The sight of high school chorus members singing with masks over their faces saddened me as soon as I saw it.
I’d been coordinating all day with our education reporter to get those photos at Chestatee High School to go with his piece about how high schools are conducting band and chorus given the inherent dangers of spreading COVID-19.
As I opened the photos, my mind went straight back to my high school chorus classes at North Gwinnett, where I sat in a room beside my friends, shaping our mouths to make the perfect vowel sounds and hearing the harmonies blend together and the volume crescendo at just the right moment.
I spent a lot of hours singing in that chorus room. I spent time singing with All-State choruses some years, and there were church choirs, too.
My freshman year of chorus, I had braces with rubber bands that stretched from top to bottom on either side, a problem when you want to open your mouth wide to make the right “ah” sound. And yes, I was the nerdy girl with braces who sang in chorus and made mostly A’s. Those rubber bands held me back, but at least my voice was part of the chorus.
Now, every member of the chorus must open their mouths wide and tall to sing, with a mask tugging at their ears. Take a deep breath for the next line and the mask material is sucked into your mouth. Sing out the notes and all the sound is muffled behind masks.
I can’t imagine being a chorus teacher right now, unable to hear the voices clearly and see the full faces of students.
But choir practices have been noted as super spreader events, such as one early in the pandemic in Washington state, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Studies show the way this virus spreads makes singing particularly dangerous.
That hasn’t set well with some who feel it’s their right to gather and sing, especially in worship settings.
Christianity can trace its roots back to the days of Israel’s King David, and there was a lot of singing in those days.
“And David and all the house of Israel were making merry before the Lord, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals,” it reads in the book of 2 Samuel in the Bible. Now, we’re being asked not to sing before the Lord. Maybe we can safely play our tambourines before the Lord.
Some are gathering to sing, anyway. In Idaho this week, a church organized an outdoor singing of psalms. Five were arrested, according to the Idaho Statesman.
The First Amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Assembling to worship seems enshrined in our Constitution there, and it’s certainly a right I hold dear. What was asked of these singers in order to proceed with their worship assembly was that they socially distance and wear masks. We’ve been navigating arguments of freedom vs. public health all summer. This particular argument may very well end up in court, if it hasn’t already.
But just because we’re free to practice our religion doesn’t mean we should abuse that right to make political points.
Sucking a mask into your mouth before singing the “Doxology” or “Raise a Hallelujah” may be an annoyance. But God can hear your praises just fine behind that mask, and I’ll take that over spreading a virus through a congregation.
God can also hear your praises from home as you sing along with that livestream church service, that song on Spotify or the virtual concert you subscribed to.
Well, maybe that last part is just me. I’ll be singing along Saturday night with my favorite band, who even requested fans send in a recorded vocal part so they could compile them for a virtual sing-along.
It’s not the same as worshiping together in person, but the creativity is something beautiful and the voices are, too.
Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a North Hall resident.