PIERRE — Heeding the advice of its music advisory committee and its COVID task force, on Wednesday the South Dakota High School Activities Association Board of Directors voted to cancel this year’s All-State Chorus concert. All-State Orchestra will take place with safety protocols in place.
It is the first major state event the SDHSAA has canceled during the 2020-21 school year after canceling spring state championships and events due to COVID-19 last spring. In a normal year, the chorus and orchestra event would be held in the fall, but it was postponed this year to allow the SDHSAA the most time to make a decision.
SDHSAA Assistant Executive Director Brooks Bowman explained to the board that the music advisory board looked at six different options that ranged from having both events with varying degrees of safety protocols to canceling both of them.
“We have medical experts agreeing with our music experts,” Bowman said. “This risk is just too great.”
The risk of spreading the virus through singing was spelled out for the association in an aerosol study by the National Federation of High School Associations that found an increased chance of spreading the virus through singing.
Board member Tom Culver of Avon resisted the idea of canceling the event.
“We’ve taken enough things taken away from our kids,” Culver said. “If schools don’t want to come, they don’t have to come.”
Board member Randy Soma of Brookings noted that two groups — music teachers and a task force of educators and doctors — “said we should not have the choir.”
SDHSAA Executive Director Dan Swartos said he didn’t know of any states in the region that we having large-scale singing events. About 1,200 students take part in All-State Chorus.
Any plan to hold the chorus event would have included no audience and chorus members spread throughout the Premier Center in Sioux Falls. Bowman said singers would face a half-second delay as the sound from one side of the building reached the other side.
“There are major concerns about how those kids will be able to stay together,” Bowman said. “That messes with a musician’s mind.”
Board member Jerry Rasmussen of Dakota Valley said it was difficult to accept canceling the singing event when the association was just coming off a successful state wrestling tournament.
“Kids can wrestle but we can’t sing,” Rasmussen said. “It’s not an apples to apples comparison.”
Swartos said the NFHS aerosol study was specific to the dangers posed by singing. “We don’t have that for when two teams play basketball,” Swartos said.
A motion by Culver to hold both events failed by a vote of 3-5. Culver, Barry Mann (of Wakpala) and Mike Talley (Rapid City) were the supporters. Rasmussen, Soma, Mark Murphy (Aberdeen), Marty Weismantel (Groton Area) and Craig Cassens (Faulkton Area) voted against holding both events.
A subsequent vote to cancel All-State Chorus but hold All-State Orchestra was approved 8-0.
At All-State Orchestra, all musicians will wear masks and wind instruments will have bell covers. Musicians will be spaced 3 feet apart.
Swartos said there would be some attendance allowed with student musicians receiving tickets they can give to family members.
Assistant Editor Marcus Traxler contributed to this report.