confirmed). This includes hygiene regulations including the obligation to wear face masks, recommendations on which singers should be able to attend rehearsals and which not, recommendations on the space needed
(1,5 m between singers, 2 m between rows, 2 m between conductor and 1st row), hygiene protocols to follow etc.

In Valencia Music Bands are asking for advice because there are no government instructions for bands (or choirs).

The association Koornetwerk in the Netherlands was asked by the government to work on possible guidelines on how choral singing may be possible again after lockdown. They are regularly posting updates on their Website.. They stress the latest government rules are not clear enough for choirs They will seek clarification.

In Belgium Koor & Stem advised its members to cancel all rehearsals, events and other gatherings until August 31st.  Also the Fédération Chorale Wallonie - Bruxelles, A Coeur Joie Belgique has sent a message to the conductors and presidents of its member choirs. 

In Estonia they are planning to allow open-air concerts in July/August with singers and the audience sitting/standing at least 2 m from each other. Rehearsals will be possible from mid-May with a maximum of 10 people and a distance of 2 m from each other (information received by mail). Indoor concerts will first be possible for chamber music without vocals, with 2m distance for performers as well as the audience.

In the UK a Board member of ABCD published a call to conductors who are also doctors/scientists aiming collaboration between experts in fields relevant to epidemiology and virus transmission and phoniatrics, the teaching of singing and the management of choirs. The intention is to produce an authoritative article that might be referenced as choirs plan their way out of lockdown. 

In Ireland the association, Sing Ireland has issued a statement on choral activities and recommends that group singing cannot take place, face to face, until at least the 10th August. Sing Ireland also has a dedicated website for choirs and Covid-19.

In the US they published rules about how audiences can be distributed in concert halls - read an article on what this means regarding income from concert ticket sales.

In Portugal the choral association has published a recommendation to continue rehearsing online until more scientific studies are available. They think that singing with face masks is not really feasible.

In Italy Feniarco is collecting and sharing information, no concrete protocols yet.

In Austria, based on the studies made in Germany, they have published guidelines which recommend a 2-metre distance for singers, they recommend rehearsing outside and for inside rehearsals 5m² per person. 

New Zealand which has almost no new Covid-19 cases mid-May published guidelines for choirs, and guidelines for singing teachers. 

 

Planning for the future 2b: Events with a public audience 

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See also
Planning for the future 3: Options and planning


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