British Columbia

B.C. choir reunites at city park for first in-person rehearsal in months

Choirs everywhere have struggled to re-imagine rehearsals and performances during the pandemic as research has shown that singing — with its deep breathing and voice projection — spreads airborne droplets more efficiently than other activities.

Director of Highs and Lows Choir says human connection is very important for members of the Vancouver group

Alaric Posey, assistant conductor and choir manager of Highs and Lows Choir, sings at the group's first practice together since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The director of a Vancouver-based choir that rehearsed in-person this week for the first time in almost four months says the human connection is critical for members, all of whom have experienced mental health issues.

Highs and Lows Choir is a peer-managed choral group that promotes mental health and wellness by providing people with mental health issues access to choral singing and musical instruction.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, choir practices ended. This week marked the first time members reunited to sing together outdoors at a safe distance from one another to prevent the virus spread.

"All of the people who sing with us have one way or another had mental health challenges so, as you can imagine, it is very important for people to be able to get together and socialize," said choir director Earle Peach, speaking to CBC producer Rachel Sanders at John Hendry Park in East Vancouver.

The group chose the East Vancouver park — more commonly known as Trout Lake — as their new practice spot so they could practise physical distancing outdoors.

Highs and Lows Choir practises their songs while also practising physical distancing. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

"It's wildly exciting because I have just missed it so much," said long-time choir member Kim Seary. She likened the group to a little family and said it is fantastic to be back singing together again.

Choirs everywhere have struggled to re-imagine rehearsals and performances during the pandemic as research has shown that singing, with its deep breathing and voice projection, spreads airborne droplets more efficiently than other activities.

Rehearsal risks

Several prominent COVID-19 outbreaks tied to choirs this spring — including in Washington state, Berlin, Amsterdam and Yorkshire, England — have regularly been referenced in warnings from health officials.

"There's been a number of very serious outbreaks around the world that have been related to choirs or singing," Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia's provincial health officer, noted during an update from Victoria on June 16. 

"Right now, it's a caution to people that this is not the time to be having your choir practice and to be very cautious."

'I just miss singing, it is so good for the body and for the spirit and for our minds,' said choir member Kim Seary at her first practice in months. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

But as Canada resumes regular services and reopens sectors, Canadian choral leaders are raising their voices to challenge the prevailing depiction of singing as an inherently dangerous activity in the COVID-19 era.

In a recent open letter, choral leaders from coast to coast called for balanced consideration as public officials develop policies on how choristers can return responsibly and keep the risk of transmission as low as possible.

Highs and Lows used video technology to keep in touch until the group felt it could reunite safely.

Peach said he is aware of the risks that have been raised about group singing and COVID-19. He also sees the rewards of connecting people together through music.

Earle Peach, musical director, sings at the first Highs and Lows Choir group practice since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

"Choirs and the arts have a really unrecognized function within society in terms of creating small communities of people," said Peach who, like Seary, called the group family-like.

"I think I just like to encourage people to take the opportunity to create beauty wherever they can, it's so good for us to do that," he added.

To hear the complete interview with Earle Peach at the choir's first practice in months, tap here.

With files from The Early Edition, Michelle Ghoussoub and Jessica Wong

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