In an all-too-familiar pandemic pivot, the Los Angeles Master Chorale on Tuesday announced cancellation of its 40th “Messiah” singalong at the recommendation of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. The organization confirmed with The Times that the guidance came before news of the Omicron variant spooked the world and that it was enacted largely over concerns about elevated COVID-19 infection rates and the difficulty of keeping masks secured during an event where everyone is singing.
The Master Chorale is replacing the event with a free outdoor singalong, "Carols on the Plaza," at 6 p.m. Dec. 20 on the plaza at the Music Center downtown.
"Since the pandemic, and as we’ve been working on restarting our season, we have routinely checked in with the department of health to get approval of our protocol," says Master Chorale President and Chief Executive Jean Davidson. "Out of an abundance of caution, they recommended we rethink the singalong."
The Master Chorale requires that all guests, artists and employees be fully vaccinated, and Davidson says that at recent performances, most audience members have complied with wearing masks. There are, however, bare-nose offenders, and a few people have been removed for refuting the mask mandate. With a holiday surge possible in the coming weeks, the idea of serious mask slippage during a 70-minute singalong became daunting, Davidson says.
If the Master Chorale had decided not to cancel the event, the health department was recommending measures that would have included proof of vaccination, a negative COVID-19 test and additional social distancing. "It seemed like a lot to ask of our patrons and our ushers, who have to enforce all this stuff," Davidson adds.
Cancellation will result in the loss of about $30,000, says Davidson, but fortunately, the Master Chorale has been the recipient of emergency funding for situations such as this. It also has a pending shuttered venues grant of $250,000.
Davidson says that other than the cancellation, the Master Chorale is operating under the assumption that the rest of its season will go ahead as planned, including a regular Dec. 19 performance of Handel's "Messiah."
During the replacement singalong, the group’s artistic director, Grant Gershon, and associate artistic director, Jenny Wong, will lead 20 Master Chorale singers and public carolers in a 40-minute program including holiday mainstays such as "Deck the Halls," "Joy to the World" and "Silver Bells." Since the event is outdoors, proof of vaccination is not required, but attendees will be asked to wear masks.
"Our biggest concern now is to get the word out that there’s this free singalong," says Davidson. "It’ll be fun whether there are five people or 200 or more."
“Messiah” singalong ticket holders can donate their tickets, exchange them or get refunds by calling the box office at (213) 972-7282.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.