“…this isn’t a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which

another voice may speak.”

-Mary Oliver, Praying

Thinking about music as a “doorway into thanks” instead of a “contest” comes late for many.  There are countless structures in our systems of teaching music that encourage the latter. Chair challenges, auditions, graded contests, competitions, and festivals with prizes inspire young musicians to think about music as accomplishment instead of music as communication. It’s true teachers see results that come with intense competition preparation by a self-driven student. Still, I often wish for and imagine a system where students are encouraged to participate, to communicate, to express their musical ideas, and to perform without a hovering sense of competition surrounding their work.

This system exists, in the world of choral singing.

Choral conductors do not rank performers who vie for each other’s position in the ensemble. There is an all for one, one for all attitude that permeates a choir, leading to a “general feeling of being connected with the group, leading to our sense of increased community and belonging”, according to Oxford-based music psychologist, Dr. Jacque Launay. His article “Choral Singing Improves Health and Happiness – and is the Perfect Icebreaker” discusses various studies showing how choral singing is proven “to improve our sense of happiness and wellbeing.”

Would thinking of music (and, more importantly, being raised to think of music) as a “doorway into thanks” invite less judgement and thereby more physical release as we play? What if we approached orchestral and band experiences like choral singing, emphasizing the communication among musicians and thereby creating that “silence in which another voice may speak“?

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