This point of the year is always tiring, especially with extra performances, events at church, or end of semester grades due. Unfortunately, we can add the Omicron variant, quarantines, and contentious times this year. On social media, I’ve seen posts about wonderful performances, as well as stressful scenarios such as a large portion of a choir or even an accompanist having to quarantine from a concert. We are all at the collective end of our ropes. My guess is that our capability to adapt to stressful situations has been pushed to the limit. Maybe you even feel that ability has crossed that limit. As hard as it sounds, give yourself some extra grace and extra kindness. You’ve done the best you could in your circumstances. And you’re almost to a Break! Over whatever Break you have, I hope you’re able to spend time with loved ones, relax, and recharge.
With the challenges of the pandemic, I’ve gone inward to know myself and my emotions better. I’ve learned so much from authors, friends, podcasts, and other resources. A concept I’ve worked on is emotional resilience, our ability to adapt to stressful situations or crises. This is an area where I’ve definitely had some triumphs but also some failures. Perhaps you’ve felt the same. Even pre-COVID, there were tough times and unexpected surprises. The pandemic has only exacerbated the stresses of our field.
In my own emotional resilience journey, I’ve learned that if I know which emotions I’m feeling, the better I can move through uncomfortable emotions. From a musical perspective, the more emotions I’m able to identify with, the more I’ll be able to connect with my singers and ringers and the more meaning there will be in the music-making.
I’ve also learned to embrace the tension of two competing emotions at the same time. For example, I can simultaneously grieve the millions dead due to COVID in the US alone, while at the same time delight in an enthusiastic singer telling me about their upcoming Christmas plans or enjoy live music in a rehearsal or concert.
From my perspective, a number of approaches help with emotional resilience. Something that has helped me and my singers have been slow breathing exercises. On at least one choir director/music teacher podcast, I learned one specific exercise that often has helped regulate my emotions. I apologize that I don’t remember which podcast. If this is something you mentioned on your podcast, please comment below! Either sitting or standing, put your right hand on your heart and left hand on your belly. Breathe in and out, then repeat twice or more. Invite singers to close their eyes if they choose. Sometimes I’ll create short meditative statements, such as “Inhale peace and exhale anxiety”. Especially when used in an ensemble, this has a wonderful unifying feeling. Plus, it helps us get in touch with our breath. A win-win situation!
Especially this Advent, reflective music of the season has helped me. Here are three albums on Spotify that I’ve greatly appreciated this year.
December by George Winston
The Quiet Center by Thomas Keesecker
Rós: Songs of Christmas by the Norwegian Soloists Choir
While I’m ready for a Break, at the same time I’m excited for the second half of the program year. I also thought I’d give a sneak-peak into the direction of my blog posts for the first 5 – 6 months of 2022. First, I’m renaming the title! Since September 2021, every title has been started with “Creating Transformational Experiences”. Starting in January 2022, the title will start with “Enabling Transformational Experiences”. In my opinion, that word change has a more organic feel. From my experience, when we let go of control, that helps create the environment for transformational experiences to occur naturally.
Since I’m a church musician, I firmly believe that the choirs are leaders in a congregation. From my perspective, that includes modeling concepts of emotional resilience and awareness. In 2022, I’m planning on creating short activities that will intentionally build emotional resilience and a greater emotional awareness and curiosity. I will share some of those ideas in future blog posts.
I’ll continue to share repertoire I use with my choirs that have been successful in my context. In addition, I’ll share books, music, or podcasts that have been meaningful to me in hopes they may be useful to you.
In case you’re looking for some reading material over the Break, a few books on emotional resilience and awareness I’ve appreciated are:
- Permission to Feel by Marc Brackett
- Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown
- Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
- Emotional Agility by Susan David
A Blessed Advent, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year to you! For those who are church musicians, I hope that your Christmas Eve services bring joy, peace, love, and comfort to all.