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  • › Latest update from Singing Together Again project

    25/Nov/2021

    Dear choristers & other musicians, 
     
    Our Choir has resumed singing again, after another lockdown period and venue density restrictions. 
     
    Some have asked if we really did sing in a Ballarat midwinter with the doors and windows open - we did!  And used our singers masks.  At that time we were unsure of the efficacy of the ventilation in our turn-of-the-century Masonic Hall, so it was singing in the cold or not at all. We moved the sops to the warmest part of the hall and put the men in the coldest spot!  And probably used a lot of heating energy making some singers cold on one side and warm the other. It wasn’t the best.
     
    Now, with the aid of a CO2 meter, and everyone double vaccinated, we are reassured. Tonight we sang without masks, but remained 2 metres apart. The weather tonight was positively balmy, in comparison.
     
    Below is the latest Update #3, which gives more details.
     
    Happy singing,
    Merle Hathaway
    President 
    Ballarat Choral Society
    PO Box 502, Ballarat VIC 3353
    www.ballaratchoralsociety.com
     

    Singing Together Again project, update #3

    Singing Together Again is a project initiated by Ballarat Choral Society, with assistance from the Regional Arts Fund. Our small team of  experts explored risks and developed ways to sing together more safely. It is a world-first  project with the results being shared to all interested community, church and professional  choirs and music ensembles. We welcome your feedback. 

    The Choir postponed practices over several months this year due to state government  restrictions and a couple of “Lock Downs”. Earlier Updates (#1 and #2) listed measures we  took to adjust safety measures up or down, according to the current perceived risk, but  Victorian State Government regulations over-ride, of course. 

    Below is the latest information on measures we are now taking to make singing face-to-face as  safe as possible. 

    Our current practices:  

    Ballarat Choral Society has resumed weekly, 2-hour practices. We now require proof of double  vaccination, mask-wearing when needed, and have purchased a CO2 meter. 

    Venue & distancing: We were hiring two adjacent halls – the large Masonic Hall in Buninyong, with piano for the actual singing, and the smaller RSL for registration and tea breaks. We  cannot now use the RSL as its current maximum capacity is only 20 (at 1 person per 4 sq  metres). Our larger hall can take 38 people, and around 30 singers regularly attend. Chairs are  placed 2 metres apart and even further from the conductor. 

                         .       

    Singers’ masks are worn to comply with current regulations. These roomy 3-layered, washable  masks stand well out from the face and make singing quite possible, though still slightly  muffled. Our masks were made by members of our Choir, using musical-themed material, and  are supplied free to all paid up members. (i) 

    Ventilation is key as aerosols are the main concern in the spread of COVID-19. Initially we  were unable to scientifically test the airflow in the old Masonic Hall. We bought a smoke  machine and used red lights to try to track the flow of air – to see if it was exiting via the old style ceiling vents. We also used two pedestal fans at the rear of the hall to blow the space out  during our breaks.  

    However, our recently purchased CO2 meter ($42) is a more accurate measure of air quality. It  confirms that the rear of the hall has less air movement and higher CO2 readings. 

    However, turning on one fan for a few minutes or during the break instantly drops the reading.  Alternatively, we can open more windows or use the heating/aircon to drop the CO2 levels. However, our meter, moved from place to place during practices shows that all areas of the  hall are sufficiently ventilated – literally “in the green”.  

    Checking in: The State Government barcode is free and easy to use (ii) but we have a paper list for those without smartphones. Members must show once their proof of double vaccination. 

    Serving refreshments: With our 2-hour practices, we enjoy our tea/coffee break. We  encourage members to bring their own ‘keep cup’ but have spares that one singer takes home  to wash. One person operates the urn, another pours milk etc. 

    Cleaning chairs, door knobs etc: At the end of the night, one person hands out the sanitised paper  towels and everyone wipes their own chair. A few wipe door frames and knobs etc. (A  requirement of the Hall management). 

    Concerts 

    During the year, several times we tried to organise concerts, but these had to be cancelled. So now  we are working towards a simple picnic/BBQ outdoors in the local park with a small performance  of Christmas-themed music. 

    Alternative Technology 

    We are still working on the idea of a high-tech solution to the problems of singing complex  music with 2 metres between singers. This will involve building or adapting a mixer, purchasing headphones, transmitters, and microphones. So, a substantial grant will be needed. It is  hoped that this will also allow singing in unusual spaces and should also assist less confident or  hearing-impaired singers to learn their parts. 

    The Singing Together Again Team is: 

    • Professor Catherine Bennett, Chair of Epidemiology at Deakin University. 
    • Rex Hardware, sound recording expert. 
    • Michael Knowles, civil engineer. And from Ballarat Choral Society: 
    • Helen Duggan, Musical Director Helen Duggan  
    • Merle Hathaway, President, and project manager. 
    • Brian Sala, electronics engineer 

    Please feel free to get in touch and share the experiences of your choir. 

    Merle Hathaway  
    President, Ballarat Choral Society
    0419 324042 | 5341 2751  
    merle.hathaway@bigpond.com 

    i https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UNTP-m_K4E 
    ii Register for free Vic Government QR code:  https://www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au/register-to-use-vic-gov-qr-code-service