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Bach Festival staff eliminates choir, limits in-person audience to remain safe

Every year, the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park attracts people from Winter Park, across America, and even abroad. The festival includes musical numbers ranging from classical to contemporary pieces, performed by a variety of choirs and orchestras. But this year, which marks the 86th festival, staff had to make many adjustments to adhere to COVID-19 protocols. 

Dr. John Sinclair, Rollins music professor and conductor of the Bach Festival, said that he wanted to carry out the program while making it as safe as possible for attendees and musicians.

The festival was founded in 1935 by students and staff at Rollins. It was initially an Oratorio Society event commemorating the 250th anniversary of Johann Sebastian Bach’s birth, a famous composer in the Baroque period. Within the first five years, however, the program became a community event open to anyone. 

Over the years, the festival has had numerous guest singers, 30 ticketed events, about 180 volunteer singers, and about 50 orchestra members.

Sinclair said that his normal choir has about 175 people, and 45 are from Rollins. This year, however, students did not participate as much as they previously had due to limited capacity at each location. 

The program, located in the Knowles Memorial Chapel and Winter Park Central Park, is three weeks long with normally over 100 people in the audience. Today, only half of the previous number of people can be seated. 

Administration decreased the audience capacity in Knowles Memorial Chapel in order to follow the CDC six-feet-apart guideline. In order to further protect the audience and the performers from COVID-19, the soloist will be placed behind a plexiglass barrier. 

At the Winter Park Central Park location, audience members had to purchase a seat in a pod to ensure six feet distances. Additionally, leaders of the program had to make the hard decision to cut the choir from the program this year. 

“Musicians have a responsibility to be leaders and role models for social responsibilities,” said Sinclair.

All festival events will be live-streamed and recorded for a virtual audience so that those who typically travel across the country to see the event can now access it online. Digital access will be included with all physical tickets to encourage ill patrons to stay home.

Anyone can purchase tickets, either digital or in-person, here. The first event on the website calendar will take place on Mar. 25.

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