A letter to the Executive Committee of the American Choral Directors Association.

To the Executive Committee of the American Choral Directors Association,

As members of the American Choral Directors Association, we would like to implore you to publicly address the unintentional damage done to the public perception of our profession. We believe, ACDA, in conjunction with other professional organizations acted in good faith by presenting a webinar on May 5th, “What do Science and Data Say About the Near Term Future of Singing?” The webinar presented a lot of solid and helpful information. We genuinely believe that these organizations were acting in our best interest. We do not believe the webinar intended to present official guidelines. Nevertheless, many have perceived the advice presented as medical consensus endorsed by ACDA.

However, there are some critical aspects of the webinar that we find very troubling and potentially damaging to our ability to advocate for choral music, and would like for ACDA to publicly address in the interest of its members:

  • Dr. Lucinda Halstead offered her opinion that no singing would be safe for 1-2 years or until there was an effective vaccine or treatment. This statement, besides being an obvious oversimplification, is currently being shared in memes and in media stories as a “guideline” presented by major organizations that singing is not safe.  
  • There were no experts on COVID-19 or SARS-Cov-2, or even respiratory viral pathology or physiology on the panel. Considering the prevalence of that topic on our current situation, we contend that this was a considerable oversight. 
  • Much of the research on this new virus is ongoing and still inconclusive. As a result, there is already information presented that is out of date. (For example, the mortality risk for people in their 60’s according to the CDC’s current best estimate is 1.3%, Dr. Halstead presented 15%. Or the use of temperature checks, now called into question by recent suggestions that people are most contagious right before symptom onset. None of which is conclusive, because this is a new virus and we are learning more all of the time.)
  • The webinar presented no discussion of adjusting our perception of the risk as new information came out about the virus. 
  • The webinar presented no discussion of the regionality of risk during an epidemic which is one of the most critical tools public health officials use to make policy. This should have been discussed. Dr. Amesh Adalja of Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security advises that “decisions should be made locally. By county or groups of counties” which appears to be mainstream epidemiological opinion.
  • Due to the regionality of the risk it is likely that some of our choirs will resume before others, and before a vaccine is available. Without a statement of clarification from ACDA, information from the webinar may provide ammunition for institutions with strained budgets to remove choral programs. 
  • As we begin to plan our upcoming school years, concert seasons, and liturgical calendars , we are asking for ACDA’s support, rather than the added complication of negative news and headlines based on inconclusive data. 
  • More broadly, we feel that ACDA or any organization related to the teaching of singing should not be offering medical advice related to a novel virus. 

The combination of these factors and oversights has created an overwhelming impression within the choral community that singing is dangerous in all contexts and to be avoided altogether until there is a vaccine. We are asking rather,  that ACDA steer the conversation toward how to reduce risk, ascertain risk, and protect the vulnerable. The ACDA mission statement says that our mission “is to inspire excellence in choral music through education, performance, composition and advocacy.” We are not a public health organization. Whether intended or not, conjecture from that presentation has been spread widely as expert medical advice. 

Thank you for considering the value of making a public statement addressing this unintended public perception. We all value the contribution ACDA has made in our lives and careers. This is a time, where we see an opportunity to come together as lovers of choral music, like at no time in history to make a difference in the world.