Harmony


I’m a second soprano. I sing in an all women performance choir and I love it. I love expressing myself with my voice and music is the vehicle that allows me to do it in person. But sometimes I struggle. On the more complex or wordy songs I find myself stuck in the middle between the top and the bottom and I don’t know what I’m supposed to be singing. Sometimes I gravitate toward the melody, but sometimes I settle in among the lower alto notes, and there are times that I just can’t seem to reconcile myself to the part that suits my range.

But I have come to love singing harmony. I love when the part that is mine moves and pulls against the melody. I love the resolution of a dissonant chord and knowing that my contribution enriches the whole of the piece. That without my part, the melody would be flat and lifeless. Even with the alto line, there are songs that need more. Songs that have stories to tell with complexity and subtlety, that need a second soprano line to give them depth and beauty. I love filling up that space. There was a time that I only sang high soprano. A time that I couldn’t bear to move away from the melodic surface of a song, but I have learned to appreciate that not everyone can or should sing just the melody.

In my life I am similarly struggling to find my line in the music. In a chorus of conflicting chords I am searching out my part. Most days I think I have it. I feel in tune and I like the way I sound in relation to the parts on either side of me. But then I lose confidence and I fall apart. It’s hard to find a part in the middle once it’s lost, especially if some of the songs I’m singing don’t have sheet music or someone has changed some of the notes to suit themselves. But then, if I listen to the accompaniment underneath it all, I can very often find my place again. Sometimes I have to wait for a new section to start – perhaps a place I am more familiar with – but I almost always find the notes that are mine.

The key, I am learning, is to know my part well on its own. To have confidence in the notes I am given to sing, without worrying about what others are vocalizing around me. It’s a challenge when the director of this choir called life isn’t visible to us and isn’t always giving us the direction we think we need. But even in the uncertainty of an accidental, or when I can’t always hear if I’m blending well, I know that if my part is strong, it will strengthen the whole.

And that’s something to sing about.

Corktree

Corktree is exploring life and spirituality in new ways and new environments while studying midwifery, reiki, yoga, homeopathy, herbology and evolutionary nutrition. She has 3 daughters and one son, which add up to what now feels like an enormous family of 6.

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16 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    What a beautiful metaphor for life! I had never thought of it like this, but I think it works perfectly.

    “The key, I am learning, is to know my part well on its own. To have confidence in the notes I am given to sing, without worrying about what others are vocalizing around me.”

    I love those sentences. So true.

    And I’m jealous of your singing. What I would give to have more than a five note range.

  2. CatherineWO says:

    This musical metaphor is much like a dream I had the night before my mother died almost ten years ago. We all have an important part to sing, sometimes the melody, sometimes not. Thank you for reminding me. I truly needed this today.

  3. Becky says:

    I also love this metaphor. In high school they classified me as a second soprano too, and I enjoyed the opportunities to harmonize. You learn to listen so much better when singing harmony. For some reason as I’ve gotten older my singing voice has gotten higher and I miss getting the chance to sing the lines other than the melody.
    But I am most often the accompanist. Though I do enjoy that supporting part, I often wonder if it isn’t too apt a metaphor for my life. I may be too content to take the backseat rather than stepping into a spotlight.

    • Corktree says:

      I agree about listening better when we harmonize. It’s a tricky balance of hearing the music as a whole piece, and not letting the other parts distract you and throw you off. But it does teach me to appreciate the beauty in everyone’s contribution, and to realize that every one is trying to sing the part that fits their voice.

      I also think accompaniment and supporting others is terribly important – but it’s nice every now and then to stretch your range and abilities, in both ways.

  4. JonJon says:

    Fantastic post! I love the painfully beautiful sound that comes from the rub of two dissonant notes. I too have found that in order for it to be painfully beautiful and not just painful, I have to sing into the dissonance with confidence. Same goes for life.

  5. Jessawhy says:

    Wonderful post, Corktree!

    My husband used to sing with BYU Singers (their small touring choir). They did a CD for Eric Whitacre who has a lot of tonal clusters and dissonance in his music. But, it is my favorite choral music because of the dissonance. I remember one rehearsal where Dr. Staheli was lamenting that the choir was doing great in their 18 part tone clusters but couldn’t stay in tune when they were singing in 4 parts, in regular thirds. I think it shows us that the part we work on the most we will get right, regardless of how hard it is.

    • Corktree says:

      “the part we work on the most we will get right”

      Yes, I agree. And it’s interesting to me that I’ve been so singularly focused in my life right now. Like I’m trying to get this part down so I can move on and add to it. I do hope I’m getting it right. Sometimes, when I’m working on a difficult piece and plunking it out at home, it doesn’t sound quite right until I hear it in relation to the other parts, and then it makes more sense. I wonder if some of the things I’m struggling with in life are the same way.

      (Oh, and did the link not make it? I wanted to hear what you were listening to)

  6. Jessawhy says:

    Also, here’s a link to his website. I’m listening to With a Lily in Your Hand right now.
    So beautiful.

  7. Matt says:

    Corktree, I’m also thankful for people who sing their part well and you’re so right that we need all voices. Love the special hattip to those who sing outside the lines. Harmony is sweet.

  8. Madge says:

    To know your part….. is the keynote to any part of life.
    I have always heard the harmony. That came as a gift. Didn’t need to learn it from the notes on a page. But the melody always seemed to be the part that is most recognized. Gratefully, I didn’t mind. I just wanted to do my part well. Now as I am moving to the other end of life, I can see that my children have other parts of the song that I don’t know. They even seem to know the dissonance of notes that are hard for me to understand, but they still belong to my song. I know that my family’s song is different than any other families song. I love the song.
    Thanks Courtney for reminding me that all the parts are important to make a song complete.

  9. Rebecca says:

    This is a beautiful! It’s given me something to ponder. There is joy in singing our own part, and in appreciating the beauty of other voices.

  10. DefyGravity says:

    This is beautiful. I also sing second soprano, and I’ve noticed we’re usually the ones on key because we have to work the hardest to find our note. And thanks for putting into words what it feels like to be pulled in two different directions and having “to know my part well on its own. To have confidence in the notes I am given to sing, without worrying about what others are vocalizing around me.” I was writing a proposal for a theatre project I”m in the process of starting, and was attempting to describe the need to find what is right for me without worrying about others opinions on the subject. This description is exactly what I was looking for! Thanks for helping me get it clear in my head so I can put it on paper!

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