Dear parents and voice students,

I hope that you all have been keeping well and staying safe as we navigate through these difficult times.  I wanted to provide you with an update and an explanation of how OTOB plans to proceed with voice lessons going into the upcoming school year.  Michael, Carissa and I have been carefully monitoring the public health guidance and scientific research on music lessons and on singing specifically.  We have decided that it is not currently safe to conduct voice lessons in person but will continue to offer voice lessons online only for the time being.  This is not a decision we make lightly; I too prefer to teach face-to-face, and I recognize that online lessons present some challenges. I have developed strategies to overcome those challenges and will continue to work hard to keep voice lessons engaging and enjoyable.

OTOB is following the government’s policies and guidelines by requiring masks and prohibiting the sharing of materials for in-person lessons.  While I fully support these important safety precautions, they will cause problems for voice lessons specifically.  Not only will having my students masked prevent me from seeing how they are using their mouths and faces to breathe and sing, or whether they are carrying tension, but I will also be unable to effectively demonstrate proper techniques with a mask on. I am certainly not advocating for in-person lessons without masks; that would be unsafe and irresponsible. Rather, I believe that I will be able to teach voice lessons more effectively online than in person with everyone masked.

Ontario’s guidelines also do not sufficiently address the additional risks of aerosol-producing activities such as singing.  Recent research including this study raises serious concerns about the possibility of COVID-19 transmission through aerosol accumulation in enclosed spaces, especially when aerosol-heavy instruments (including voice) are involved. Studies have also demonstrated that although masks may prevent some aerosol emission, face shields and plexiglass barriers only prevent droplet spread and provide little protection against accumulated aerosols.  Based on this guidance, some institutions such as the University of Iowa are requiring not only masks and HEPA filtration for voice lessons but also large rehearsal halls, limited lesson durations, and air-scrubbing breaks in between lessons. The latest version of the Framework for the Return to Music Classes released by the Ontario Music Educators’ Association, and referenced by the Ministry of Education in their back-to-school plan, recommends pausing all face-to-face instruction of singing and wind/brass instruments until public health authorities deem it safe. Even more concerning is a preliminary review in the Journal of Voice discussing potential long-term vocal and respiratory damage in survivors of COVID-19.

While I really do miss teaching students face-to-face, there are many things that have been working well in online lessons.  The structure of the lesson is essentially the same as what students are used to in-person.  Many of my students taking online lessons have demonstrated greater focus, higher levels of organization and practicing, and improvements in tuning. Some have even shown an interest in developing keyboard skills useful to singers.  We are making use of online tools such as audio tracks to practice with and screen-sharing for sight-reading.  I will make available an updated guide to help students and parents with setting up their devices and lesson spaces to optimize online lesson time and minimize technical problems.  I am also willing to make up any significant time lost if occasional problems do occur.

Finally, I would like to say that I truly believe that this situation of online lessons is temporary. There will come a time when we can once again safely sing together in-person and nothing will make me happier. Until then, I will do everything I can to make online lessons meaningful for students. If you have any questions or concerns feel free to reach out to me.