Support for choir and singing groups with new Covid-19 Mandates
We understand the times we are in are stressful and uncertain. We have been thrown into new territory with Covid making an entrance into our communities here in Aotearoa. The news and guidelines we are having to adhere to now have come upon us bewilderingly fast. How do we continue singing in this new framework?
We are committed to you as a Songleader in whatever form your leading and teaching takes, by offering support in adjusting to this new reality. We refrain from giving specific advice on what to do, but we will share with you a few navigation stories from other songleaders around Aotearoa, in how they have responded to the vaccine mandate guidelines from the government. In offering varying perspectives, it may assist you in your choirs' own decision making process.
If you require more specific details the NZ Choral Federation have given an overview from a choral perspective: https://nzcf.org.nz/safe-singi...
"For the past 10 years, I have had the great privilege of directing a community choir. Before the pandemic, I had about 65 regulars each week, keen to sing both acapella and accompanied music from a varied repertoire. We have been so lucky to have a wonderful committee that supports the choir. However, we are not a registered entity or charity. I am in quite a unique position in which I make all the decisions about the repertoire, concerts, funding applications, finances etc. I take the committee’s feedback and advice and greatly rely on them for guidance, but ultimately the buck stops with me.
This can be both a blessing and a curse at times, as I enjoy the freedom of using all my creative ideas and skills to steer the choir in new ventures. However, when it comes to deciding about restrictions in our Covid world, the challenge of making the right choices and the responsibility I feel to keep everyone safe is considerable.
We have been singing in person since we got back to level 2, but I require everyone to wear a mask, use the QR code and space everyone out 2 metres apart. I make sure our hall is well ventilated and the windows and doors are open.
I am in the process of considering requiring all members to have proof of vaccination. Having lost relatives to Covid overseas, I know how deadly this virus is, and I want to do everything I can do keep my community safe. Both my accompanist and I have been fully vaccinated.
I have the task ahead of consulting the choir and getting their views on the situation. Many of my members are mature singers in their 70s, 80s and 90s! I do believe in being an inclusive group, my choir has always welcomed anyone who wanted to join. However, we are in a public health emergency such as we have never faced before. Some tough decision making will be required to ensure everyone’s safety."
"We had 30 participants singing on Monday mornings for four 10 week terms a year. We’d been growing as a community for three years. There was kindness, acceptance, respect and much joy. My role as founder, administrator and Song-leader for the group was satisfying and rewarding. Singing together makes people feel good. Singing builds communities. I know this.
Then there was Covid. We had quite a break from singing over lockdown, I made a couple of ‘sing with me’ videos and put them on YouTube. 80% of the singers are individuals over the age of 65. Many are not comfortable with technology, so only a handful of singers connected with the videos. Those who did enjoyed them regularly.
We then returned to singing for some weeks. But no cups of tea. There was social distancing and Covid tracing records. I used a lot of hand sanitiser and learnt more about Covid vaccinations.
Then boom! There was the Delta variant. More contagious this time. Super spreading aerosol and droplet infection making more people sick. Fear is seeping around. Our singing venue said no groups allowed until level 1. So did my funding contractor. Safety first. No singing.
So I make more singing videos for the singers to join in with at home. Still not many views, but it makes me feel I have purpose. I feel bad for my singers, I feel like I’m letting them down. Our little singing community feels fractured, broken. I begin to receive a lot more calls from the singers. “Can’t you do something?”,“Why can’t we go back to singing?”, and “I miss us all singing together so much”.
I know that for many, singing on Monday morning was the highlight of their week. Something to look forward to. I continue to say that we won’t go back to singing together until we’re at Covid Alert level 1. We are an inclusive group. I never want to exclude anyone from singing, yet it feels like everyone is excluded. I cry a bit about it all. There is loss.
Soon New Zealand will open up for the Christmas holidays. Despite much uncertainty, I’m still making song-leading plans for term 1 2022. I feel hopeful that we will sing together again, one way or another. Singing together makes people feel good. Singing builds communities. I know this."
"Even though I’ve been song leading for decades, I’m currently only leading one choir regularly, and this one is quite new, we only started in late 2018. We’d only just got around to forming a committee in late 2019, so not long before the pandemic started really.
We don’t have any legal status, we’re not an incorporated society or anything, and we’re still quite “young/inexperienced” in terms of the committee & our community coherence. At the start of 2020 things were looking really promising – an increase in singers, everything feeling very healthy. But we’ve lost a lot of members in the last 18 months, and we’re struggling with numbers now. This pandemic has sort of arrested our development! I feel genuinely supported by this committee and choir but they’re not particularly independent thinkers, nor do they take the initiative. That’s to be expected because of everyone’s lack of experience – even under normal circumstances they’d be looking to me for leadership, and let’s face it, nobody signed up for our current dilemma!
