By Ramona M. Wis
Singing for the Greater Good has been our choirs’ “North Star” for several years, evolving as we became more and more aware of the broader, deeper, more impactful aspects of the choral music making process. Singing for the Greater Good unites us, guides our decision making, and recalibrates us when challenges arise, as they have in big ways over the last several months and will continue to for an undetermined amount of time in our future.
In March, I took the ideas that we talk about in rehearsal and put them into a kind of open letter to our singers. I am sharing a reframed version with you today to encourage us to remember that the unchanging, guiding aspects of our choral lives can still remain, even though they might look different.
Here is part of my letter to our singers, reframed for our virtual reality:
“Singing for the Greater Good can be understood as three concentric circles, like ripples from a stone tossed into a pond. It starts with each individual—how can singing, creating music, contribute to your greater good? How has it enriched or healed you? How has it challenged you, developed your personal grit (argh, I have to go back to this piece AGAIN, it still isn’t where it needs to be) and resilience? How has it engaged you intellectually as you process complex rhythms or melodic lines that don’t seem to make much sense? How has it demanded of you physically, as you learn to breathe more fully or understand the mechanisms of your voice and your body as your instrument? How has it disciplined you and your time management or shaped you as a thinker and human?
“Singing for the Greater Good ripples out to the community in which we create music. After all, we are not solo artists; we are a CHOIR, the very definition of which is a group, a community of individuals who come together, even virtually, to create something that cannot be created alone.
“Let that sink in a minute.
“What we do as individuals—our musical preparation, our focus, our attitude, even simply our attendance in a Zoom rehearsal—determines the quality of everyone else’s experience as well as our own. How different is it when we think of our vocal line as related to the line someone else sings? How much more does this awareness develop our individual understanding of ‘why’ we do what we do and how much richer is the fabric of the music we make, the experience we have, and the relationships we develop? And how has singing in our choirs helped you understand how your personal health and wellness can contribute to the well-being of others around you, in particular, during a global pandemic?
“Here is where we are on to something that is not only important for us to be a better choir but also a better participant in that widest circle, our world.
“When we sing with others in mind—those who are very much like us or not at all like us—we demonstrate an ability to think bigger than ourselves. To recognize our common humanity and spirit despite what might, on the surface, separate us. Choirs show what it means to be dependent on others at the same time we are empowering to others and how the physical, spiritual, and artistic energies converge to transcend whatever makes us grumble in our everyday lives.
“And in times of deep challenge, the lessons we learn and experiences we have as members of our choirs can be an important force: strengthening, enlivening, modeling, healing, and moving us forward to something better, healthier, happier, and more whole, even when, for a period of time, we cannot convene together in the same space.”
This fall, I have reframed our North Star as, “STILL Singing for the Greater Good.” The challenges we have been anticipating and others we can’t envision do not have to take away our larger mission as a choral ensemble. We will adapt our methods but stay on mission to keep singing, growing, and learning in different, even deeper ways, and building on the community we are and can become.
“When you find your North Star, you know where you’re headed. That alone feels good. Plus, your North Star is (presumably) wholesome and vital, so aiming toward it will bring more and more happiness and benefit to yourself and others. And you can dream bigger dreams and take more chances in life since if you lose your way, you’ve got a beacon to home in on.”
Rick Hanson, Ph.D., author of Resilient
My “North Star” sign-off to our singers:
“In the coming weeks and months, can we find “STILL Singing for the Greater Good” lessons that will help us get through a season of enormous challenge? Can we start with our personal greater good and wellness and move mindfully towards how we impact others and the wider world?
“I believe the answer is a resounding ‘yes.’”
Dr. Ramona Wis is the Mimi Rolland Endowed Professor in the Fine Arts, Professor of Music, and Director of Choral Activities at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois and the author of The Conductor as Leader: Principles of Leadership Applied to Life on the Podium. Dr. Wis is a 500-hour CYT (Certified Yoga Teacher) with training in yoga history, philosophy, meditation, energetics, pranayama (breath work), anatomy, Sanskrit, and the teaching, sequencing, and adaptations of asana (posture-based) practice.
For context and his North Star exercise:
Rick Hanson, Ph.D. https://www.rickhanson.net/find-your-north-star/