The primary focus of this post is going to be musical harmony, which I must admit is a specific aspect of a larger whole. Harmony in relationships large and small, complex and simple, covers a lot of ground. That is not being ignored or forgotten, but this is an ode to the harmony in music and what it means in my life.
Music is almost other worldly with its refinement of sound, its mathematical wonders and seemingly infinite combinations. Its effect on the psyche is multi-dimensional, capable of taking us from the pits of despair up to joy and impetus to action. Or it can make us anxious or even somber. It can underscore agony as well as ecstasy. Yet, the most exquisite effect comes from harmony, in my opinion.
When I hear certain elements of harmony, I find it so pleasing it passes into the category of thrilling. That’s how it is when I’m singing with others and we achieve harmonic tones I don’t really even understand. I know how it works, usually in thirds up the scale from the melody. Some combinations are better than others, something I can’t explain. All I know is, hearing that and especially creating it enriches my life.
Looking back to my early life, I recall no awareness of harmony in music until I joined the chorus of my elementary school in 6th grade. I had to learn my part and realized how it fit in with the overall piece we were singing. I wish I remembered the name of the song we were doing. I’d love to sing that part again. I gained a greater appreciation for music at that point.
As an aside, I have a “Certificate of Musical Ability” from Brundo Music in Niagara Falls, New York in 1959. I was nine years old at the time. I had taken some lessons from them on the accordion, but I was just a beginner. I have no sense of grasping harmony then. It took that immersion in a singing chorus to awaken me.
I don’t remember noticing it in the music I listened to (rock ‘n roll and country mainly) during that part of my life. I know I really wanted to play guitar, but my parents wouldn’t support that idea. After having the accordion forced on me for a while, I just dropped out. On to 7th grade, I was just listening to music and not participating in it.
The first popular music I recall furthering the awakening to harmony came from The Four Seasons. They recharged my love of music through their magnificent harmonies. Then along came the Beatles and I was driven to sing some of the harmony parts they created. My auditory horizons were then broadened to truly hear the rich harmonies found in soul music, doo-wop, more British Invasion groups and eventually the Beach Boys. Ever since, I’m on the alert for the harmonic elements of the music entering my ear.
I did learn to play the guitar in my late teens and I’ve written quite a few songs. One of the greatest pleasures I can know is to have others I’ve played with take up harmony parts complementing melodies I’ve composed. However, it doesn’t really matter whether a song is mine or anyone else’s. If I can join with my friends in a great harmony, I feel a tickle in one or more of my sacred chakras. I can’t help but equate it with a high vibrational love.
I was talking several years ago with a guy who is part of successful duo here in Arizona. The subject was their music. He said when he first sang with his partner, he actually experienced an erection. It was that good and apparently exciting.
I haven’t had that reaction to singing with anyone, but I did have one remarkable event involving the woman who would become my wife. We had been seeing each other for only a couple of weeks or so when one of us ( I think it was me) launched into a doo-wop song called What’s Your Name, a hit song by the duo Don and Juan. My recollection is my lover joining in immediately with all the lyrics and a perfect harmony to my lead melody. We were delighted and stunned. As we like to say, it was a strong indicator we had found the person with whom we wanted to spend the rest of our lives. Maybe that’s a bit embellished, but the harmony in the song enhanced the greater harmony between us, spirit to spirit, and bonded our relationship. We’re still together, 46 years later.
Wisdom on the Subject
“Music from my fourth year began to be the first of my youthful occupations. Thus early acquainted with the gracious muse who tuned my soul to pure harmonies, I became fond of her, and, as it often seemed to me, she of me.” Ludwig van Beethoven
“Living here on Earth, we breathe the rhythms of a universe that extends infinitely above us. When resonant harmonies arise between this vast outer cosmos and the inner human cosmos, poetry is born.” Daisaku Ikeda
“When I had my first experiences of choral singing, the dissonance of those close harmonies was so exquisite that I would giggle or I would tear up, and I felt it in a physical way.” Eric Whitacre
“I like to be surrounded by harmonies and fullness and richness and vitality.” Al Jardine
From the Heart
Joining a song in harmony requires hearing the melody another being is communicating in whatever form of love they know. Lending harmony is an acknowledgment of their communication and adding to it, like when an improv artist says, “Yes, and…”
If we can hear what those around us are saying and bring acknowledgment along with a response that adds to what is being said instead of detracting from it, we will bring more and more harmony to the world.