I’ve always enjoyed belting out a song while I played the guitar even if I didn’t always have the voice for it. Ten years ago, I challenged myself to learn something new and I took up choral singing. However, singing by myself is one thing and being part of a large choir performing for hundreds of people is something else entirely. Singing together is pure collaboration, and is universally regarded as celebratory. It unites people across different cultures and evokes joy, happiness and strong feelings of togetherness. My choir soon begins its next rehearsal season and this provides me with a great opportunity to reflect on what I’ve learnt from singing in a choir. What started out as an interesting pastime has led me to discover many valuable lessons for life.

Discomfort Leads to Growth

We all desire to become better versions of ourselves. Without challenges we stay comfortable and unfortunately, this stifles our growth. On the other hand, challenges cause us to grow and expand. When I began choral singing years ago I experienced great discomfort. I could barely read music. I’m a tenor and I often felt exposed singing with the tenors since the other sections of the choir usually outnumber us. Yet, discomfort is necessary for growth. Ironically, the more discomfort we experience the more growth there is to have. When we take on new challenges we move outside our comfort zone into a zone of discomfort. The more time we spend in discomfort the more we adapt and modify our actions and behaviours. Over time our discomfort subsides and we begin to feel comfortable again. We have grown and expanded our comfort zone. Indeed, a state of ‘Flow’ can be achieved when the task at hand, is a ‘slight stretch’ outside our normal comfort zone. If you seek growth and want to increase your performance, look for new challenges and relish the discomfort they hold. Nowadays singing tenor no longer holds the fear of being exposed for me like I used to experience. I am now more courageous and confident and comfortable being vulnerable.

Teamwork

Choral singing requires teams and teamwork. Typically, a choir has 4-8 parts or teams and each part will often comprise 5-15 singers like sopranos and basses. Getting 5-15 people to sing their part, the same note at the same time is challenging and only achieved with timing, teamwork and practice. In an orchestra, all the parts need to perform at the right time, speed and volume. The same is true in choir. Cohesive teamwork is needed and without it disharmony results, and the mood being created is lost. I have participated singing many choral songs over the years and I fully appreciate how critical it is to have all the parts working well together. If one part doesn’t perform it will drag the entire performance down with it.

Everybody Leads

Something I have really come to appreciate is that in a choir, everybody leads. Waiting for someone to take the lead simply doesn’t work. Everyone comes in late and disharmony results. Rather, we need to lead ourselves and be responsible to sing at the precise time. In this way no one individual is responsible for the team’s performance. Performance is most powerful when we all take the responsibility and lead. Contribution is another vital part of choral singing. It is important that I contribute to my team. I want to support my teammates and do my part. I’ve discovered the more supportive I am the more my team supports me. Being supportive and sharing a common passion greatly fosters team strength and performance. Lastly, choral singing has helped me become a better listener. I am now much more attuned to the subtleties and nuances of the voices around me like the subtle ways we pronounce (sing) the words. By really listening I can tune my voice to be more like those around me. By tuning into each other, our voices unite to become one. This is the ultimate experience of choral singing.

While I didn’t foresee any of these lessons out of participating in choral singing, they were present nonetheless. My question for you is, what is your version of choral singing? Team sports? Sky diving? Public speaking? What is something that you have always shied away from? What piques your discomfort or challenges your status quo? Relish in the discomfort. Valuable lessons and growth await you and are there for your taking. Courage is all you need to take the first step.

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