I wear many musical hats: Choir Director, Singer, Pianist, and Handbell Ringer. From my perspective, in each of those roles, rhythm and tempo are fundamental. As a conductor, it’s a joy to unify pulse and rhythm. When that happens, the choir is able to listen better and make quicker adjustments with dynamics, intonation, vowels, and a number of other concepts. When there’s agreement in tempo and pulse, the music making feels more natural and more spontaneous.
Apart from music, I find there are many different types of rhythm in my life. There’s the weekly rhythm of regular meetings, rehearsals, days off, and worship. On another level, the pattern of liturgical seasons provides another type of rhythm. I also find I’m able to return to a familiar pattern where choirs start up again in August or September, followed by an intense fall with a short breather for Thanksgiving, followed by a busy Advent and Christmas. There’s also an internal rhythm, where if I listen, I may need to rest. Sometimes I need to slow down or take a break so that I can prevent burnout. Over the years, I’ve learned to listen to my body more. That inner listening has been a challenge. It constantly feels as if there’s always more to get done. Sometimes work as a choral conductor can get so busy that I lose sense of myself. As a result, I’m on the path of finding what will bring me back to the present moment. The more I do that, the healthier I am and the more expressive my choirs can be. During the second half of October, my plate was extremely full so that I knew I needed a short break from blogging.
In the midst of that time period, I had very busy back to back weekends. On October 15, I led the Adult Choir at my church in a retreat from 9:00 am – 3:00 pm. In the morning, we had a mix of rehearsals and team building activities, followed by lunch and a rehearsal for Lessons and Carols and Christmas in the afternoon. Some of the team building activities were modified from the work of author Brené Brown. According to the author, she believes that we all only have 1 – 2 core values that drive us on a profound level and that dialing into those values can help us show up as our best selves, especially when times are tough. This is the list of values Dr. Brown as developed:
However, it is not an exhaustive list. Each choir member had a list of the values. First I asked them to identify 15 values from the list that were truly important to them. Then, they narrowed down to 5, then 1 – 2. Next, they wrote each value on a sticky note and placed those sticky notes on a very large sticky note. In groups of 3 – 4, they discussed a time when they lived into those values. After a few minutes, I asked if anyone wanted to share with the whole choir. Based on this and other activities, I plan on combining and streamlining the information to craft a values and guidelines statement and document, with some input and editing from choir members. This will not only help the current Adult Choir, but also help new choir members know what is accepted of them.
In addition to the profound, we completed an activity that was fun. I’m calling it “Create Your Own IKEA Product”. We wrote our first and last names backwards. Then in groups of 3 – 4, we tried to think of what IKEA product that might be, as well as trying to pronounce the product, umlaut optional. Since my name is Austen Wilson, my IKEA product would be Netsua Nösliw, a type of nut grinder specifically used for desserts.
On October 21 – 22, four ringers and I attended the 2022 Mid-Iowa Handbell Choir Festival in Des Moines with a wonderful handbell teacher and conductor, Brenda Austin. This event was sponsored by Area 8 of the Handbell Musicians of America. On October 21, we had dessert, met other ringers from the Area, and participating in a reading session where we rang through at least 12 – 15 handbell pieces. On October 22 from 9:00 am – 4:00 pm, about 55 ringers rehearsed 5 pieces, followed by a concert in the afternoon. Not only did the repertoire hit the sweet spot in terms of difficulty level, but all ringers were skilled and came prepared. As a result, there were many sublime musical moments throughout the day. The ringers who attended from my church had a great time and were even enthusiastic about St. Andrew (the church where I serve) hosting a handbell choir festival at some point! Below is the repertoire from the festival:
Title Arranger/Composer Level Publisher Code
Rondo Jubilee/Brenda Austin 2 Hope 2934
I’ve Got Peace Like A River/Sandra Eithun 2+ Hope 2892
Amen Siakudumisa/Cathy Moklebust 2 Choristers CGB1037
Ah Holy Jesus/Brenda Austin 3 Beckenhorst HB 580
Carol of the Bells/Alex Guebert 3 Hope 2929
Now that the days are much shorter due to less daylight (at least in the northern hemisphere), Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and Advent and Christmas are not much farther, I’m doing my best to pace myself in order have to stamina throughout the season. Part of that means prioritizing what’s truly important each day and knowing when to take a break, even a short one.
What are you doing to keep stamina during this busy time? Comment below!