Psalms 98 tells the faithful to make a joyful noise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned, however, lifting voices in song, including choir practices and performances, can become COVID-19 superspreader events.
Studies have shown that deeper breathing and holding notes can expel the virus wider during singing.
As the number of coronavirus infections decreased after the January spike, churches resumed in-person worship services and resumed choir at least until a second wave spurred by the Delta variant struck beginning in July. In the past weeks, some churches have canceled in-person services altogether while others have resumed masking and social distancing including among their choirs.
St. Simons Presbyterian Music Director Rhonda Hambright is one of those who adopted some extraordinary measures when the choir couldn’t gather safely to sing. At the same time, the church was undergoing an extensive renovation so they began worshiping under an open-sided tent at Frederica Academy.
Still, she had to provide music for services.
“I found myself recording music at home on my own piano,’’ she said.
As it refitted its sanctuary and put in a new pipe organ, St. Simons Presbyterian upgraded its technology, making it easier to get the music heard, Hambright said.
She brought on other singers and musicians, but to ensure safety they practiced and recorded outdoors in her yard off Old Demere Road as she played her portable keyboard.
Those recordings were sometimes spoiled by a honking car horn or a plane passing over.
“In recordings, you up your game,’’ and do your best to make it perfect because you have the option to do it again, Hambright said.
“If you do it in church and you mess up, it’s over,’’ and you move on, she said.
It took several takes, for example, before Tom Haughney could finish singing “Let Us Break Bread Together’’ without some unwelcome background noise.
“It was difficult because you had to do it so many times,’’ Hambright said.
There had always been a social component to choir practice, and Hambright said she kept that going with Zoom meetings. They shared their latest news, and they had an online birthday party for her husband, Harlan.
“Then there was a small group that wanted to sing,’’ so they rehearsed distanced and masked on her back porch, she said.
Those groups had from eight to 15 singers while the choir normally had 25 to 30 singers, Hambright said.
After all those outdoor sessions, the choir finally got back together on Easter morning on April 4. They sang indoors for the 8:30 a.m. and outside for the 10:30 service.
The Rev. Alan Dyer introduced them at the first service with, “Here’s our fully vaccinated choir,” and they sang in the first service with the new pipe organ.
“It was two years that the organ was out,’’ she said.
Afterward, things began opening up as case numbers declined, and the choir was able to sing without masks.
That didn’t last long, however, and on Aug. 15, they put the masks back on but Hambright said she has again downsized the choir. Last Sunday, a small group of women sang and this Sunday Hambright said she plans to have only a trumpeter play.
“This seems worse than before,’’ she said of the new surge of cases.
But she is hopeful the case numbers will drop as quickly as they are in other states that spiked before Georgia.
“I hope the choir can be back for our 75th anniversary on Sept. 26,’’ and sing in the expanded choir loft, she said.
The choir at First Baptist Church of Brunswick is also smaller and socially distanced as they sing, said the Rev. Taylor Gordon, administrative pastor.
The church is also encouraging masks and taking measures to put space between its worshipers for this week’s Sunday service, he said. If there are too many people in the main sanctuary, worshipers will be directed to the fellowship hall and the chapel where the service will be streamed live, he said.
The church has postponed its resumption of Wednesday night services until Sept. 15, a week later than the previously planned start up date. That date may also change, he said.
St. Marks Episcopal has canceled in-person services and is live-streaming services across three platforms, said Nathaniel W. Roper, the church’s music director.
He and no more than nine others, including the clergy, deacons, organist and four choir members will be in church on Sunday mornings to conduct the services. But not all of it will be live. The choir will prerecord some anthems for the services, he said.
The choir will spread out safely in the sanctuary to rehearse the anthems and hymns they will record, Roper said.
Some members of the choir will also take on a new role to help those who worship from home. They will deliver sacraments to the doorsteps of individual households while in person services are in a second COVID hiatus.