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Harmony adds to music, to community, and to life

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Harmony adds to music, to community, and to life
by Julie VanSpall

Photo Caption: Whether music comes from natural talent or hard work, working as a group to create sound brings appreciating and harmony to everyone. (BCC File Photo)

Anyone who has sung in a choir can appreciate both the challenge and the reward of singing in harmony. One doesn’t need formal training in musical theory to develop an ear for notes that just sound right together.

I first learned to sing harmony by playing the piano. When playing chords, I thought it would be fun to try singing notes which were not the melody, so I’d test my ability to sing one note in the chord while I played the others on the piano. When I joined choir in high school, I learned that there was something called “alto,” and that I’d basically been teaching myself to sing it.

Even though I’d tampered with singing alto, I found harmonizing a lot of work. I spent hours memorizing my parts. It was enjoyable work and the results were very empowering. Standing on risers with different, complimentary notes coming from behind me, in front of me and beside me to create rich, complete sounds, filled my soul. Unison singing is enjoyable too, but in singing harmony, I was making a unique contribution to part of something bigger than myself. And it was something beautiful.

Working with children in a school setting, I have strived to share my love of harmony, not just because it’s ear pleasing, but because I want the children to have that “something-bigger” experience, too.

Some children possess a natural talent for harmonizing. They can sing whichever note you ask them to and hold that pitch no matter what people around them are singing or playing on an instrument. Musicians know that these individuals will be able to sing with anyone because they will not lose their notes. We can build a choir around the support of strong singers, but on their own they are not a “choir.”

Other singers need more work. As I know from personal experience, rehearsing goes a long way. With patience, effort, and focused listening most people can learn how to harmonize. If they struggle, they may stand beside strong singers who allow them to hear the notes and stay in tune.

Even vocal leaders and soloists reach their full potential more readily with the support and back-up of their choir or accompaniment. Acappella singing is a very challenging undertaking. Singing successfully, completely alone, is not only a less common talent, but an exercise in vulnerability.

The harmonies provided by a cohesive choir, or solid accompaniment, augment a soloist’s fine performance. Additionally, as a pianist, I have often tried to accentuate notes to keep a soloist in tune because, no matter how good they may be on their own, they are human. Even solid singers can become nervous or distracted from time to time.

Living in community is so much like singing in a choir. Every community needs a few “naturals” or people of integrity who maintain their values and can be trusted to use their voices effectively. These people can be depended upon to assist and support others by helping them to stay in tune with what is right, using their gifts well, and leading by example.

Communities and their leaders also rely on “behind-the-scenes,” or less noticeable, support from others, whether those people are on stage with them, helping with preparations, or simply praying for their courage and strength. Everyone’s contribution is valuable – is necessary – to a group’s common goal, and the effects of working in harmony are music to the soul.

At our school, the children have really started to blossom in their ability to sing harmony. They worked hard for a recent production and loved the sounds they were able to produce. Many students are now asking the music teacher for more opportunities to harmonize.

The fact that they have learned something new is rewarding. The fact that they appreciate something I, too, enjoy is heart-warming. The idea that they have not only heard, but felt the beauty and soothing strength of being positive parts of something bigger than themselves, gives me hope.

I pray that these children, who now appreciate when different notes “just sound right” together, will learn to not only sing, but live in harmony, in a world ever-challenged by dissonance.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 21 June 2017 14:32  

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