Saint Anselm College Choir Persists Through Pandemic

April 23, 2021

By Alex Fischer '21

The Saint Anselm College Choir, directed by Eric Bermani, is one of many organizations on campus that had to change how it operates this year to comply with pandemic safety guidelines. The 2020-2021 academic year choir, with 65 members, is smaller than in past years, but still is able to meet regularly and perform at Sunday masses.

“The implications from COVID-19 hit immediately in March 2020 when the school, and basically everything else, shut down,” said Bermani. COVID-19 affects everyone differently, and singers are impacted more than most, as the vocal projection necessary for singing has been proven to cause airborne particles to travel further than normal.

Bermani spoke on what changes were necessary in order to keep the choir active: “We really had to think outside the box during this year if we wanted to have any choral structures at all. Thankfully, science has shown that a small group of choristers can sing safely as long as 1) they are masked while singing and 2) they observe social distancing.”

As a result of this thinking, the decision was made to split the 65-member choir into smaller vocal ensembles, referred to as scholas. This change gave the choir flexibility in how they organized, as it now had smaller ensembles practicing either Mondays or Wednesdays without the need for contact with the whole group. Each schola would now only perform at one or two masses during each semester, working on a rotating schedule with the rest of the choir.

This workaround managed to get the choir up and running, but it was not a perfect system. “While the choristers were happy that we were able to provide a degree of normalcy, the downside was that the group, as a whole, have not been able to benefit from the community spirit of the choir.” This lack of community spirit hit members of the choir in various ways. While returning members were familiar to the community spirit of the choir, this new normal was all new members were accustomed to.

Bermani had to commend the choristers on adjusting as well as could be expected. “The students demonstrate remarkable resiliency and I was thankful that they were also empathetic with me given the situation we were all dealt. I don't think anyone was ‘happy’ with the smaller schola situation, but they were keenly aware that we were trying our best to provide a degree of normalcy and routine in a world that has been turned upside-down.”

Bermani expressed worry that the choir would not be able to meet at all during this academic year, saying that he was thankful that the choir was able to proceed with the schola option. He also expressed his gratitude for the support that the choir has garnered from professional colleagues. “I am fortunate to have much external support. My colleagues in the office of campus ministry have provided extraordinary emotional support during this entire period of time and I am blessed to have a network of professional colleagues who are able to understand what the specific challenges are because they, too, are in the same situation.”

Bermani hopes that the Saint Anselm College Choir will be able to return to normalcy with the beginning of Fall 2021, saying “we've weathered a significant storm and we all need the opportunity to reset.”

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