Challenge Journal 1 – Rituals

I feel relatively fortunate to have studied music throughout my college career for a variety of reasons – one of those reasons being that it is a discipline steeped in ritual. Sure, some of those rituals are antiquated (women being required to wear dresses for choir concerts), but some are practical and even aid in providing an overall pleasurable experience for the audience and performing (warming up before each performance and bowing to acknowledge and thank the audience after a each performance). It’s not looked down upon or questioned if you have a specific set of ritualistic activities as a musician; no one is going to question you if, before you begin practicing, you massage your jaw muscles while humming a single note or lean against the wall with your eyes shut forcefully exhaling for 60 seconds. As long as everyone knows that you are performing the ritual for the betterment of your music, it’s accepted and widely encouraged.


So for writing, which is a much more private enterprise, devising a ritual seems a little trickier. On one hand, the act of writing is much less physically demanding than the act of singing – so I feel less inclined to “warm up” my body in a ritualistic sense. That being said, the act of writing requires about the same amount of focus as music practice (for me personally). After almost four years of ungrad, I know for a fact that I am better able to focus after partaking in rigorous physical activity – like running or swimming. I also know that I cannot do work in my own home – just like I need to go to the practice hall on North Campus to get any productive singing done. In regards to my writing ritual, then, it seems that I have two “macro” guidelines: prior physical movement and travel.


I am thinking it might be helpful for me to find a specific spot on campus far enough away from my apartment where I have to walk at least 10 minutes – so I am getting at least a little physical movement in before sitting down to write.

Emily Cotten

Emily Cotten is a sophomore Vocal Performance major at the University of Michigan. She hails from North Carolina and enjoys reading, writing, and blasting opera hits in her car while driving down the highway.

One thought to “Challenge Journal 1 – Rituals”

  1. Dear Emily,
    I really enjoyed reading your post about physical activity preparing the brain. I always try to run for at least 10 minutes a day (although it seems like a small amount, just having a few minutes to myself, without technology, is rewarding). I also conducted all of my phone interviews standing up using my window sill as a makeshift shelf rather than slouching at a desk; this made me much more of an active thinker. Is there anyway we can adapt this into our class, or even just our beginning ritual?

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