Music in the Recovery of Worship in Redeemer’s Sanctuary

Dr. Bernadette Colley, Music Director

To say that the last three months have been a whirlwind of change in music-making at Redeemer is an understatement.  Full disclosure – I am a person who really dislikes working from, and especially interacting with humans, on screens, so the learning curve and adjustment to our new normal has been steep and difficult, for me. It has been so for everyone to some degree for various reasons.  But what makes it bearable, and sometimes even enjoyable, is that we have all been in this together. To get through it, we’ve drawn on our common camaraderie, closeness, and comfort in seeing one another’s faces and hearing one another’s voices. THAT is a great joy!

Also, specifically because of the pandemic, I have been in closer and more frequent contact with my music director colleagues across Massachusetts in weekly Zoom meetings led by our American Guild of Organists (AGO) Boston chapter President Louise Mundinger.  This has been a really positive outcome, because living where I do, pre-pandemic I very infrequently took advantage of AGO meetings and events.  Meeting many of these colleagues for the first time, and staying connected with them, especially for the technology and latest medical research issues has been invaluable. On June 19th, e.g., I will attend an AGO-sponsored webinar on “Vocal tools for Effective collaboration and Recording.”  

As our Recovery Team deliberates a strategy to return to live worship in the Redeemer sanctuary, I will address in this newsletter some issues specific to music making.

Since March 17th – my last normal Tuesday “workday” in situ at Redeemer (with choir rehearsal canceled that night…), little by little your staff and vestry – with the support of congregation members, has by now been able to achieve some degree of “normalcy” in our weekly worship. We have gotten to the point where “new” additions (like Redeemer’s sanctuary organ clips last week!) seem both natural and not-too-difficult to pull off – whereas 3 months ago they were foreign and mindboggling.  My “work tasks” as Music Director have changed dramatically; the time commitment required has increased on some tasks; decreased for others. So, over the summer, my own personal goal is to re-align my job description with expectations now-necessitated by virtual worship. More importantly, I want to contemplate and discover how music might now best be shaped to make it as meaningful an expression of your faith as is possible. How will we maintain valued traditions while exploring new forms of “delivery” and corporate worship?

Singing, as it turns out, is a serious concern. At the end of this article you will find links to a number of articles which support the bottom-line position that – even IF and when we return to “normal” worship in our sanctuary, we won’t be singing together as a congregation like we did pre-pandemic, until there is a vaccine.  Due to the forceful exhalation which it requires, singing is a super-spreader. Contact-tracing has linked substantial numbers of Covid-19 cases to worship spaces and choir rehearsals, caused apparently by aerosols emitted during singing that travel much further and wider, and stay in the air much longer than is the case for normal speech (see below, LA Times 3/29/20 for the Mt. Vernon church choir’s very sad story…).

Some of our sister churches in Massachusetts, whose opening-plan dates range from mid-July to January, and include many different structural and procedural models for congregant expectations, are using the 20-foot distancing rule to separate 1-2 cantors from organist and clergy during their video broadcasts. None, however, report that congregations will be singing together in worship any time soon. 

I know that this may come as disheartening news (maybe not to the 8:00 crowd…). I share that sadness, but I of course agree with our Bishop and Redeemer’s leadership that our first concern must be the safety and health of all.  I encourage each of you, as an alternative, to seek other forms of music making and musical expressions of your faith that that you find comforting and meaningful.  Consider making an audio or video clip of your solo self, or in ensemble with a family member, singing/playing your favorite hymn, or piece that is sacred to you. Any instrumentals are welcome, too.  We’ve always had a strong tradition of diverse musical styles at Redeemer, and I would like that to continue through the summer, fall, and beyond. We have revived the “Redeemer Roster” practice of featuring congregational talent throughout the summer as one way of keeping folks engaged musically, so DO take the invitation seriously.   Further, please send any specific hymn or music-selection requests along to me, as well as your thoughts about worship music over the next 6-12 months..

I look forward to receiving emails giving me your ideas. However far flung you might think they be … THIS is the time to experiment if there ever was one!  I have already received proposals from two new soloists on our Redeemer roster, and a beautiful newly-made-for-the-pandemic clip from one of them that you will hear in an upcoming service. 

So, join the band! We need you!

Faithfully yours,

For further reading

When Will It Be Safe to Sing together Again? – NYTimes 6/9/20

How to Sing Together Safely During a Pandemic – The Atlantic 6/10/20

One choir’s shockingly sad story ​- LATimes 3/29/20​

Panel Discussion: Singing organizations and medical experts​ – 5/5/20​

Advice from a Mass Eye & Ear Director of Division of Laryngology, Phillip C. Song, MD

Why Singers might be Super Covid-19 spreaders

Vanity Fair article:  Five Surprising Facts about Covid-19