Self-awareness: Choir edition

Hey there music lover! I’m Laura, and my ultimate goal is to provide you with a compassionate perspective on self-awareness by teaching you about its nature and giving you tips to manage it. Keep reading and I’ll fill you in as we go.

Let’s get started by imagining this situation: You were recently hired out of college to direct a local underperforming choir from your hometown named “The Awareness.” 

You should probably know, The Awareness isn’t very good. They’ve sung together…well that’s not quite accurate. They’ve sung at the same time for years, decades—maybe even all your life.

We enter into the practice room. As you scan the room of singers, you notice the members from each section have intermingled, with no real organization to be found. To your left are group members arguing and name-calling; to your right are outbursts of emotions, people crying and giggling uncontrollably. You begin to feel overwhelmed—everybody’s doing their own thing, but nobody is actually practicing music.

Chorus

As Director, your intention is to make The Awareness a respectable choir and wow the crowd at the annual New Year’s Eve Concert with their clear sound and confident harmonies.

You decide the first course of action is a team-building activity. You decide to separate the choir by voice type and ask them to come up with a name for their section that feels true to them. You give them time to come up with a name, then check in with each group.

Verse 1: The “Needs”

You start with the Bass section, who have named themselves the “Needs.” The Needs are an integral part of the choir and provide the backbone of each arrangement. A relatively quiet bunch, the Needs are often overlooked, but they are intentional, direct, and persistent when they finally do speak. 

When you come up to them, they express annoyance that you have not fulfilled their requirements, citing concern with your ability to address their requests, even though they’re necessary for the group’s survival. You remind them that you’re new and have not yet seen their demands and ask them to repeat their request.

Director’s Task: Identify and Meet the Needs’ Requests

When you ask them what they want, they respond: 

“We need you to be secure in your finances, health, and self-care practices—this will help us feel free to pursue what we’re good at. We need a variety of relationships that vary in intensity and provide attention so we can feel heard, validated, nurtured, respected, and loved. 

“We also need to do fun things and that will allow us to be creative and share our feelings. We need you to be someone trustworthy and loyal who will help guide us to our goal of accomplishing something meaningful.”

Now that you know, you can do a better job of meeting those needs so that the Needs can flourish.

Verse 2: The “Desires”

After visiting the “Needs,” you check in on the Sopranos, who interestingly enough named themselves the “Desires.” You chuckle to yourself, thinking they should’ve named themselves the “Divas.” Anyone would agree that your previous relationships with the “Desires” were…tumultuous, and certainly ended with a thud.

The Desires are divas, and pride themselves on being the section “most integral” to a song’s, and therefore the choir’s, success. They explain that they provide the melody the listener sings along with and remembers. As personalities, they are as hopeful as they are demanding. A group of prima donnas with an almost primal and insatiable appetite for pleasure and immediate gratification.

Director’s Task: Adopt a Non-Judgmental Stance Toward the Desires

Practice taking a neutral stance toward the Desires. Judgmental language such as “right” and “wrong” or “good” and “bad” is likely to skew their perception of things, as well as yours, making it difficult to come together effectively and improve the quality of their sound. Once you do this, talk to them about what they actually want: Do they want to be the best, or do they just want approval? Why? Do they want connection? Do they want to feel appreciated?

The Desires have been trying to get what they want and need in any way that they can, but those methods are likely what have been throwing things off. By knowing what the Desires value, you can incorporate it in your rehearsal so they don’t try to find it in a dangerous or negative place. 

Consider recommending the Desires identify their top 10 values, making sure to align them with the choir’s most important values: safety, consent, and awareness of consequences. Without these aspects, it’s unlikely that the Desires will be able to perform at their fullest potential. 

Once those values are identified, you can come together and identify a middle ground that works for the choir as a whole.

Verse 3: The “Thoughts”

After much consideration, the Altos aptly name themselves the “Thoughts.” This isn’t an understatement. The Thoughts talk a lot, and sometimes they don’t have a point of focus. It was a wonder they were even able to work together given how much they contradicted each other. 

They were able to partner with you to help solve problems and imagine creative ways to help improve the quality of the Awareness. Although the Thoughts are amenable to change, they can be rigid and easily influenced or manipulated, despite their unwillingness to admit it at times.

