What Happens When Singing Becomes A Dangerous Activity?

College of Arts and Humanities

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges for singers and, while a majority of my career is now focused on teaching voice and serving as an administrator for the National Association of Teachers of Singing, I still do have a few singing gigs of my own each year, an important part of my personal artistic expression. Those have unfortunately been cancelled, although recently I did have the opportunity to record some selections for the educational outreach program of the Savannah Philharmonic and it was so satisfying to make actual live music with an ensemble again (outside and distanced by the way).

The performing arts industry has been decimated since March and there has been important emphasis on following the science of aerosol transmission of viruses. In March, a choir in Washington state rehearsed one evening and within two weeks many of the members tested positive for COVID and several died. Few singing teachers or voice professionals, certainly not I, ever thought they would be collaborating with epidemiologists and environmental engineers to develop appropriate advice and protocols for our industry.

In my first trip in an airplane since February, I travelled to Colorado State University to sing into a variety of instruments to measure the amount of aerosols I produce while singing a variety of songs and vocal exercises. My data will be combined with over 100 other subjects to help inform us all about how we can safely return to concert venues for live performances. I am confident that we will find a combination of mitigation measures that will allow many to do so, but continue to be concerned about the sustained negative impact on colleagues around the world in the meantime. Mask up, friends and colleagues.

— Allen Henderson, DMA, Professor, Dept. of Music