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Volume 25 Issue 9 - July / August 2020

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  • August
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July/August issue is now available in flipthrough HERE, bringing to a close 25 seasons of doing what we do (and plan to continue doing), and on stands early in the week of July 5. Not the usual bucolic parade of music in the summer sun, but lots, we hope, to pass the time: links to online and virtual music; a full slate of record reviews; plenty new in the Listening Room; and a full slate of stories – the future of opera, the plight of small venues, the challenge facing orchestras, the barriers to resumption of choral life, the challenges of isolation for real-time music; the steps some festivals are taking to keep the spirit and substance of what they do alive. And intersecting with all of it, responses to the urgent call for anti-racist action and systemic change.

Grand Philharmonic Choir

Grand Philharmonic Choir a pediatrician and University of Alberta professor specializing in infectious diseases. Choral Canada, representing 28,000 choirs across Canada, presented alongside the leads of various choral sectors across the industry. Dr. Robinson presented her best assessment of available recommendations informed by her background in infectious diseases. Some of her key points: “Singing produces more and smaller droplets than does talking. Smaller droplets stay in the air longer but will have less virus than larger droplets so may be no more infectious.” Robinson also notes that there seems to be some evidence that there are people who release more droplets than other people, superspreaders like those mentioned by Dr. Milton to Chorus America. “Nothing will replace the powerful synergy of the real thing. But as a mentor of mine used to say, ‘Never give up on something that you think about everyday.’” — Elise Bradley Robinson also explained how challenging it can be to determine if it is singing itself, or a related activity that caused the superspreader event, like sharing cookies or oranges during choir break, or even the putting away of contaminated folding chairs. Further, in smaller communities it is easier to contact trace exposure. For larger cities, if a chorister takes public transit to rehearsal and then home, or is out with friends prior to rehearsals, it’s difficult to ascertain the true source of infection. “Obviously, the best option is to wait until there is no more COVID-19 in your community to meet. And I do think there’s a chance in about two months from now, we’ll go through a period of at least a few months where there really is no virus out there. Or maybe you can argue for meeting when there is COVID-19 in the community. Those with risk factors for death should not show up. Stand six feet apart as much as possible. Wide open spaces are way better than a small room. And obviously, no sharing of food and drink.” The Ontario Ministry of Labour has issued over 100 guidance documents on infection control and prevention measures for different workplaces including salons, beaches, retail and factories, but there is no guidance for arts and cultural industries. The official plan for reopening Ontario broken into three stages does not include the reopening of concert and performance venues, stating: “Large public gatherings such as concerts and sporting events will continue to be restricted for the foreseeable future.” Should choirs have the ability or inclination to reconvene, therefore, there would still be nowhere to perform except digitally. “Maybe during this time we won’t be creating the greatest choral art, however you define that,” shared Dr. Adam Con, representing post-secondary and church choirs on the Choral Canada webinar, “but I continue to remind myself that it is better that my singers miss it than dread it.” But when it comes to scientific evidence, infectious disease specialists can only provide guidance at this point as more research continues. For many choirs, their membership skews older and more female-identified. Public Health Ontario numbers for June 26, 2020 indicate that women are contracting the disease more than men, representing 54 percent of all infections. Of 2644 known deaths in Ontario, 42.1 percent have been in those aged 60 plus. Approximately 64 percent of these are from long-term care and retirement homes. In Skagit Valley, the American Center for Disease Control (CDC) investigated the event and released a detailed report. This report is one of the key sources of scientific evidence choirs can look to for potential risk. The report indicated the median age of infected choristers was 69 and 85 percent were female choristers. The CDC discussion posited the following summary of infection spread: “Choir practice attendees had multiple opportunities for droplet transmission from close contact… and the act of singing itself might have contributed to SARS-CoV-2 [COVID-19] transmission. Aerosol emission during speech has been correlated with loudness of vocalization, and certain persons, who release an order of magnitude more particles than their peers, have been referred to as superemitters and have been hypothesized to contribute to superspreading events. Members had an intense and prolonged exposure, singing while sitting six to ten inches from one another, possibly emitting aerosols.” Reviewing the possible spread associated with the listed activities, it is difficult to imagine a choral rehearsal that does not involve close contact, singing, loudness, and prolonged exposure. While some of these may be mitigated with barriers or distance, the mechanics of rehearsal for 130 people, while remaining cohesive, presents exceptional challenges. It is worth noting that the seating chart was examined by the CDC and was found to “not add substantive additional information” to the findings, despite knowing who the likely index individual was. However, the CDC as well as Dr. Robinson also noted that the Skagit Valley rehearsal was broken up into sectionals and they were not all in the same formation the entire rehearsal, further complicating the tracing of the spread. Choral organizations have proven themselves resilient in the face of funding and recruitment issues in the past, even moving past assault and harassment allegations. But COVID-19 is something new, and it is very unclear whether a choir like the Skagit Valley Chorale or the Amsterdam Mixed Choir or a local choir can weather the uncertainty ahead. But as choirs move to Zoom and virtual performances, shifting their focus to community from performance-driven activity, there’s an opportunity to delve deeper into the reasons why people come together to sing and to spend the time and effort on community building. Elise Bradley, of the Toronto Children’s Chorus, for her part, shared a bit of hope on the Choral Canada webinar: “Zoom… will never replace choir. Nothing will replace the powerful synergy of the real Elise Bradley thing. But as a mentor of mine used to say, ‘Never give up on something that you think about everyday.’ It is important to remember we’re not alone, we have each other.” Follow Brian on Twitter @bfchang. Send info/media/tips to 20 | July and August 2020

