Pubs are reopening, so are swimming pools. Football training is resuming and holiday clubs will be running over the summer. So why are we continuing with online lessons in September?
Rewind four months. As lockdown was announced, many activities simply stopped - playgroups, sports, concerts, all sorts of social activities. At Vivace Music School, we felt very fortunate to be able to take our music classes online, albeit in a scaled-back fashion, and to be supported by so many of our wonderful families during this challenging time.
Now the tables are turned; many activities that had to stop completely are starting up again in a socially distanced fashion, yet we have decided to continue teaching online classes for another half a term.
There are two main reasons for this: singing and lack of guidance.
Singing is currently considered by our government to be a very risky activity and strongly advised against. The jury is out over whether the type of singing that happens in our classes is more risky than simply being in the same indoor space with others - we're not opera singers - but in very simple terms, when we sing we breathe more deeply. Deeper breaths mean that we exhale more of whatever germs we are harboring in tiny droplets (aerosols), which then stay in the air around us or settle on surfaces. This means that someone carrying COVID-19 would probably infect more people in their vicinity if they were singing than if they were talking normally.
In practice, this restriction places severe limitations on settings where communal singing up until now has been normal, for instance during religious services or at weddings, where currently only one individual at a time is allowed to sing or chant at a time (and that ideally behind a screen). Even church choirs that normally already sing well away from the rest of the congregation, e.g. from balconies and organ lofts, are not currently allowed to perform. Singing is permitted in schools, but "physical distancing [should be maintained] and [lessons should take place] outside wherever possible, limiting group sizes to no more than 15, positioning pupils back-to-back or side-to-side."
Further suggestions for mitigating the risk range from wearing face shields or masks to putting up screens between group members. We feel this would make classes feel very artificial and could be scary for the children.
In light of the current government guidance, our professional body, the ISM, also strongly advises against teaching singing, woodwind or brass instruments.
Lack of guidance
Lack of clear guidance for our sector affects us in more than one way. For starters, our main venue, the Harlington, has not opened yet and cites lack of clear government direction as the reason for not knowing when they will be able to open their doors again to the public. Having read through some of the guidance for community centres, I'm not surprised.
There is also so far zero guidance on how groups for children aged 0-5 are able to safely resume. Social distancing for this age group is not possible, and this has been recognised in guidance written for childminders and Early Years settings. However, nothing has been published so far for playgroups and children's activities such as ours. If you could spare a moment to sign a petition calling for more guidance in this area it would be much appreciated!
The way forward
For the moment, we are in the same boat as playgroups and soft play areas, with the exception that we can run classes online, for which we are immensely grateful!
The past term has shown us the power and joy of music and this is something that can continue even when we are online! We will continue to investigate our options over the summer but for now, please could we ask you to embrace online lessons for a little longer. We want to see you and sing with you again - safely. This, too, shall pass.