By Jennifer K. BauerThe region’s biggest community choir, the Palouse Choral Society, is operating on a shoestring budget after cancelling all its 2020 concerts since March.
While some studies are suggesting ways to mitigate the risks of singing in groups, the danger remains, said Paul Thompson, the society’s artistic and music director. Most of the society’s members are in an at-risk age bracket for developing serious complications should they contract COVID-19.
“Nobody needs this for credit. Nobody needs this for a degree. … It just seemed like we needed to put the health and safety of people first,” Thompson said about the decision to not attempt to meet in-person.
The group has a list of safety concerns that need to be addressed before it convenes, he said. Likely this won’t be until “a vaccine or acceptable treatment that has had time to get out to the general public.”
When the group quit rehearsing in March, it had about 60 people gathering for three-hour rehearsals at St. James Episcopal Church in Pullman. The number of people, the length of time and being in an enclosed room without sufficient ventilation are all problematic in terms of the spread of the virus, Thompson said. Adding an audience is yet another factor. “The challenges are pretty tremendous.”
The group’s members, who come from towns and farms around the region, are understanding of the situation but also sad, said Janice O’Toole, the society’s executive director.
“Not only is it a hobby, for some people it’s their main do-it-for-me thing. For some people, it was their main source of interaction with others.”
People join the choir for three big reasons, Thompson said: a passion for music, an outlet for something to do and for a sense of community.
“Everybody is understanding; nobody is happy,” he said about the situation.
The society canceled its spring concert marking its 20th anniversary. It plans to hold that concert first, when it is safe to do so, Thompson said.
Concerts make up about half of the nonprofit’s income. The other half is largely from donations, sponsorships and grants. The group applied for and received a two-month loan from the Paycheck Protection Program, O’Toole said, but since then, the board had to make some drastic decisions. The society is no longer able to pay Thompson for his work as the artistic and music director, or the director of the children’s choir, an accompanist and an assistant director. O’Toole is paid on an hourly basis and is budgeted for five hours per month going forward.
The group is fortunate because it has low overhead costs, she said. It does not have a mortgage or pay rent for an office space or building.
Usually, this is the time of year when the society sends information out about season ticket sales. This year, it’s sending a letter letting people know how they can help the group “stay afloat and exist when all this is over,” O’Toole said. To meet its fiscal obligations while remaining on hiatus for the entire 2020-21 season, the group needs to raise $8,400. To hold a concert this coming spring, it would need to raise a minimum of $30,000 to cover production and personnel costs.
Donations to the Palouse Choral Society can be made on its website, palousechoralsociety.org, or sent by mail to P.O. Box 8112, Moscow, ID 83843.