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Opinion: COVID-19 Cannot Stop The Hum Of A Church Choir

Classical music concert with a sheet music in the foreground
Manuel Breva Colmeiro
Getty Images
Classical music concert with a sheet music in the foreground

We got a gift from a friend this week—a true note of grace in discordant times. You may know our friend: Amy Dickinson, who writes the advice column "Ask Amy", and is a panelist on "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me."

Amy grew up singing in the choir of the Freeville United Methodist Church in Freeville, New York, where her grandmother was the organist and choir director.

Amy is still in that choir today.

But they've had to stop singing during the pandemic. Singing, even words of inspiration, propels aerosol droplets that can carry COVID-19 particles. It is especially incautious in close confines, including the spaces of a church.

Services have resumed at Freeville United Methodist, and Amy says the parishioners scrupulously observe guidelines from the State of New York. They sit six feet or more apart from one another. They wear masks at all times. There are no bibles, church bulletins, or hymnals in the pews, and — of course, no choir singing out — which could risk spraying out potential infection.

But one Sunday, says Amy Dickinson, the 20 or so members of her small congregation began to hum their masked and wordless performance of the hymn, "He Touched Me."

"We are humming behind our masks," Amy explained as she sent along the music, "and it is the most heartbreaking and beautiful thing I've ever heard... It feels frustrating to hum, but the softness of it means that you are sort of sinking into the quiet and the sadness of it all."

"One day when this is over, we will tear our masks off with gusto and make a joyful noise," Amy Dickinson told us. "But I will never forget this... Perhaps we will develop a whisper song or two to mark the time when our voices were stilled..."

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Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.