Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others

Image of Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others
Release Date: 
July 1, 2013
Algonquin Books
Reviewed by: 

“Because singing is fun.”

Everybody does it. In the shower, in a car, sitting in traffic. Sometimes on a stage. Alone or in a group. Even if we don’t always know the words, somehow we manage to fake our way through (fooling no one of course), usually at the top of our lungs. And if nothing else is accomplished, for that one instant, we are happy.

Because singing is fun.

Author Stacy Horn must have thought so too, because when everything else in her life fell apart, she turned to music and singing for comfort. (Luckily, not country music, although singing about a lost dog/car/house/love can be therapeutic.)

In joining the Choral Society of Grace Church in New York City (under the direction of John Maclay), Ms. Horn found an outlet for her emotions, as well as a family of people with whom she could share a few hours every week.

Choirs and other singing groups are common sights, even in modern American and the range of music they offer can be vast. Barbershop quartets pop up at local events and parades, singing great Vaudevillian classics. Turn on any radio and hear the boy bands that abound. Many places of worship have a choir or worship team of some sort. Some sing more modern choruses and pop songs, while others, like Grace Church, stick to a highly traditional, classical repertoire from greats like Mozart, Handel, and Vaughan Williams.

Ms. Horn started in the choir as a first soprano—which is the highest, and some would argue, best part. Mr. Maclay then moved her to second soprano for one work, and she reacted like it was the end of the world.

Those of us who have spent large parts of our musical lives not singing first soprano can just shake our heads at this, because we know that simply singing the melody all the time is . . . say it with me friends . . . boring. Any four year old can do it. Luckily, the author came around and joined our brilliant harmonizing ranks, happily adjusting to life outside of High-Note Land. If singing the high notes is simply fun, not singing the high notes is pure auditory joy.

Parts of this book can be very moving—especially the section that deals with 9/11 and Grace Church’s involvement with the cleanup effort. The biggest complaint about this book, though, is that sometimes it can feel a little bit like a fifth-grade book report. When the author is simply regurgitating facts about works or composers, her writing gets a little dry. Maybe she should have tried singing it instead.

Music is an indelible part of life and singing is its most accessible form. Everyone has a voice, we just need to work up enough courage to use it. And if we manage to find a hilltop in the Austrian Alps to spin around on while doing so, so much the better.