The February 2022 issue of Choral Journal is online and features an article titled “Diverse Embodiments: How COVID-19 Expanded Choral Practice” by Caron Daley. You can read it in its entirety at acda.org/choraljournal. Following is a portion from the introduction.
COVID-19 chipped at the foundations of the choral art, sending out a shock wave of fear regarding the newfound dangers of group singing. Remote, hybrid, distanced, and outdoor rehearsals introduced cumbersome protocols and procedures. Performances were canceled and moved into virtual spaces. Emergent choral practices seemed decontextualized and perceptually and educationally inferior. Essential questions arose, such as, “If a choir is made up of a group of interconnected singing bodies, does a choir still exist if the singing bodies are not in physical proximity, or if singers cannot hear one another singing?”
Day to day, choral musicians experienced a loss of social connection and source of fulfillment, including the opportunity to mitigate the stresses imposed by the pandemic through choral singing experiences.1 For those who contracted COVID-19, otolaryngologic symptoms such as “dysphonia, cough, sore throat, loss of smell, nasal blockage, rhinorrhea, and headache” affected their ability to sing.2 For some, this included long-term symptoms such as lung damage, vocal fold paralysis, and chronic fatigue—symptoms that endanger professional singing careers.3 For countless musicians, the pandemic brought unwanted losses of income and economic instability.4
There are many important lenses through which to view the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the choral profession. This paper will explore these effects from the theoretical perspective of embodiment, defined as “an effect where the body, its sensorimotor state, its morphology, or its mental representation play an instrumental role in information processing.”5 Embodiment undergirds all aspects of choral practice. For example, can you picture the sights and sounds of the choral room? Breathe in the smell of the carpet. See the location, position, and height of the podium in your mind’s eye. Can you hear a favorite choral piece being sung, or feel the thrill of the final cadence in your bones? Imagine the choristers as they spill into the room, poised to learn new skills, pursue musical artistry, and strengthen social bonds.
The pandemic reconstituted many of these familiar experiences, introducing new ways to learn and perform choral music. This article seeks to explain how embodiment was expressed through pandemic choral practices, asking: (1) How did the loss of in-person singing bring greater awareness to the body’s involvement in choral singing? (2) As we return to singing, what new instructional possibilities exist in a diversely embodied choral practice?
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1 Helena Daff ern et al., “Singing Together, Yet Apart: The Experience of UK Choir Members and Facilitators During the Covid-19 Pandemic,” Frontiers in Psychology 12 (2021): 8.
2 Dylan Vance et al., “COVID-19: Impact on the Musician and Returning to Singing; A Literature Review,” Journal of Voice (2021): 2; Lynn Helding et al., “COVID-19 After Effects: Concerns for Singers,” Journal of Voice (2020): 7-8.
3 Helding et al.
4 Daff ern et al., 7.
5 Anita Korner et al., “Routes to Embodiment,” Frontiers in Psychology 6 (2015): 1.