Director’s Task: Identify Ways to Manage the Thoughts

Similar to life, the character of musical pieces relies on notes and rests. The Thoughts perceive their contributions to be underutilized because they are unable to hear the Awareness as a whole, the way you do—they just hear themselves. 

The Thoughts require a balance of time practicing alone and with the choir. When the Thoughts practice too long without the choir, they can become self-referential in a way that does not allow for easy integration with the choir when it’s time to perform. This can be both a strength and a limitation of the Thoughts, isolation being helpful and reflective in moderation, but closed off and resistant to new perspectives if it’s maintained for too long.

For example, meditation and journaling can be helpful practices to help reflect, refocus, and at times generate ideas. You choose to recommend that the Thoughts close their eyes and simply practice observing themselves without interference.

Verse 4: The “Emotions”

The last section you visit is the tenors. This wide-ranging group is the soul of the choir. They had originally thought about calling themselves “Happiness,” but decided to broaden their names to the “Emotions,” explaining in great detail how, from their perspective, your actions gave the impression that they were your least favorite section. This was a difficult and complex thing for them to process. 

The Emotions feel passionate about the choir, and their response is based on their interpretation of the behavior of others. The Emotions are mixed, strong, and reactive in their expressions towards you. Some are expressing feelings of anger, some disgust, some fear, and some joy, though it’s a minority.

Director’s Task: Identify Ways to Regulate the “Emotions”

Vocal runs occur when a singer uses a lot of notes to sing a word or syllable — think the “I” in Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You. 

The Emotions need space and freedom to do their runs, to explore what notes feel good to them and which ones might not be working. When done skillfully, it can be an amazing feature of any song, independent of genre. However, when done haphazardly, it can lead to a dysregulated and overly dramatic situation.

When they focus on their place in the order of your meetings and choose to interpret it as a negative, they are choosing to think that you have a negative opinion of them. You help them see that, sometimes, things can just happen the way that they do. For all they know, you might’ve saved the best for last. 

As you chat with them, you remind the Emotions that they are not just their feelings. You discourage overidentifying with or telling themselves that they are subject to their feelings. You also help the Emotions acknowledge that they can choose where to direct their attention, and that they have the ability to interpret what they see. 

Exploring and sifting through your feelings rather than letting them control you can help save you energy and heartache on misinterpreting events and worrying about the intentions of others.

Outro

It’s time to reunite the choir, this time in a more organized fashion. You decide to keep the sections together as they assemble the choir, allowing them to hear each other’s sound but still exist as a united collective within the Awareness. 

Don’t get me wrong, each individual member needs to know their part. But by being together, each part of your awareness can start relying on each section when their healthy responses become automatic.

To best serve your choir, you’ll have to keep a two-fold interest in prioritizing them and the interest of the paying audience. If the people want to dance—let them dance! Teach the choir a couple of songs that have a bounce to them, and let them perform for the others. However, never forget that the choir works best together when each part feels heard and understood, and their needs respected.

As they sing together, there will be times when it will be appropriate to have a crescendo of Desire and a decrescendo of Thought, and vice versa. If done well, each section will still ebb and flow as one, maintaining the overall balance of your Awareness.

As the director, your actions need to be purposeful and your decisions mindful. This is what separates your position from the choirs. The Awarness’s focus goes where you direct it, their automatic nature almost inherent to their functioning. Be sure to take time to practice with them, directing their automatic actions so that they benefit the choir as a whole, and therefore you. Pull them out one at a time and make sure they know their parts and what to focus on. 

As dysfunctional as they may appear at times, they’re the reason you have a job—your reason for being. It’s to your advantage to stick with them, even when they scare or overwhelm you. The Awareness’s potential is unbound, and the more you understand them, the more you understand yourself. When you’re most visible and vulnerable in life, with your arms raised, head high and back turned to an audience whose motives aren’t known, your Awareness will also have the best perspective and tools to keep you safe!

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Table of contents

Chorus

Verse 1: The “Needs”

Verse 2: The “Desires”

Verse 3: The “Thoughts”

Verse 4: The “Emotions”

Outro

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  • Writer
Laura Harris, LCMHC in Durham, NC

Laura Harris, LCMHC

Laura Harris is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC). She specializes in anger, anxiety, depression, stress management, coping strategies development, and problem-solving skills.

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