Does singing in different languages create more potentially infectious droplets and aerosols? Researchers in Japan say the answer is yes. At least three separate studies have shown that when it comes to emitting droplets and aerosols, not all languages are equal.
Studies were commissioned last December by the Japan Association of Classical Music Presenters (JACMP), which represents professional musicians, orchestras, and concert hall managers, to run an experiment involving unmasked singers. Eight professional vocalists—equally divided between male tenors and female sopranos—took turns performing short solos in a laboratory-clean room. The subjects sang excerpts from three pieces commonly performed here: A popular Japanese children’s song, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy; and Verdi’s La Traviata.
In terms of vocal emissions, it was no contest. Trilling in German and Italian generated twice as many particles per minute (1,302 and 1,166, respectively) as crooning in Japanese (580).
But JACMP Director Toru Niwa cautioned that the takeaway from the studies shouldn’t be to avoid European music during the pandemic. While several amateur singing venues have yielded super-spreader incidents, Niwa said Japan’s professional choirs haven’t been tainted by a single community transmission event—regardless of the language being sung—despite returning to rehearsals and performances in live music halls.
“Classical music is basically the western canon,” he said. “If we stopped singing in French, Italian, and German, we wouldn’t be able to perform anymore.”
A separate study by the Japan Choral Association (JCA), which represents 4,500 amateur groups, had 20 child and adult singers perform solo excerpts, pitting a Japanese graduation tune against Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The study found that singing in Japanese propelled particles a maximum distance of about 24 inches—only about half as far as warbling in German, which flung particles up to 44 inches from a singer’s mouth.
“When singing in German, we advise our members to stand at the maximum distance from each other,” said JCA Secretary-General Masakazu Umeda.
Umeda and Niwa explained that their studies reflect how the Japanese language—with its soft, comparatively gently-voiced consonants—leaves a lighter footprint when it comes to vocal emissions. In fact, the JCA found that singing in nonsense syllables composed entirely of the Japanese vowels “ah, ee, oo, eh, oh” yielded almost no emissions at all.
Guidance for school choirs from Japan’s Ministry of Education directs children to wear masks and keep singers at least 6.5 feet apart, ideally in a “plaid” pattern, alternating positioning between rows, to make everyone more visible to an audience.
Distancing singers on stage for pro ensembles means choirs must get by with just 60 singers, instead of the usual 100 or more. Opera singers have been advised not to face each other when performing, and not to walk around the stage mid-song.
Niwa said that by having singers stand in the alternating plaid pattern, with at least the recommended distance between them—whether they wear masks or not—”the risk is substantially reduced.”
Read Full Article from CBS News (01/28/21)
Author: Craft, Lucy
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