I love to harmonize.
I’m not a professional musician, but I love to sing, and while I don’t have perfect or even relative pitch, I do have a good ear.
I’m told by my parents that before I was tall enough to see over the keyboard, I was picking out melodies on our family piano. This did not translate into an ability to play piano well (trust me), but it might have been an indication of my future musical inclinations.
I sang in church choirs growing up, and always sang alto, never quite growing comfortable with my head voice enough to hit the higher notes that the melody line in hymns and sacred music generally requires. …Well, I can hit some of them, but it’s really better if I don’t.
Also, when I was in 6th grade I joined the band, playing French horn. French horns have occasional sweeping, majestic melodic lines, but because of their mellow mid-range sound, composers also rely on French horns to provide harmony and depth to a piece.
And then there was the music that surrounded me as I was growing up in the Bible belt Deep South. I had a lot of exposure to Southern gospel quartets and church hymns. My older brother and sister exposed me to recording artists of the 1960s and 1970s that emphasized harmonies: Simon & Garfunkel; Peter, Paul & Mary; Crosby, Stills & Nash; the Eagles.
And so it was that whenever I listened to the radio and to my favorite records, I would find myself singing harmony, sometimes making up a harmony line where there was none. I still do that.
When I got to college, I found myself in a 40-member choral group, and I fell in love with singing as part of a group. At the time I was a better French horn player than singer, but singing in a chorus brought me a level of musical satisfaction I had never experienced. It still brings me joy.
This is where the Harmonizing Analogies are supposed to come in, where you compare harmonies in music with harmonizing different parts of your life. Where you talk about how much more smoothly things go when everything is in sync. Or when relationships run smoothly, you’re said to be “in harmony” with one another. When we meditate we help bring ourselves into harmony with our Creator and our world and our inner selves. Or when you encourage diversity with the quote about how you don’t get harmony by everyone singing the same note.
That’s all very lovely, and true, but, well, it feels clichéd, and of course, harmony is much harder to achieve in life than in music. But I will say this, cliché or no. Sometimes you don’t know what your life is missing until something comes along to fill in the chord. Your life can be like a happy melody line that is good on its own. But then another voice comes in, and you realize it’s better. And then a third and maybe even a fourth voice comes in, and there’s a deep sense of completion that you didn’t even know you were missing.
And just as the fullness and perfection and the beauty of the harmonies in the chord in that moment of perfection will surprise you, life also presents you with the occasional rare moment of perfect harmony.
It may only be for a moment in time, but that sense of building something good and fun and lovely, of being part of a chord of perfect harmony, is…well, it’s one of life’s gifts to us. Sweet as a lollipop.
Listening to the Brothers Gibb build a chord to make their signature harmonies.