The Conductor as Yogi: Three Things for Conductors’ Wellness

By Ramona Wis

Reprinted with permission. This article originally appeared on ChoralNet.org, American Choral Directors Association’s online choral community.

It’s been almost a year that I have been blogging from the perspective of wellness, inspirational writings, and yoga practice and principles, connecting to our lives as conductors and humans living in a wider world.  As I prepare to take a bit of a break this summer for recalibration and to focus on some other writing, I am thinking about three things that have emerged from this CAY journey thus far.

It’s Buffer Time.  Central to most of my posts was the importance of taking time away—and that does not mean desert-island away (though that sounds nice).  Taking time away can be anywhere, anytime—at your desk, sitting in your car, walking around the block—and involves turning off devices, softening the eyes, and breathing fully and slowly.  Stopping the world for just a few minutes.  Clearing your mind of the chatter, the lists, the fears, the intensity of it all.  

The simple practice of inserting buffer time into our day takes so little effort but reaps big benefits.  Like any habit, buffer time can become stronger the more we do it; it becomes a non-negotiable for us, as natural a practice as—well, breathing.  And we will find a sense of groundedness in knowing we have this tool with us wherever we go, to use for ourselves and to share with everyone in our sphere of influence.

For the Future.  Planning now for good things in the future is not a new concept but during this past year, the idea took on a different meaning for me.  Inspired by Wendell Berry’s poem and Andrew Maxfield’s beautiful piece and attempting every day to create an imaginative choral experience and community through Zoom, I realized how important it was to think of our work not as a placeholder for the real thing or as seeds for a time in the distant future, but rather, to see its immediate impact on the singers in front of us.

The singers whose eyes we look into every day, the teaching we do through our words and actions and character, and the music that is always out there, beckoning, are our triad of influence.  Can we embrace a more immediate concept of the future as now?  Can we be fulfilled knowing singers are leaving today’s rehearsal with a renewed sense of personal significance, and a better grasp of musical skill and the impact that one’s artistic voice can have on the world?  Might this perspective on “the future” be richer and more holistic, and perhaps allow for more creativity in envisioning how our “birds” will sing?

Living our Namaste.  Most profound is the pressing call to awareness that all humans must be valued.  

I wrote this last summer and encourage you to read it for its full context but here, will return to my central plea—that in all we do, including our work as conductor/teacher/leaders, we remember the power of Namaste—“the light in me salutes and celebrates the light that lives in you.”  

If we lived our Namaste, we could diffuse hate, including self-hate, and release the fear that has a devastating effect on our world.  I know, we are “just” choral directors . . . do we have that impact or that role?  I think the question is, don’t we have that impact and that role?  Every human interaction, including those in choirs, can be a magnet for good.  Think of the brief few seconds it takes to look directly into a singer’s eyes and encourage them through the context of our work together.  This is the connection of light Amanda Gorman wrote about in “The Hill We Climb”—ineffable but so real.  

“For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

This summer, I will be writing more on mental wellness in the choral rehearsal and will be returning to my ongoing work on the role of the conductor as leader.  I welcome your input and encouragement and who knows, I may post occasionally if something emerges for me to share!  In the meantime, I send to you these wishes:

May you be healthy

May you breathe deeply

May you embrace peace

May you live joy

May you know your light

Namaste

Dr. Ramona Wise

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 (breathwork), anatomy, Sanskrit, and the teaching, sequencing, and adaptations of asana (posture-based) practiceReach her at:  rmwis@noctrl.edu

Check out Dr. Wis’s ChoralNet posts by searching The Conductor as Yogi.  Here are those referenced above:

The Conductor as Yogi:  It’s Buffer Time

The Conductor as Yogi:  For the Future

The Conductor as Yogi:  Living our Namaste 

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