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Singing Valentines during pandemic

Do Singing Valentines make sense during a pandemic?

An annual highlight of barbershop life—and a significant revenue source for many groups—seems unlikely to happen in 2021 due to the global pandemic. Consider these safety concerns around face-to-face Singing Valentines, and potential alternative opportunities.

Although COVD-19 vaccination is beginning to roll out slowly across North America, caseloads are still high, and “normal” barbershop gatherings still look pretty distant. To satisfy their need to sing, barbershop groups continue experimenting with online meeting formats, and innovative outdoor gatherings in cars, parking lots, via FM transmitters and wireless microphones.

Within your own community of singers, your risk tolerance for being together might be manageable; a quartet might be willing to meet together, disciplined in keeping safe distances, and remain relatively “bubbled” together in quarantine. But when it comes to bringing music into other people’s homes, workplaces, and other public settings, a deeper conversation must take place. People who willingly gather together to sing might not be welcome when they show up unannounced in someone else’s environment.

Safety concerns

Your own safety

  • Rehearsing together indoors is not still not advised by BHS. See BHS COVD-19 guidelines for discussions of the science and engineering behind this recommendation.
  • Travelling together in the same car is not advised. A common scenario for Singing Valentines face-to-face is for the quartet to arrive together, often driven by a fifth person.
  • Singing indoors near strangers (the usual delivery method) is not advised. Six feet is not a magic number, especially singing. Reviewing your own delivery experience, you’ll probably recall many occasions when four singers crammed into a small office or cubicle farm space… hardly the physical distancing recommended these days.

Safety of your audiences

Like never before, the idea of people showing up unannounced to sing is deeply problematic. We as singers might be perfectly comfortable entering a workplace masked and distanced, with every good intention of a safely distanced performance. That understanding and comfort might not be shared by the recipient or by other people in that setting.

An example: Taylor orders a Valentine for Jordan, unaware that Jordan’s workplace does not admit visitors or that Jordan’s office mates are in high-risk groups. Maybe the quartet is turned away at the door. Maybe the quartet comes inside anyway, because folks were too polite to turn them away - but inwardly, they are uncomfortable, angry, or resentful of the recipient. Result: What was meant to be a lovely gift becomes a stressful event.

In many ways, this situation resembles Canon Six of the BHS Code of Ethics: “We shall refrain from forcing our songs upon unsympathetic ears” or, in this case, forcing our unwelcome and potentially infectious presence into unwilling spaces.

Recommendation: Do not deliver Singing Valentines face to face this year.

Delivery options

So what can you do? Think differently! Just because you’ve always delivered in person doesn’t make that the only way. A busy Facebook conversation has been sharing interesting ideas, some of which are summarized here.

Deliver outdoors

Some chapters are using wireless mics, FM transmitters, etc. to bring people to sing at acceptable distances outdoors. See recent stories about Somerset Hills Harmony, the Arlingtones, and Da Upper Yoopers (as profiled in the Los Angeles Times), three out of many groups that have put together mobile rigs to keep the singers apart. Add an “insider contact” to switch on an FM radio for the recipient, and you have a stealthy but direct live performance.

A similar approach puts the singers outdoors with microphones, with a small PA speaker delivering the sound. This might get noisy and intrusive, but could be appropriate in some settings.

Video options

Some groups are making multi-track recordings of their quartets or choruses (singers isolated), then adding personalized greetings, titles, etc. The Acapella app (for IOS or Android) might be suited to this, permitting a quartet to assemble numerous highly-personalized deliveries, with the added attraction of encouraging social media shares of the gift.

Live video delivery via Zoom etc. might also be possible, provided you have access to a setting that permits singers to physically distance, and you have mixing gear and a reliable internet connection. Again, your personal risk tolerance must guide you here, although we can’t advise it.

Get some new tunes

Serenade Songbook

To stretch musically, consider using the new Serenade Songbook , which contains five arrangements in classic barbershop style. It’s available in TTBB, SSAA, and SATB/mixed voicings - a chance for new collaborations using virtual choirs, Acapella apps, etc.

Plan for 2022

Regardless of what you choose for 2021, you can experiment this year with alternatives. You might not be able to do everything at full scale this year, but the things you learn from attempting remote deliveries, multi-track recordings, and so on, can furnish experience that serves you in the future. (Hmmm… maybe for Mother’s Day? Or next Christmas?)

See what other groups are doing this year

Brian Lynch is Public Relations Manager for the Barbershop Harmony Society.