Ramona M. Wis
I have become even more aware of the power of words, including the words of the pieces we study and prepare with our choirs. This past fall, we chose pieces that helped us to process the issues and challenges of our current world. The words of Kyle Pederson’s powerful work, “Can We Sing the Darkness to Light?” pose questions, which he follows with not so much an answer, but a vision.
What if instead of more violence,
We let our weapons fall silent?
No more revenge or retribution;
No more war or persecution.
It could be beautiful.
Soon, our choirs will begin spring semester, delayed this year due to health cautions. Typically, after a long winter break, students return with a mix of sluggishness/winter blues and anxious anticipation—and this year, I think both of these will be elevated due to the ongoing pandemic life we are living and the disturbing unrest our country has been experiencing. As I prepare for this semester’s Zoom-based rehearsals and virtual concert, one goal looms large: Healing.
“Healing” has many definitions but they all center around restoration, making whole and healthy again, whether that is physical, spiritual, emotional, or psychological health. Music and other “healing arts” are becoming more integrated into wellness care because they are recognized as powerful ways to reduce stress and anxiety and to alleviate the sense of being alone or disconnected.
Do we realize the role we play in healing our singers? I know, we are not doctors or therapists or counselors trained in treating PTSD. But we deal with people, and singing people are often hurting people which means we need to frame our artistic work within a broader context of human work.
What if instead of our judgement,
We soften our hearts that have hardened?
Instead of certainty and pride,
We love and sacrifice.
It could be beautiful.
How do we do this?
Connect and Acknowledge. More than ever, personal connection with singers is important. They need to be seen and heard and it starts with a welcome that is authentic, via Zoom or otherwise. Acknowledge what is happening in the world and how it may be impacting them, though do not assume it impacts every singer in the same way. Big issues can be the elephant in the room, so acknowledging them helps singers know they are not alone in their fears or concerns and allows you to gently move forward in your musical work together.
Breathe and Meditate. The breathwork we do in singing can be healing in itself. Taking full inhalations and long exhalations reminds us that we are alive and have the ability to make an impact on our feeling state. Allowing some time to quiet the mind, perhaps as part of alignment instruction for good singing posture, can also help restore a sense of balance and calm, and can focus the mind on the rehearsal and the heart on the community of the ensemble.
Move and Energize. Stretch, conduct, do half sun salutations, dust off those Kodaly hand signs—whatever you can do to free the body, energize the mind, and elevate the mood will help the healing.
Make Good Art. Ultimately, we come together as a choir to do the musical work, to find our unique way to make the world a better place. We help heal by giving singers a worthy goal, one that involves mind, body, and spirit. One that underscores they are significant, that their contribution is essential. A goal that provides beauty and inspiration and hope when it is so, so needed. Continue to do the work and it will be an important contribution to healing the wounds of a worried world.
Can we see the other as our sister or our brother?
Can we sing the darkness to light,
Sounding chords of compassion and grace?
Set the swords of judgment aside.
Let mercy’s eyes see the other human face.
Can we sing the darkness to light?
Some of our singers will need professional help and for that, we always refer them to the appropriate doctors or counselors. But there will always be a continuum of need and our choral work together can be an important part of the healing—for them and for us—a way to sing the darkness to light.
It could be beautiful.
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. Reach her at:
View our North Central College Concert Choir performance of Kyle Pederson’s “Can We Sing the Darkness to Light?”
And the score here:
Check out an example of the Healing Arts integrated into the medical profession: