Choir Lesson #6: Stagger Breathing
Singing in a choir allows us time to practice being together with a shared goal. In a previous post, I discussed 5 spiritual lessons of the choir. I’d like to add one more: the wisdom of stagger breathing
Last week, I sang onstage at a bar. For a person who is accustomed to singing at church or in a theater packed with toddlers, this was a big thrill. I ended up there in a most unexpected way: singing in a social justice choir. It’s not something I could have imagined 6 months ago, but sometimes life takes crazy turns. After the performance, I was talking to another member of the choir and she told me about this quote:
When life swells to a crescendo of activity and we are swept away by the busyness, self-care is vital. When we feel overwhelmed, we must take a breath. Trust that the others will cover for you. Step back in when you’re refreshed so someone else can take a break.
Stagger breathing requires trust. You must have faith that the people around you will carry on the work without you. In turn, you have to complete the circle by stepping up when others need time off. You have to be aware of the people around you. If they are more out of breath than you, wait until after they have taken a breath to take yours. With practice, you’ll be able to sense when the person next to you is taking a breath and when you should take yours. We all have different lung capacities.
You have to realize when it’s time to take a breath. Don’t wait until you are completely and utterly out of air. Your breath might be noisy and it will take longer to come back in. I encourage my choir members to relax into the breath so the air rushes in effortlessly. Keep your mouth open and pretend to continue singing. The illusion is that the sound is uninterrupted and you’re in the right place to rejoin at the beginning of the next exhale.
Stagger breathing in a choir means that you don’t have to make the sound all by yourself. We agree to work together to make our song seamless. The audience never knows who is singing and who is taking a needed breath. This is empowering as well as humbling. When we stagger breathing, there is no soloist. Our goal is to make a harmonious sound that we can maintain indefinitely.
We practice stagger breathing in a choir. We apply the lessons in life.