Masked singers look forward to setting the music free

At our monthly music jam in South Beach, the talk was all about shots. Who has gotten the COVID vaccine, who has not, who is still trying to get an appointment? There were six of us. Turns out three are scheduled for our first shots this week, two are fully vaccinated, and one is still fighting the online registration system. The shots are so popular that you have to move quickly or you’re out. The first call I got came while I was driving to church. By the time I got there, all the slots were filled. The next time, I managed to respond within the first five minutes, so I got my appointment.

We are all hopeful that by the second Sunday in May we might be able to sing without masks. Oh, what a joy that would be.

You might wonder how we have continued to gather during the pandemic when we’ve been mostly in isolation. Some have opted to stay home, but the rest of us decided we could still jam with great precautions. We all wear masks, we sit far apart from each other, and we keep all the windows open, even in the cold days of winter. It’s not ideal, but we need music. Most other jams and open mics have been canceled. We have no gigs. Zoom singing doesn’t work.

I do play with the choir at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, also masked and distanced, recording Masses for people to watch online, but I miss singing for live audiences and listening to other performers in bars, restaurants, or auditoriums. I miss festivals, with crowds gathered around booths and outdoor stages, with kids and dogs and everybody together . . . remember that? Imagine standing shoulder to shoulder, singing, sharing a mic, feeling each other’s breath on our faces. Imagine all the things we never thought were special until we couldn’t do them anymore.

Masks make it hard to sing. The notes get buried in the cloth. Months ago, our church choir was given masks made for singers, with plastic frames pushing them out enough for us to breathe. Regular masks suck into our mouths when we inhale and trap the air we exhale. Soon we’re choking. This is better. Not perfect. I get a headache every time I sing with the mask on. Even with a microphone, I find it difficult to sing loudly enough or articulate clearly enough. Little things like watching the director’s mouth to make sure we start together are not possible.

I forgot my mask when I arrived at the South Beach Community Center yesterday. I had so much to carry, with purse, music, guitar, mandolin and music stand. No one said anything until I realized my faux pas and ran out to the car to get my mask. (I hang my favorite masks off the gearshift. Some people use their mirrors. Where do you hang yours?) We all forget sometimes. I know I’m not the only one who takes a few steps, then claps her hand over her mouth. OMG, forgot my mask.

In the news, we hear about other parts of the U.S. canceling their mask mandates. We see pictures of “mask burnings.” It’s too soon. Too many people are still sick. Not enough have been vaccinated. In Oregon, we’re keeping our masks on for now. We just have to wait a little while longer.

Have you heard Dolly Parton’s parody of her hit song “Jolene”? “Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, I’m begging of you, please don’t hesitate . . .” Might as well have fun with it.

I sing mask-free at home. It feels good. But harmonizing with other people feels even better. Someday soon, the songs will ring out again, our mouths wide open to set the music free. Because all of us at the jam are now eligible for the vaccine due to age, occupation or special conditions, we are hopeful that two months from now, we can sing with uncovered mouths and see each other’s happy, relieved smiles.

Please, God, let it be true.

The South Beach open mic/jam happens on the second Sunday of the month from 3 to 5 p.m. at the South Beach Community Center, 3024 SE Ferry Slip Road, across from Aquarium Village. Bring your ax and your mask and join us. Wear something warm.

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