In anticipation of the return to public Masses in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown beginning the weekend of June 13-14, Bishop Mark issued the following directives regarding parish choirs, soloists, and readers/lectors.
The safe distancing between persons at 6 feet apart and wearing face masks is in keeping with scientific research that while speaking in a normal fashion, the aerosol emitted from the mouth can travel 6 feet. While singing, the aerosol emitted from the mouth can travel more than 20 feet while singing (March 26, 2020, Journal of the American Medical Association).
This means that safe distancing for church choirs imposes a more serious risk, especially given the common arrangement of choirs in multiple rows. A soloist, song-leader, cantor, or psalmist poses a similar risk for others whenever the voice is projected toward people who may be within that range of 20 plus feet.
With that in mind, pastors and parish administrators are to establish a safety plan regarding placement of musicians, vocalists, and choir members inside of the parish worship space.
Members of the choir, musicians, and others involved in parish music minister should be advised of these concerns and assist in finding an appropriate response, which involves especially the following points:
· In some churches, the choir is located in a traditional choir loft. In others it may be in the front of the church, near the sanctuary or off to the side and facing the people.
· Regardless of the location within the church, 1) the placement of the choir may not allow for choir members to stand behind each other; 2) members of the choir may not face each other; and 3) choirs may not be placed in an area where their voices project directly at the people, especially if the distance is less than 25-30 feet.
· These placement/arrangement restrictions apply to choirs inside or outside a church.
· Choirs are not permitted in the sanctuary and they are not permitted immediately behind the sanctuary. This applies to churches where there is a screen between the choir and the sanctuary. If the opening is large enough to allow the sound of the music to travel, it is more than enough for COVID-19 to spread.
· At all times members of the choir are to maintain a distance of 6 feet from each other, as applies to all persons within our churches and at Masses outside of a church.
· Based on these circumstances, parishes should expect a small number of choir members (3 to 5) to assist with liturgical singing inside churches.
· An advisory issued by the experts commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops recommends against having a choir, with the positive recommendation of a single person at each Mass who may serve as song leader and psalmist.
· The necessary spacing between persons at 6 feet apart also applies to musicians.
· Cleaning and sanitizing the organ, piano, or other instruments is to occur after each Mass.
· Song books/hymnals/missalettes are not be used and paper sheets with music/lyrics should be discarded after each use.
Since the cantor/psalmist faces the people, a clear, plexi-glass screen should be placed in front of that soloist in order to block the aerosol emitted from the mouth as cited above.
Similarly, a clear, plexi-glass screen at the ambo is recommended to guard against the same emission while it is used by the reader or homilist.
All who are involved in music ministry should be reminded that the faithful will be wearing masks and their voices will be muted as a result.
At the same time, all liturgies should be prayerful and supported by music while safeguarding one another gathered for worship. These safeguards should not deter us to from fulfilling what we are taught in Psalm 100: “Shout joyfully to the LORD, all you lands; serve the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful song.”
Questions concerning the implementation of these guidelines are to be directed to the Very Reverend Alan Thomas, Vicar General.