Sounds like the title of a new novel, but today’s post wraps up our fall exploration of brain health and how it intersects with our life as conductors and teachers. We started by looking at how our brain reacts to stress, then unpacked how we can mitigate stress in rehearsals with our breathing and movement practices, and last time, we applied “brain aerobics” to choral pedagogy in practical ways. In each post, I made the point that brain health is an “everybody” issue, not just a topic for aging singers, because it impacts every aspect of living our best life, regardless of age. Today, we look at the final pillar of brain health: spiritual fitness, broadly understood.
“We define spiritual fitness, in part, as socialization and being with like-minded people—acts that contribute to the all-important feeling of purpose or meaning, which profoundly affects well-being.”
ARPF Brain Longevity Therapy Training curriculum, p. 114
We know too well how the last few years of physical separation have impacted our mental health and well-being and how challenging it has been to find ways to “do choir” virtually, though our best success stories underscore how connecting with singers in any way has helped us make it through this era. There is something powerful about sharing an interest, not just casually, but in a way that creates a sense of purpose, of greater meaning—what our choirs here at North Central College regard as our core mission statement: “Singing for the Greater Good.”
Spiritual fitness can be developed through the practices we have been talking about—breathing together, releasing stress and judgement of self and others through mindfulness moments, and celebrating the uniqueness of each singer even as we build a unified sound. When we explore the text and context of our music, we develop fitness “of the spirit” by showing respect and compassion for others. When, throughout rehearsal, we come back to the “why” of our work together, we remind ourselves that we live our life’s mission in everything we do, including singing. Over time, singers come to welcome the rehearsal not only as a place to enjoy choral music and grow their musical skills, but as a place of shared value, a place to know they are significant and that what we all do together matters far beyond a good concert.
Spiritual fitness starts with us, as conductor-teacher-leaders. We need to understand and live our own dharma, our “sacred duty” or unique sense of purpose. We are not our job description or the list of responsibilities we agreed to when we were hired. That will never be our “soul work.” Yes, we teach and manage and build programs but our deep work goes beyond this. We are shapers of experience that can help others realize their wholeness, as individuals and as a collective, when coming together to create good. It is as simple and as powerful as that.
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) and a certified Brain Longevity® Specialist, a research-based certification on yoga and integrative medicine for brain health and healthy aging. Reach her at:
To learn more about the Four Pillars and Spiritual Fitness:
To view our recent posts on this topic:
The Conductor as Yogi: This is Your Brain on Stress, https://choralnet.org/archives/664003
The Conductor as Yogi: The Brain-Healthy Rehearsal, https://choralnet.org/archives/664475
The Conductor as Yogi: Brain Aerobics in Rehearsal, https://choralnet.org/archives/665385