I’ve been teaching a new course, an honors seminar combining a yoga mat practice with the study and application of core yoga principles and readings to develop a “toolbox” for students to navigate their college life and beyond, as they build careers and develop as leaders and humans. Though we are just beginning this journey together, I can see the impact these writings and my words as I teach these ideas are having on students.
Beyond providing information, words are powerful directors. When well-intended, words guide, inspire, heal, and uplift. Words give us pause, challenge our thinking and action; words humble and recalibrate us. Words make us smile, warm our hearts, and remind us of who we are, deep inside . . . the part we might call soul or spirit or what yoga calls purusha, our inner light of awareness. Words get us through the times of our lives and encourage us that there is something better ahead. Words free us and prepare us to better teach, lead, and love.
Yes, sometimes words are darts instead of wings. Our words can wound, revealing a part of us we thought we left behind. Words can be hasty and ill-timed or just fatigued and discouraged. Words are reflections of our human journey or just the misstep we took today, when challenged or frustrated or upset and wondering why.
Where do you look for inspiration, for well-intended, thoughtful, powerful words? Perhaps it is the Bible or other scriptures or the writings of a favorite author. Perhaps universal principles like yoga’s yamas and niyamas or the wise words of a family member or former teacher or coach. Or maybe, we can look to the text of the choral pieces we hold every day of our conductor lives.
I have blogged before about important texts our choirs studied and performed, how they were timely and timeless. In choosing music, I think deeply about the power of the words, not just for their effect on the end performance but more importantly, on the many rehearsals and discussions we will have over a period of weeks and how their impact will linger long after the concert.
Words shape our experience, not just our products, and when we expressively communicate words, we bring their energy to listeners, to heal and hold space for them in a way they might need at that moment. If you are a composer, intimately creating and setting words, know that your work matters in profound ways. And if you are a conductor, teacher, or singer, remember that your contemplation and expressive decisions are an investment leading to the powerful communication of these words.
In true teacher style, I am leaving you with a homework assignment. We have just begun learning Elaine Hagenberg’s compelling setting of a Zoë Akins poem, “I Am the Wind,” included below. The musical writing is stunning (thank you, Elaine!). I know our Women’s Chorale will embrace this piece and perform it at a high musical level, fueled by what will be ongoing discussions of the text and as in my seminar course, how the words apply to our lives. Your assignment, “if you choose to accept it,” is to contemplate the text, to allow it to speak to you in whatever way it does. No right or wrong, no expectation of achieving the “one answer” (is there ever just one?). Just experience it and see what happens. I will do the same.
Then recall this experience as you choose your next piece, prepare your next rehearsal, or reach for a source of inspiration when you need encouragement or direction. Trust in the power of well-intended words to inspire and guide us, our singers, and those who share in our performance as listeners. And remember how fortunate we are, that even with all the tough parts of our job, we can enrich many lives through the soul study of words and the way they shine through our glorious art of choral music!
“I Am the Wind” by Zoë Akins (1886-1958)
I am the wind that wavers,
You are the certain land;
I am the shadow that passes
Over the sand.
I am the leaf that quivers,
You, the unshaken tree;
You are the stars that are steadfast,
I am the sea.
You are the light eternal—
Like a torch I shall die.
You are the surge of deep music,
I but a cry!
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: