Harmony doesn’t happen by accident. It takes effort and practice and a willingness to get better at your own part only as a complement to the other musicians. More than musical groups need to work like this.
Big Sprout, our almost-ten-year-old, took up the violin this year. He worked through frustrations to learn some difficult pieces, and although he wasn’t begging to practice every day, he would. His end-of-the-year concert was last night, and it was a much better performance than their mid-year show. You could actually hear the melody in the songs and the synchronization was better, but since the kids were fourth, fifth and sixth graders, it was to be expected that they were often playing at conflicting rhythms. I had heard the violin part practiced so much, that I knew exactly what they were supposed to be playing, and they were. The problem was that they were so focused on their own notes that they weren’t listening to the other instruments, or each other, to gauge whether they were in harmony.
That is an indication of the age of this group, and I get that. As they get older they will be less intent on reading their own notes and they will hear how what they play fits into a larger piece. That is a cool thing to hear. When large bands go marching down a parade-route or around a football stadium, it is goosebump-worthy music. An ensemble of orchestra-members who play together seamlessly is awe-inspiring. I just wish more of life looked like the harmonized musicians.
If you’ve read my blog for a while you know that we are a sporting family. My husband and I are college coaches and our kids are really active on sports teams. We encourage them to play on teams for the same reasons I love harmonized music. There is something so amazing about the achievements of a group of people who come together with their own individual talents to work toward a common goal. Harmonizing for a group of athletes is messy business.
More and more, kids who play sports are only watching their own notes. Their parents are only listening to their kid’s version of the song, and it is harder and harder to get a group to play in harmony. The concern seems to be about how good an individual can get at a particular sport, or how an individual can garner awards and recognition. With all that individual focus the TEAM harmony is lost and the music is just noise. It’s easy to hear when kids are off while playing a musical piece, but harder to see when a team doesn’t quite have its groove.
Growing up, I played on some really good teams. I also played on some teams that had really great players who did not play so great together. The teams that found harmony, despite a lack of individual talent, did better than the teams that had the all-stars. We may not have sounded that great solo, but together, we made great music, and that group sounded better than I ever did alone.