Restoring Wellness within your Singers / Students

Richard Robbins

People of a certain age might remember Slim Goodbody, the “Superhero of Health”, who appeared first as a character on Captain Kangaroo in the late 1970s, and later starred in his own show on PBS through the early 1980s.

“Who is Captain Kangaroo?” those of you who came of age in the 21st century might be asking yourself.

But stay with me, because Slim Goodbody was awesome.

I loved Slim Goodbody, and I was especially impressed by his hair.

I remember that one of Slim’s series was called Well, Well, Well!, and the first episode of the series was titled – wait for it – “Wellness.”

Seems logical enough, but when you stop and think for a moment, it’s a vague thing, really: wellness.

Which brings me to this fall’s topic: restoring wellness within our singers and students.

It occurred to me in preparing for this article that we often confuse “wellness” with mental health, or happiness, or general well-being.

These are important components of “wellness”, but they are not the entirety of the concept.

Slim Goodbody knew this: his show focused on how to maintain a healthy body, how to eat well, how much we should sleep, and how to maintain a positive attitude.

Likewise, the Global Wellness Institute (GWI) says that “wellness is associated with an active process of being aware and making choices that lead toward an outcome of optimal holistic health and wellbeing.”

Note that “wellness” used in this sense is an active process, associated with the choices that we make, and it is holistic, multifaceted.

Six dimensions are identified by the GWI as being essential elements of wellness: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and environmental.

How can we encourage our singers to make the choices that will help to restore their wellness?

Let us consider each of these aspects of wellness as they relate to our own choirs.

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The research is clear: the past year has wreaked havoc on our nation’s physical health. People are not sleeping. They are eating and drinking more than ever. It’s hard to exercise. Are we encouraging our singers to take care of themselves? Are we prioritizing rest time and break time, and are we allowing our singers to do the same? As leaders, are we modeling the sort of behaviors that will help them to make good choices? Take time to walk outside with your singers and enjoy a nature trail together. Or just take a nap when you need it, and encourage your singers to do the same.


Are we engaging our singers? Are we allowing them the opportunity to think creatively about the problems that we face in music-making? Have we found ways to maximize potential opportunities for listening? What ideas do they have for making rehearsals and performances meaningful, in the face of such difficulties? Are we discussing the many problems that we face today? Invite your singers to share their ideas with you. As a bonus, this non-singing time allows your room the chance to have an air exchange!


Do our singers understand other people’s viewpoints? Do we encourage them to listen respectfully to people? Are we allowing our singers the opportunity to express themselves, and to be honest about their own emotional states? Make your rehearsal time a supportive place for singers to share. Allow your rehearsal to model the sort of dialogue that you wish to see in our society.


What is the purpose of our lives? What is the purpose of music? Do we have time to consider these questions? If the purpose of singing is to win a contest, or to attend big events, or to impress huge audiences, we may have to recalibrate. Is singing still important if you cannot have an honor choir, or if you cannot attend a big event, or if you cannot travel overseas, or if a mask does not allow you the opportunity to sing with as much freedom and control as you would like? I think that you have to know what you think about these things before you can expect your singers to know.


Are we finding ways to connect with our singers, and are we allowing our singers the opportunity to connect with one another? And are we finding ways to engage with other communities? I think that technological advances have helped this. We have been able to host choir exchanges with groups from the Philippines, South Africa, and from other parts of the U.S. Consider doing the same!


I think that one great thing about our current situation is that people are finally discussing what choir directors have known for years: that our rooms have poor ventilation. Find ways to advocate for policies that will help your choir thrive in the short term, and consider ways that we might continue to create healthy spaces for our singers. Maybe old policies that required sick singers to attend rehearsal are not such a great idea!

Wishing your singers wellness in this 2021-22 season!

Richard Robbins

Northeast District Chair
University of Minnesota Duluth