Winchester Cathedral choristers take part in scientific study to help with research into safer singing

May 27, 2021

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Earlier this week, three of the boy choristers from Winchester Cathedral were selected to take part in the PERFORM 2 study, led by consultant ENT surgeon Declan Costello and NHS ENT surgeon Natalie Watson, to help with the research into Covid-19 and the amount of aerosols and droplets produced when singing.  

Following the latest DCMS guidance, which limits non-professional choral rehearsals and performances to just six people indoors despite restrictions being lifted, the PERFORM 2 study will provide the DCSM and Public Health England with further findings into aerosol transmission and the risks associated with singing and Covid-19. 

The study assessed the choristers speaking and singing in three different volumes (60-70, 70-80 and 80-90 decibels), which included multiple tests within each volume set. Each chorister individually completed a range of exercises, with a mask and without a mask, which included singing and speaking ‘Happy Birthday’ at different pitches and volumes. The study was conducted in an operating theatre where there were no other aerosols present, which allowed researchers to analyse the mass of tiny droplets suspended in the air that were produced by specific sounds.

As part of the study, the final test provided an immediate result which was shown against two yellow cards – the version with the white edging shows the droplets when a chorister was speaking the words to ‘Happy Birthday’ and the version with the blue edging shows the droplets when the chorister sang ‘Happy Birthday’. 

 

According to previous research taken from the PERFORM 1 study that was carried out in 2020, adults demonstrated that there was no difference in terms of aerosol production when speaking or singing quietly so PERFORM 2 tests started at 60db to ensure new data was captured. 

Andrew Lumsden, Director of Music at Winchester Cathedral, said: “We are delighted that the choristers were able to contribute to the PERFORM 2 study and we thank them for their efforts in providing valuable data which will be used as part of the overall findings presented to the DCMS and Public Health England. Singing is an important passion and pastime for many people and the research from this important study will hopefully offer a more positive outlook to choirs who have been greatly affected by the restrictions of the pandemic”.

The data generated by the choristers will be crucial to the PERFORM 2 study and in contributing to the ongoing research into COVID-19 guidance for live musical performances and the safe practise of singing.