So, we managed the whole Zoom thing in 2020, and we did things a bit differently when we got back in the room again – kept an eye on physical distance at practices, the whole QR code, kept good records of attendance, reminded people not to come if they were ill, and ran a Zoom session most nights, for anyone who couldn’t come.
That night we went back into lockdown, 17th August, I remember the date because it was a Tuesday
choir practice, and I had to cancel it at the last minute – I actually went to the hall, all masked up, and turned a few people away who hadn’t seen the email I’d sent. Then we were back on Zoom for maybe 3 weeks, and there didn’t seem a lot of point in doing that, people weren’t desperate for connection like they’d been in 2020, and I was getting tired of doing it too. So we had our 2 week break a bit early, and got into term 4 3 weeks earlier than planned, which is making term 4 feel rather long to me!
We’re currently singing outdoors as much as possible, with the invitation to mask or not, individual choice. Summer evenings make this easier, but there are plenty of challenges to singing outdoors. Ah, it’s all first world problems! We still spend some time singing indoors wearing masks, but It’s really hard for singers, and I find teaching very tiring when we’re all masked. Well, there’s much less feedback from the choir, and they can’t see my face, which is a challenge with aural learning. So we probably only sing 1 song indoors each night. We’ve been able to find places outside our current venue where the choir can sing (2 metres apart) and staying close to the building affords some shelter and helps acoustically too. Maintaining our usual venue and rehearsal routine as much as possible has helped.
I run a Zoom session from the hall, for any singers who can’t make practice. I can record it too, that comes in handy for my own review later. More work though. I’m determined we’ll perform in some way for the end of term. It might just be busking at the local shopping centre (outdoors), or a picnic in a park. Most rest homes are completely closed to visitors, and public events that we might have
sung at are being cancelled at a pace. I know of other choirs locally that have closed for the year. Some days I’m about ready to throw in the towel, but then I often am at this time of the year!
We were successful in getting some Creative Communities funding to cover our rehearsal costs with performance outcomes this term – in some ways it’s become a rod for our backs, and I wonder if we might have given up by now if it weren’t for the need to deliver on this funding. We’re in the middle of a survey process, asking current and former singers about vaccination status, and what they’d like the choir’s policy to be around mandating vaccination. It’s not a vote, but it’ll help me choose what to do next (if I have a choice). It looks like there will need to be a decision under the traffic light system – do we require vaccine certificates, or do we stick to our values of inclusion, and therefore must cancel singing when we’re at red or orange?
Well, every day is a new challenge, more change, more developments. I try to keep “Covid-talk” out of choir practices, and only in emails or conversations outside of rehearsals – people just want to sing. And if they’re willing to brave the Southerly or the mozzies, or else sing in a mask, they must really want to do this thing – which is why I keep going. But oh boy, I’m looking forward to the holidays this year!"
"We started singing again a month ago. It is outside in a large, grassed space attached to a community events place. Initially, I didn’t include the requirement for double vaxing to attend, but asked that people consider not attending if they weren’t. Two weeks later, I requested that this be a requirement seeing many of the members felt unsafe coming because of the chance that non- vaccinated people would be attending. I got a range of responses including two resignations, emails indicating unfairness and being upset, and the majority of letters supporting my request.
The bottom line for me is that I don’t want to be responsible for the spread of COVID into my choir because I didn’t follow the safety protocols that have asked of us by Government. And once the traffic light system kicks in then there will be no discretion to allow non-vaccinated people into public gatherings such as choir practices."
"Our community choirs' philosophy is to be fully inclusive, welcoming all people. It is a very hard decision to make to effectively exclude some members because they may not be vaccinated. It goes against everything we believe in, and our constitution!
The committee had a meeting recently to discuss all angles of the debate, It is an important discussion - all the risks and benefits need to be weighed carefully. It was discovered that 50% of the committee were against the mandating. So we are taking a break from singing till next year to see what happens in this ever changing world, before making a decision."
Pay Guidelines for Song Leaders
“There is a culture of user pays nowadays. But I’ve also noticed
that if something is free, its is perceived as being without value.” –
In June 2019, an SLNA forum took place where we discussed how we get
paid for this work we do. What emerged most strongly
from that meeting was the need to survey our members, to gain a better
understanding of how much work people were doing, and how much they were
getting paid for it. And a clear call that SLNA, as a professional body
representative of song leaders, should provide some guidelines for fair
pay for those who do this work.
“If I were to get paid what I should, the choir wouldn’t survive…” – SLNA member