WIGMORE HALL CLASSICAL AND BEYOND “AS LIVE AS WE CAN DO IT” TSM Reborn PAUL ENNIS Wigmore Hall / BBC Radio 3’s recital series: this one featuring Benjamin Grosvenor and Hyeyoon Park, and an audience of two. Of all the musical events I’ve taken in online recently, the highlight was watching new TSO music director Gustavo Gimeno in Amsterdam conducting the regathered Concertgebouw, the orchestra in which he played percussion for 11 years beginning in 2001. Both Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony (recorded June 2 and broadcast June 3) and Dvořák’s Symphony No.8 (livestreamed on June 5) are now available on YouTube. The Dvořák, its live aura palpable, struck special notes of smooth and sweet, its dance movements floating effortlessly. The musicians observed quite distinct social distancing rules, with the strings separated by 1.75 metres, the winds and brass by two metres, which led to many members being placed on the steps behind the stage. I was in the midst of a telephone conversation with TSO concertmaster and Toronto Summer Music artistic director, Jonathan Crow, when I wondered. Had he seen it? Yes, he had. Wasn’t it extraordinary, I asked rhetorically. “Oh, it’s unbelievable,” he jumped right in. “For me, it was to see the musicians so happy to be making music together again. Just to be onstage playing this incredible piece in an incredible hall with an incredible conductor. And it was just amazing to see everybody adjusting. That orchestra was playing in a way that they’d never played before. Everybody was far away. Everybody had their own music. It’s just a huge learning curve. And to play as spectacularly as they did is a real tribute to the kind of flexibility of everybody involved. I can’t wait to be back on stage with my colleagues playing Beethoven. I don’t know if we’ll have masks or if you’ll be able to see my big grin or not, but it’s certainly going to be there.” When I pointed out that the live feeling is very important to the palpability and accessibility of the musicians for an online audience, Crow responded enthusiastically. “Absolutely! It’s a hard thing to do,” he said. “Because I’ve done so many of them from that end when you’re just staring at a computer screen, trying to figure out, how do I – I mean, I still get nervous for them in a strange way because it’s still a performance, but finding the way to make it really feel like you’re connecting to the people through time and through electrical wire, through cables, basically through a computer screen. It’s such a strange thing when you grew up basically thinking of music as the thing you do as a community. You grew up doing chamber music, in the orchestra playing for people, doing group lessons and you know, listening to one another, then having it suddenly cut off. Very odd.” I asked if he had enjoyed other people’s performances in this virtual universe we’ve been living in and he told me that he had, but in a Sweet summer sounds from ATMA Classique LATEST RELEASES ACD2 2785 ACD2 2789 ACD2 2816 July and August 2020 | 21

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