From Saturday 8 August, it will become mandatory to wear a mask in a place of worship, along with cinemas, galleries and museums. (2)

At Singers for Funerals, we decided to do our own tests to determine if wearing a cloth face covering / face mask would in any way affect:

  • our ability to sing
  • the clarity and volume of our voices

(We use the term ‘face mask’ to cover all kinds of face coverings that are neither a tied scarf nor medical grade PPE.)

The sample music

Our funeral singer Toni chose three different items to sing a short section from:

  1. Schubert’s Ave Maria – sung at nearly every Catholic funeral we attend
  2. Abide with Me – a favourite CofE funeral hymn
  3. Time to Say Goodbye – a popular choice for exit music, at crematoriums, and at graveside.

Toni sang a short section of each song not wearing a mask, and then exactly the same section wearing a cloth face mask. The recording continued when she put her mask on, so you can see nothing else changed.

The recording

We set up an iPad at a fixed point to record and video. No settings were changed after initial setup on this iPad nor was it moved in between items. Toni also used a pre-recorded backing track played behind her, again at a fixed volume and location. Nothing was tweaked in post-production of the video either.

The results

We were delighted that our ‘boxy’ design cloth face mask did not appear to muffle the sound or impact on the clarity of the words. Toni said that wearing her mask to sing did not restrict her breathing, nor did it restrict the movement of her jaw and mouth. Her glasses also didn’t steam up – always an advantage!

Our iPad did decide to vary the recording levels dropping down the high notes, but it did it at precisely the same point in both takes of each item. This indicates that the sound recording algorithm considered both versions to be at the same volume each time.

You can see the video/s and listen for yourself here and at YouTube.

Professional singers and funeral singing

The guidance for the performing arts in relation to singing states that venues should be:

“Limiting singing in groups or in front of audiences to professionals only (i.e. for work purposes only)” and also “Limiting singing in groups to group sizes which are as small as possible in one discrete space.” (6)

Our professional solo singers will wear masks at any inside funeral, cremation, memorial service or life cycle event, in accordance with the new requirements coming into force on 8 August.  They can also sing at the graveside masked or unmasked (and have done several times over the last few months), thanks to our wireless backing track system, which enables considerable social distancing if required.

This is in addition to our normal COVID precautions, which includes sanitising our own wireless speaker and iPad, and using our own digital music, not church hymn books. We also maintain a minimum 3 metres social distancing where space allows, or even further if we can!

Call us to discuss your requirements for a funeral service, or memorial services to be held in the autumn.

UPDATE  Below, Toni had a chance to video singing in a church in a face mask live after the funeral has finished. Here’s the result

More about our face mask

Prior to the Prime Minister’s announcement on mandatory masks in church, we had already done our own trials of various mask types. Our main discovery was that no one size fits all faces, and that the width of your face could radically affect the snugness of the face mask fit when singing.

Our aim was to find a mask design that allowed us to sing without restriction but that also moved as little as possible whilst we sang. This would ensure the closeness of fit required to keep sideways escape of air from the mask to an absolute minimum.

We tried four different styles:

1. Paper surgical type mask (folded)

This was not a success when singing, being prone to riding down from the nose. It also felt highly inappropriate and insensitive to wear at a funeral, especially if the deceased had died in hospital.

2. Folded cloth face mask

Basically a folded cloth version of the paper mask, the biggest challenge with these were the very large gaps that appeared at the side where the fabric gathered as the elastic was stretched back over the ears. It also went saggy after washing, losing the pleats.

3. The Olsen face mask

This is a close-fitting cloth mask which has a central seam and a centre piece that rises up to cover the nose. We found these were close fitting when talking but virtually useless for singing, as they either rode up the nose or more usually descended down over the chin revealing the nose.

4. The ‘boxy’ face mask

We finally found the ‘boxy’ mask, designed by an engineer to give more room inside the mask for facial movements. Thanks to a very clever arrangements of folds, the central panel stays in place over the mouth whilst the mask fits snugly at the side of the face. In addition, the central aluminium strip nose piece holds the mask in position over the nose, even for those of us who wear glasses. The design also allows for slight variations for a personalised fit.

Our videos show Toni wearing one of these ‘boxy’ mask designs. Made with layers of fine weave 100% cotton that is washable at 60 degrees, the mask is reusable and eco-friendly. Even the flexible nose piece is made from food-grade aluminium cut from (well-cleaned) takeaway containers!

Is singing at funerals banned?

NO!, No and No!

The government guidance says, for acts of worship:

“One individual only should be permitted to sing or chant… This is because there is a possible additional risk of transmission in environments where individuals are singing or chanting as a group.” (1)

Professional singers can sing as groups or soloists outside, such as by the graveside. Crucially, any singers should be professional:

“Non-professionals (meaning those participating in performing arts other than for work purposes) should not engage in group singing at all.” (1)

A quick word about Must and Should in government documents;

  • Must indicated a legal requirement under the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020
  • Should is not a legal requirement but a strong recommendation

Studies on singing and aerosols

Various studies have examined the travel of droplets from singing, as we outlined in our recent blog. A new study at the University of Bristol led by Declan Costello, an ear, nose and throat surgeon with an interest in voice disorders will look at the aerosol transmission during singling and playing wind instruments. Funded by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and sponsored by Public Health England, the study results should be published in the early autumn. (3) (4)

Want to talk?

Call us to discuss your requirements for a singer for a loved one’s funeral.