One year, I went to a workshop led by the guru of all things having to do with children’s choirs in the church, Helen Kemp. Helen said something simple that rocked my world that year. She said, “Routine relieves anxiety.” In fact, she had a big, beautiful poster with those words that I can still see in my mind’s eye. Helen already knew what I would soon learn and put into practice. When children know what to expect—when they know that the routine of the rehearsal will include things like sitting in a seat labeled with their name; a sung, responsive roll call; a warm-up; a hymn; anthems; then a closing prayer, for example—they come to rehearsal without fear of the unknown. This healthy, predictable environment provides a safe place to be open and learn.
I recently recalled this important lesson when I was noticing some anxious behavior among my adult singers as they anticipated coming back together this fall. The familiar routines around faith life are so valuable to them, and those routines have changed so much over the past year. They’ve wondered, is worship inside or outside? Are rehearsals in person or via Zoom? Are we able to sing in worship or not? There is simply so much that is variable that change seems to be the only constant. And so now I’m wondering, could it be that adults need routine as much as children? Maybe even more?
As I’ve pondered these questions, I’ve been analyzing what parts of rehearsal can remain unchanged regardless of how we do rehearsal. These things include a devotion time, a chance to lift up prayer concerns and pray together, and even a time to simply check in with each other. The inclusion of a familiar, beloved hymn in each rehearsal can bring about a sense of joy as well. Outside of rehearsal, perhaps a weekly email communication, even if it’s not totally necessary, could provide a regular point of contact that is comforting.
You may have noticed, as I did, that most of these rehearsal components are not related to music. Rather, they are about building community. Of course, rehearsals will include singing in some way, shape, or form, but the way, the shape, and the form will likely change again before we are through this pandemic, and that produces anxiety. Those elements that perhaps seemed non-essential in the past, especially when the choral workload was hefty, are the most important these days.
My takeaway is that this will not be a year of major works or vocal challenges. Rather, it is a year to keep things simple. It is a year to build community. And it is most definitely a year to focus on relieving anxiety through routine as much as possible.