If you are wondering how social distancing rule will affect choir harmony and performance, I will encourage you to take your time and read through.


Social distancing rule may have altered how singers and choirs will rehearse and perform; but how bad does it affect harmony? When it comes to the subject of vocal harmony, many young singers get a bit uninterested and bewildered; especially when it borders on the formation or arrangements of very complex harmonies.


Harmony we all know is the simultaneous sounding of two or more notes. But is that all to it? There are a lot more to this simple definition; taking into perspective factors like range, blending, effects, dynamics etc.

As worship centres all over the world get ready to resume worship or are already opened, the social distancing rule will restrict, hinder and create an imbalance to vocal harmony. Spacing every singer considerably, at least 3 feet (recommended social distancing rule by WHO) will amount to music dysfunctionality. 


With the spate of a global call to governments, health authorities and leaders in various capacities to ensuring compliance on social distancing rule, music activities may become unexciting, tough and experience a new turn.


On compliance for none large gatherings, “in-persons” choir rehearsals and performance will have to metamorphosize. No doubt, we will witness in the coming days a whole new style of playing and engaging music. Choir directors, music coach and instructors would have to find a way around presenting and doing music temporarily.

One of the beauties of choral or group performance in a converged form is that it promotes accuracy in the range of pitch, harmony, presentation and performance. If you take a close look at the definition of music, certain terms highlight the essence of music – “being coordinated” and ordering of tones or sound. When large spacing occurs; it becomes difficult to have a coordinated piece.


I will be sharing with you how social distancing rule will affect the harmony of your choir.


Taking into concern, the different levels of singers in the choir (untrained, semi-trained and trained); there is a need for a guide for the less trained. This is only possible when experienced singers are close to forming a mixed or uniform harmony. Where this is missing due to spacing, beginner and untrained voices may swerve. Even for many professional and experienced singers, they rely on other individuals or part members to harmonize effectively when singing in a group. Techniques like counterpoints (the relationship between two or more voices that are independent in contour) may suffer due to the spacing of singers.

“What you do not correct at rehearsals will show up at performance”

The spacing of singers may be possible at rehearsal or during practice; considering that most rehearsal venues are only occupied by the singers and musicians alone. But what becomes the quality of harmony. For some, rehearsals happen in very opened spaces or auditorium. While some – at smaller venues. If you space singers or voices, your music becomes “spaced” too! For groups or choirs that do not have the privilege of good or large space, what then happens to their rehearsals? 


Rehearsal gives you a firsthand idea of what your performance will look like. If you had your rehearsal observing social distancing rule of about 3 feet, and here you are at performance with no individual spacing at all, there will be variance in rendition. 

One of the dangers of having a spaced rehearsal and a converged performance is that asides variance in rendition on both sides, it puts a restriction on expression. How can this be?


Now, imagine that you had your rehearsal in a room of about 30 square meters or less and with ample individual spacing where there had been a collective choral step, dance or gestures, this may be difficult to achieve if the performance venue is not as spacious as the room for rehearsal. This dancing or any art expression will be hampered on a stage or platform without the possibility of spacing. Similarly, the way singers will dance and hear themselves will be different from a clustered position due to size and space of the stage. 



While this may be easier for smaller choirs, it may not encourage choir growth. What would be the essence of having more singers when you cannot feature them all during a performance.


Music requires team and group work, especially for choral pieces. An alto or tenor singer requires a soprano to make his or her harmony complete. Let’s look at it this way!

During rehearsals or performance, singers take cues from one another especially if such genres are characterized by counterpoints (the combination of two or more independent melodies into a single harmonic texture in which each retains its linear character). If singers are unable to hear themselves either due to dynamics range and texture or spacing, a true choral achievement may be hindered. Harmony is most effective within close pitch range. 

I once asked a friend if he had ever witnessed a song with a “harmonic combination” of soprano and bass voice?



For singers who are not trained, a bit inexperienced and cannot harmonize alone, the spacing of singers may have a downtrodden impact on them. This may cause them to stay away or feel unwanted. Nobody wants to be the reason for any group failure. Some choir directors understand this, hence, the reason there are types of mix or vocal formation to cater for untrained voices. Well, you may call these trained voices as guides or “buddy singers”



Another area of concern and worry is the placements of microphones, stage size and choir formation. Typical of most choir rehearsals especially for larger once, they seldom use microphones when rehearsing and if they do, the rehearsal rooms are different.

Are stage microphones going to be spaced to meet the spacing requirements? Technically, it’s going to be difficult to space singers during a choral performance on a confined or small stage. And if the option is to cut down on the number of singers to meet the stage capacity, will this not affect the choral piece and psychology of singers; having rehearsed with fuller or complete formation of singers? Similarly, the choir formation or parts may change the entire mood, texture and quality of the song.


For instance, take a look at the picture above. They all drive a certain mood and effect. A linear, “U” or “V” shaped choir performance position will have a different effect from another. Likewise, spacing them will distort these effects.



Psychologically, when singers are spaced considerably, the true essence of choir bond is eroded. The feeling of hearing one’s partner sing closely brings a sense of unison, confidence and warmth. The idea of singers singing in a spaced environment gives the feeling that the song is being rendered apart, and somewhat like a “multi-solo choral” performance. Hey! Don’t forget many joined the choir to sing with others and not to feel like they are singing alone.



When you take into account, the types and levels of singers in most choral environment: the untrained, semi-trained and trained, you will observe that not everyone is at a level I call “harmonically independent”. They use the help of others who are proficient in harmony to stabilize and get some form of vocal balance. So, what then happens to these set of singers should everyone be spaced?


Dynamics is a vital part of music. It’s not just enough knowing what notes to create a chord or harmony but the level of volume applied will either mar or make a fantastic harmony. When voices are in groups and closely knit, dynamics is more effective. With considerable spacing, this is hindered.



Sound wave is another very important aspect. When group singers are spaced, sound is perceived to move or travel randomly. If you take for instance a choir of 30 singers with different part formation (S13, A7, T6, B4). When these part groups (Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass) are broken and spaced individually, sound is no longer perceived as collective or unified.


Depending on the room type, the position and participation of the conductor and musicians may affect the interpretation of a piece; there will be a high tendency also for everyone including the singers to hear differently. This may, in turn, affect the musicians.

Similarly, imagine a situation the bass group of five men are physically closer to the section the musicians are, musicians will only hear a single bass singer or at most a portion of 2 – 3 bass singers more than other parts put together because others are also spaced far away from them. 


The hearing of bass harmony more audibly will affect balance and playing. I am sure most musicians can relate to this – have you ever experienced a moment you are playing and the part seem off or flat. You are most likely hearing alto, tenor or bass part louder than the rest of the harmony.

“If your rehearsal does not reflect what your performance should be, abort the performance”


Except the conductor has multiple auditory abilities to hear every note and see from all spaced angles; otherwise, how would such a conductor validate the quality and accuracy of harmony of each spaced singer.


Similarly, spacing singers considerably, at least according to the recommended length for your region would have some singers positioned a bit farther from the conductor. This can cause miscommunication with the conductor especially for singers who are short-sighted.


In a nutshell, this is pretty simple – If your neighbour is far or some steps away from you, and you are both required to observe certain techniques like embellishment, synchronization may be a problem. 


Well, it is not certain that Music directors, coaches and instructors have found a workaround to this, but they should bear in mind some of these factors mentioned. Performance art will definitely receive new treatment and interaction. As we move on and learn to live with this pandemic reality, one thing is needful – innovation and creativity are inevitable.


Lawrence Dieyi

Lawrence Dieyi

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