Choir Lesson #6: Stagger Breathing

Choir Membership Teaches Many Life Lessons

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:

stagger breathing quote for the choir

Aimee Van Ausdall

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.

Trust, Self-Care, and Longevity

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.

Healthy Brains Need Stimulation and Variety

Healthy Brains Need Stimulation and Variety

It seems that the field of neuroscience is exploding with research about how we learn, what our brains need to stay sharp, and how we can avoid memory problems as we age.

Everyone wants to have healthy brains. For many years, crossword puzzles and sudoku were the favorite pastimes of older adults. Music lessons, together with a healthy lifestyle, might be even better.

Consider this article:

Neuroscience says these five rituals will help your brain stay in peak condition

  1. Frequent small victories. Find ways to feel you have accomplished something – no matter how small – several times a day. I like to keep a to-do list but always include simple items that I can easily check off. Instead of writing “do laundry,” I will have smaller tasks on my list, like “gather laundry from kids’ rooms,” “start load of darks,” “hang laundry on line,” “take laundry off line,” “sort clothes,” “fold and put away.” Studying a musical instrument gives you the opportunity to make small gains everyday.
  2. Physical activity. The brain is healthier when our whole bodies are healthy. Take a walk, do a yoga video, ride a bike to the store. The exercise does not have to be intense or lengthy. Just 20 minutes is enough to keep the brain happy.
  3. Learn something new. The brain needs constant use to maintain its edge. This is why learning an instrument is extremely helpful for adults. Music study uses the whole brain. See blog posts “Brain Imaging on Musicians”  and “Practice Builds Better Brains” for more info.
  4. Consider your posture. An upright posture allows for more oxygen and has a subconscious positive effect on our bodies. Hunching, rounding the shoulders, and slouching in a chair inhibit learning and make us feel inferior. Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk on this subject is fascinating. Most, if not all, music teachers will encourage good posture when playing a musical instrument.
  5. Get plenty of sleep. Our brains need time to recharge. Researchers have two hypotheses about why sleep is necessary. Some have suggested that rest is necessary for the brain to organize the day’s experiences. Others argue that the brain needs resting time to flush out toxins. The book “How We Learn” also asserts the value of good sleep habits.

You’re never too old to begin music study. My most mature student was in her 60s when she decided to take up flute. If you are already a musician, be sure to change up your practice routine and learn something new every day. Healthy brains equal a long, productive life!

healthy brains

stimulation and variety – he usually plays piano but decided to try the bass flute.