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Director FAQ: Singing “Bubbles”

What Exactly ARE Singing Bubbles???
In many parts of the world, there has been a lot of education about “quarantine pods,” which are simply small groups of people who have established safety protocols. This allows the small group to enjoy more normal social interactions, including in-person gatherings and indoor activities that society (on the whole) is avoiding. For example, many family groups have already established bubbles with certain “trusted” friends or family, who they feel do not greatly increase their risks. The experts believe that establishing these pods greatly improves our mental health while still protecting our health.

Is this safe?
The short answer is “yes,” because no one is required to join any pod that they don’t feel safe in. Each person gets to assess this for themselves, and if you’re most comfortable with a pod that includes only you and your cat, then that’s the way it stays. 

Any increase in exposure is a little risky. However, in places where COVID is not prevalent in the community, it is possible to talk to other people to see whether they have some of the same concerns, health needs, and safety protocols that you do. This actually helps us feel more connected, too—even if we don’t choose to form a pod with them.

What is the process for forming a pod?
STEP 1:  Communicate with a group of people about the idea. (This may be a little tricky, like asking someone about STDs when you’re considering sleeping with them.) Basically, we are talking about two things: (1) what exposure risk we have—things like how much we go out, how much we interact with others, who we live with, what safety measures we take, how fastidious we are, etc. and (2) what concerns or health needs we have—things like what our health risk level is, how worried we are, what fears we have about meeting others. Here, the idea is NOT to judge anyone about their situation, attitude, or perspective, but to see if there are others who have similar patterns and needs as you. (You might be surprised to find that there are others who are quite isolated and share the same concerns you have.)

This might be the end of the process for some. (Similar to my earlier example, if someone admits they’ve “never” been tested, then you might pass, but if you get more info—just left a long-term relationship, haven’t been physical for 5 years, don’t like to be touched—then you might find that your STD risk is low… and the least of your worries.)  However, if you find a person or a few people who have very similar situations as you, you may find yourself moving onto the next step.

STEP 2:  The next conversation gets more detailed in a smaller group. Now it’s time to: (1) discuss safety (in much greater detail than before) and (2) build trust. Now that you’re with people that are similar to you, you can get more details about how people stay safe and protect themselves. (You might talk through a typical day and your safety measures. You might share how you’ve handled unexpected situations to insure the safety of your loved ones.) Once again, no judgment or interruption—only awareness of things that line up with our own safety needs… or not. Once again, this may be the end of the line for you because you just have too much anxiety, or you can go to the next step.

STEP 3:  Agree on safety rules. At this point, you consider forming a small group (1-6 other people who have very similar situations to your own). In this step, you are now exploring how a “pod” would actually function. The communication centers around the guidelines that you want to set for your pod. This includes (1) the safety measures you want to set, (2) how to handle exposures, and (3) what the process might be for getting started.

  • “Safety Measures” might be adopted from the previous step. Maybe everyone agrees to fastidious use of masks and hand sanitizer, but some might think that remembering to wash all groceries would be hard or unnecessary. You may also decide that despite similarities, there are people that would present other challenges for you. Example: Kiva and I have an established social pod that includes several close friends who we trust and feel safe with. However, if we are meeting others (whom we are not sure about), we try to meet outside with masks until we can assess the level of risk they pose to our group. This includes some communication about these guidelines and how careful they are with their groups. Sometimes this allows us to include them in more activities—sometimes not.
  • “How to Handle Exposures” might seem difficult, but my experience is that no one wants to risk the safety of someone else, and that means that this is more about building trust. The group talks about how they handle exposure situations (e.g., when they had contact with someone not respecting their space or not using a mask, when someone unexpected showed up at their door, when someone they know needed to get tested). This allows the group to set guidelines for when pod members need to self-isolate after one of these situations arise. Example: In our social pod, we know that Amy has greater exposure to people, due to her work. However, we also know that she knows and practices all the health and safety protocols and suits up anytime she is in a facility where there has been any COVID. We also know that she gets tested regularly and would never put one of her patients at risk if she could help it. Still, we have had situations in which Amy was self-isolating while being tested because she had a troubling interaction. Likewise, after traveling, Kiva and I isolated for two weeks before seeing family or members of our social bubble. Bottom line… this is where we have to determine how much we can trust others to be fully honest and look out for us as well as them.
  • “Getting Started” is up to the group, and the pod gets to choose how to do this. Some might get together for a cup of tea/glass of wine on the patio and later work up to meeting for a rehearsal. The process can be long or short, because you’re deciding whether you feel comfortable to try this. The good news is that you can go through all of this training, connecting, bonding, and choose not to join a pod!

How does this relate to singing?
If our county remains vigilant and low in terms of COVID exposure, I believe this is a way to gradually reconnect with one another in ways that are respectful to our personal situations and decisions. As some members reconnect, we might have very small groups and individuals in our zoom rehearsals, first within sections to learn parts, and then possibly in mixed groups (for those who like the idea). If we were able to build some small singing bubbles, we would have a better chance of using a synchronous music platform to actually sing together from different locations…but that would be farther down the road. This means we might even have a virtual “Tiny Talent Show” that was able to feature different group acts. We could also move from smaller singing bubbles to larger ones as vaccines/treatments become more available.

If our choir members did some of this training, we could also use these same skills to expand family/social pods…even if you don’t join a singing bubble. I wanted to share with you that our social bubble has expanded over time from about 5 (Lisa, Kiva, Amy, Janice, Pat) to about 13 (we added family and close work colleagues—Dawn, Sandy, Jim, Angie, Corey, Judy, Joyce, Dave). We all monitor our exposures to keep our members safe—with different people isolating when needed. I’m happy to report that we haven’t had any issues, due to our vigilance, and we take pride in caring for one another in this way.

Hope this helps your understanding of “Singing Bubbles.”

—Lisa Hellemn