For most of us, the performing season or year has ended or will end, soon. With a combination of celebration and relief, we look forward to the change that summer represents. But before getaways, let’s look at the takeaways; let’s tidy up the desk of our minds as we wrap up and make space for summer and the year ahead.
In this blog, I frame our conductor life within a broader context of wholeness and inspiration, tapping into yoga’s practice and principles to make sense of the connections between what we do in our amazing art form and the world around us. At bottom, I am practical—I strive to see philosophy in action, principles lived out in teaching and leading and the making of art, and I want to move forward in some way every day. I am curious about lifestyle medicine and ancient wisdom and how they can inform us in our modern world. I am grateful for the words of hope and insight I find in the choral music I teach, seeing them as the foundation upon which we build our musical “practice” of sound, understanding, and love.
For me, the takeaways of the year include optimism that on the heels of a pandemic, some things have changed for the better. A greater awareness of mental wellbeing and the actions needed to support whole health has emerged out of research on the positive impact of healthy lifestyle choices. Even a few years ago, it would have been uncommon to include mindfulness activities in a rehearsal or a meeting, but it’s hardly given a second thought today. And though the Illinois state bill that I wrote about a while back (which would have required stress-releasing activities in the school day) did not pass, the fact that initiatives like this are being formally considered represent a broader awareness and understanding that can inspire us to think differently about our role as conductors.
Which leads me to my second takeaway, a question—how can we evolve our choral pedagogy and leadership to acknowledge holistic needs while strengthening singers’ musical skills to meet or exceed their pre-pandemic level?
More than ever, I believe the choral experience can be life-changing, even life-saving, for so many, but its unique role will be based on the communal creation of musical sound with understanding. We have to let the music speak for its full power to be unleashed and we want that “speech” to be clear, thoughtful, and well-articulated. As a “both/and” kind of person, I don’t think we have to choose either a compassionate experience or a great choir. I believe that not only can these live side by side, but that they work together to create a synergy hard to describe but deeply felt, where musical excellence is a result of, and a prelude to, invested, healthy human interaction.
One more takeway. As I reflect on the year I am reminded that it is precisely in the difficult that a new level of do-able is possible. Meaning is seldom found in the easy, unless it is the easy breeze of the wind on the water at the beach, where I plan to spend a little time this summer. I have seen many of our singers develop grit and resilience through our work, qualities needed for a healthy and meaningful life, and I see more possibilities for this kind of growth in our future together. How I can continue to refine our practice will be the impetus for my planning and I hope for yours, as well. It is an exciting yet vexing prospect, but one which may reveal a new level of experience for this moment in time.
Take time to discover your takeaways but do make space for the getaways. Though this is my last post until after Labor Day, I invite your input (email me at ) to let me know what you are thinking about, so when I return in the fall I can write with awareness for the audience that follows this blog. Thanks for what you have shared with me thus far and for what we can contemplate together going forward.
May you find space.
May you rediscover play.
May you be well.
May you experience contentment.
May you know you are loved.
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: or ramonawis.com.
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