Practice as Ritual

Practice is about more than technical perfection (Jordan Whitfield / Unsplash / Courtesy Image)

(Published in The Bison student newspaper Apr. 2021)

Flat on my back, I’m lying on the living room floor, eyes closed, picturing my body as slowly melting chocolate as I sink into the soft ground beneath me.

A YouTube audio file of rain and bullet sounds—the soundscape of my character’s life—plays on low volume in the background.

Everything inside me breathes a slow sigh of relief, opening up and unfurling—the sound the only thought in my mind.

It’s a strange way to spend a quarter of an hour.


As a piano student in high school, I knew what it was to love my instrument for its own sake.

I started practice and would have to be dragged away to do other things as I begged for one last chance to get that tricky scale section with all the accidental notes just right, to make sure that I was counting that triplet precisely perfect.

And it wasn’t just about the results.

My practice space was sanctuary for me—a place of peace where I could let go of everything, pore my heart out and lose myself in music for an hour—sometimes even longer.

Live performances were stressful by comparison.

I struggled learning to let go of worrying about the audience and allowing myself to find that same sheer love in the music, while I was onstage.

When I stopped taking piano lessons, I gradually lost touch with the way my musical rituals made me feel, the feeling of getting lost in a wave of sheer love like that.


I discovered theatre right around that same time and it was a new delight—one of energy, silliness and comradery. I thrived on the feeling of being part of a team making something so beautiful, or silly, or powerful, or human.

Every rehearsal was a joy.

Every class, a chance to put my growing acting skills to the test.

So, I started at OBU, became a theatre major, took as many acting courses as I could.

At each rehearsal and each class, I warmed up diligently: recited my tongue twisters, tried to wrap my head around what projecting even was, stretched, thought over all my character research work.

Despite this, I didn’t really understand the purpose of the warmups I was doing.

They were simply a series of motions I was going through and as soon as the production or class was over, I let go of them.

All my actions were geared at a specific performance or achievement and they dropped as soon as that next goal was achieved.

I wondered how I could stay—how I could grow—without constant community, and classes, and rehearsals, and performances.

I didn’t practice on my own because I didn’t know how.

Solo practice wasn’t a sanctuary, anymore. It was merely a tool toward my desired result.


Then music entered back into my life.

My junior year, I decided to tackle one of my biggest acting fears head on: my own voice.

I took a voice acting class and started private singing lessons that semester, in the hopes of finally figuring out what healthy vocal projection truly meant.

It was here that I started learning practice patterns that I could engage with on my own, without a specific assignment, or a performance agenda. I began to understand that my voice was a tool that I could hone for its own sake.

The following summer found me singing along with my favorite musical soundtrack, utterly unashamedly, as I drove all over a neighboring county for my first ever journalism internship.

I was learning to love my instrument, again.


Fast-forward to senior year and I’m lying flat on my back on a carpeted floor several nights a week, listening to YouTube audio files of distant warfare to get into character, warming up as I prepared for my senior capstone performance rehearsals.

Over the course of that semester, warming up slid into a comforting pattern.


Just Breathe.

Be still and Breathe.

Let go.

Let go and Listen.

Let go of the performance anxiety and embrace the beauty of the story I have to share.

My voice during that performance was the most resonate, most confident, most assured it had ever been onstage.


After that, my warmups began to develop into what they are now—a form of practice that matters to me for its own sake, a ritual I can surrender everything to, a way to learn to love myself, body and voice, with the same acceptance that I loved my piano with.

I’m still not nearly as diligent about practicing regularly as I would like to be.

But I know now. I don’t need an audience’s applause or the pressure of deadlines. I can memorize beautiful speeches and learn to find relaxed readiness for their own sake.

I just have to give myself up to practicing my instrument: