Choir in 2020: a Q&A with the directors


Megan Franke

The choir room where students would normally practice is currently empty. Due to the pandemic, the room may not be in use this year.

How has choir been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic? Choir directors Anthony Nims and Brett Albright share their insight as to what is happening in regards to choir.


Q: If we are going back, how will the safety protocol be applied to choir?

Nims: “We’re planning to do as much singing outdoors as possible. There’s a lot of research that’s come out of various universities, specifically University of Boulder, Colorado. [They] came out with a study that shows that, if you’re going to [sing], you should be 12 feet apart facing opposite directions, and do it for no more than a half hour before getting out of the room for 15 minutes to let the virus dissipate, if it happened to be there. We feel like the best way to keep the students safe is to go outside. Now that poses problems because there are no pianos outside, so we’ll have to find some [other] way to play pitches. If we come back [in the] ABCD [format], we might be down to ten people in a class. We’re not pronouncing consonants [when we sing] because consonants are the things that propel the aerosols further. So ten, 15, minutes of humming per bell, and then we’ll try to be outside as much as possible. If [one of the theater directors] is not using it, we’ll try to find a way that we can occasionally be in the auditorium so we can spread students out 20 feet apart from each other. There will be no normal singing at this point, because we’re putting safety first.” 


Q: Have any events already been canceled?

Nims: “We kept all of our events as placeholders in our Student Handbook, so all of the concerts are still listed there. The October concert cannot happen at this point, there’s no way we’d be ready for that. So nothing has been officially canceled. But nothing was really officially ‘on.’ At this point we told our kids, ‘these are the dates, you need to keep them open, because we reserve the right to have concerts on these dates with you.’ But it’s all to be announced.”


Q: What about competitions? 

Albright: “It’s still being discussed. Solo and ensemble competition is actually happening virtually this year. I have no idea how successful that will be or if even any students would even be participating in that, but that’s their plan. And then for large group, it hasn’t officially been canceled yet, but I’m sure it will be within the next month. Because so many schools aren’t singing, even if [students] are in school right now in person, they’re not singing, so no, choir is [not] really able to prepare for anything. As far as Walnut Hills goes, we are not going to be taking part in any competition.

Nims: “If we did somehow come back, and actually were able to sing five days a week, we could probably get senior ensemble ready to do three songs or something like that. So much is up in the air at this point.”

Albright: “We’re labeled as the host school. And I’m pretty sure that Cincinnati Public is not going to allow us to host a competition.”


Q: What are the choir students learning? And is that going to change when/if we get back to in person learning?

Nims: “We have decided to shift a class that teaches theory and history through performance to a class that teaches performance through theory and history. We’re teaching music theory through a really cool website that gives lessons and we go over all of it in class. We’re doing sort of composer of the week type things. We are doing a section that we call vocal music listening where we’re taking two singers and hearing each and then talking about their vocal technique. We thought that the best way to teach some of the fundamentals is to let [students] watch people do it and discuss what they’re doing. They’re learning music without us being able to hear it. We do have them upload themselves singing what we practice during the week and we can evaluate their progress. The goal is to motivate them to want to put on a concert or do one of those virtual recordings where everybody records themselves singing it, we smash it all together. And we’ve tried to motivate them to think it is worthwhile to be learning music, but at the same time, it doesn’t hurt to hold them accountable through singing tests.”


Q: There are masks that have been developed for choir. Are you planning on implementing these when we’re back in school?

Nims: “What I heard most recently is that those are actually less effective at containing the virus than regular masks, plus they’re expensive. So the answer is no.”


Q: If WHHS is holding a concert, how will the students be positioned?

Albright: “Well, our initial thinking right now is that a concert would entail our students being spread out in the house of the auditorium in the seats, with me or Mr. Nims standing on stage and conducting them, and then having a camera set up and to live stream that performance to parents, family members and other choir members. We would just do one choir at a time in the auditorium.  We assume the district is not going to allow us to have big audiences this year, which is fine. So that’s why we’re thinking a live streamed concert with the students spread out in the house of the auditorium, not onstage standing really close to one another.