As the choir sings, if the song is good and catchy, you may find yourself humming along. That is until they find that airless note – the one that seems to last forever. The one that makes you dizzy trying to keep up. You marvel at the choir's unlimited lung capacity.
That's when the inner voice starts up: You think you can sing? Nuh-uh. No way. Don't even try.
But, there's a trick that the good choir director taught his robed ones called "Staggered Breathing." The choir members take cues from each other to prevent themselves from taking that lifesaving breath at the same time. The stagger allows the music to stay steady and strong. The continuity hides the faltering inhale.
The interesting thing about this is that the word "stagger" also means to move unsteadily, to waver and lose confidence, or to be overwhelmed with emotion.
As an asthmatic, my breath constantly staggers. When I hike, I need to rest more than the others to prevent problems. When deep emotion moves me, my lungs take note and the wheezing begins. When my dog passes gas (as he just did, while sitting under my desk), I gag and cough.
Yet, the concept of Staggered Breathing is one of strength, of propping up, of supporting the whole. The music is steady and confident. The weakness is hidden. The audience is left with the impression that the impossible is within reach.
Everyday at work, surrounded by a strong team of people who are as passionate as I am about our mission to help kids, we practice Staggered Breathing. When one is tired, someone else steps up. When a grant doesn't come through, someone points out a new possibility. Hope is renewed. And we move on. Inhaling deeply.