All Together Now

One of my favorite vocal coaches is fond of characterizing people who focus on their own singing to the point of losing track of and/or sticking out from the rest of a performance at inappropriate times as expressing their “individual enthusiasms.” I’m doubtful I would be as tactfully euphemistic. We’ve all seen and, more importantly, heard concerts where one unplanned solo ended up hijacking the whole event, and it’s hard to forget what was so frustrating and embarrassing about it for the other performers and the audience and even harder to remember all of the probably fine or even excellent things that were supposed to be the stars of the day.

The same is true,Β naturellement, outside of musical performances as well. Our individual enthusiasms lead us to speak out of turn, act squirrelly in the middle of serious events, blurt out exceedingly inconveniently unfiltered thoughts, and generally act like little kids at the best of times. At worst, they make us deeply uncivil, unwilling or unable to negotiate, and self-centered to the point of implosion. Or, more often,Β explosion. This world does not need my opinion, unless I’m willing to get the rest of the passionate populace to engage in the conversation and collaboration that will make it needful. And in that case, they’ll quite generally be on board with my enthusiasm already and there will be little to negotiate.

None of this means that everyone should think and act in lockstep. What a horrific idea! Most of the great performances of our time are not solos, even those that feature soloists, but rather collaborations with the entire cast, crew, production staff, and audience, at a minimum. The deliberate and thoughtful give-and-take of everyone performing his and her part to the very best level possible is what creates the ideal of harmony, even in times when fruitful dissonance is desirable to throw that harmony into beautifully sharp contrast. Music is obviously full of grand examples of this stuff, but so is life in general. The sorrows and hardships, if they are carefully shared burdens, throw the joys and pleasures into higher relief, and the larger song of human experience continues to grow in beauty.

Photo montage: In the Works

Instead of throwing a spanner in the works, why not find ways to make them run more smoothly together for a more harmonious performance?

16 thoughts on “All Together Now

  1. I have cringe worthy moments myself that I can think of which weren’t too productive πŸ™‚ But yes. I have learnt to curb some of my foot in the mouth syndrome to make symphonies with others!

    • Something tells me my own family wouldn’t appreciate my moments of tact and kindness half so much if they hadn’t blossomed in the context of my usual clumsiness and impolitic remarks! πŸ˜‰ Still, I do hope I’m learning to be more consistent with the better version of myself as the years pass. πŸ™‚

    • Absolutely. A friendly, and guiding, hand is one of the greatest gifts anyone has ever given me, and if I can turn around and offer any such thing to another person, I will consider it my best accomplishment as well. Thanks for ‘traveling’ with me! πŸ™‚

    • Yes, there’s more moderate and healthful eating in my near future as well. But the holidays have been sweet in other ways, too, and I’m happy to have a chance to recover a little before the next set of adventures begins. Just a little, though! We have good friends coming for an overnight visit on the 2nd, so I will try to finish my current phase of housecleaning and reorganization tomorrow so they don’t have to hack through with a machete to visit. πŸ˜‰

      Much love!

  2. Little children love to go on and on at the top of their voices, because they love hearing themselves. Some people never outgrow such behavior. It’s hard to blend harmoniously when ones mindset is all about me. Maybe someday it will be all about us, and then the harmony will lift us all higher and higher. I dare to dream!

    • One of the best possible dreams, too. Even in some of the best choirs my husband’s worked with, there are almost always one or two people who just don’t know how to blend in and support the group so that everyone shines equally and the music is at its best. All the more miraculous and beautiful when the glorious music of a whole group working in unselfish harmony *does* come to fruition. Let us never give up the dream! I can hear you singing from here!!

  3. Sorry, but I think if there had not been the “individual enthusiasms” on the part of such figures as Bach, Beethoven, Mozart et al then there would have been little possibilities for the rest of us to “harmonize” together in the grand style that they have allowed us – not to say that everyone shouldn’t behave themselves, including some of the more scandalous artists.

    • Oh, I agree entirely that breaking out of the norm is a necessary catalyst for much that is great and beautiful! My friend and I were talking about quite a different sort of rugged individualism, the kind where one person hijacks the moment in order to make it about him- or herself, without regard for or to the detriment of the rest of the participants. Seen that just a few too many times! πŸ˜‰ And yet we still manage to hear fabulous concerts of music by inspired composers and arrangers and singers and players. Go figure. I think there might be hope for us! πŸ˜€

  4. Just heard a podcast about narcissism, which, the speaker says, is on the rise with kids being taught they’re special because parents think that’s the way to self-esteem. And then I read something about good CEO’s not being narcissistic, contrary to popular belief, but being excellent teamworkers and listeners. I just thank the stars that I’m such a special person that I’m not at all narcissistic.

  5. Speaking of choral music, I just read about someone I’d never heard of, Lowell Mason, an early and influential figure in American church music:

    I’d been led to him by a passage in another Wikipedia article: “Samuel Francis Smith wrote the lyrics to ‘My Country, ‘Tis of Thee’ in 1831, while a student at the Andover Theological Seminary in Andover, Massachusetts. His friend Lowell Mason had asked him to translate the lyrics in some German school songbooks or to write new lyrics. A melody in Muzio Clementi’s Symphony No. 3 caught his attention. Rather than translating the lyrics from German, Smith wrote his own American patriotic hymn to the melody, completing the lyrics in thirty minutes.”

    As familiar as “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” is (or at least its first stanza), until this morning I couldn’t have told you who wrote the words. That reminds me that as a young child I heard the end of the first line only phonetically, as something like tizzuvthy, which made no sense. I wonder how many other children hear it that way and have no idea what they’re singing.

    • It’s hard to beat a good mondegreen!

      Intriguing about the lyrics’ origins. I’m always amazed to learn about the process that leads to, or even the tiny moment that begins, any such thing that becomes so embedded in our cultural knowledge that we tend to ignore or forget it was ever nonexistent.

      As a counter to a patriotic song that ‘caught on,’ there’s the state song of Washington, a tune and a lyric so dull and clunky that it’s hard to imagine someone couldn’t’ve come up with a dozen superior options in a couple of days, but I suppose very few people even in WA know that there *is* a state song like it. My professional opinion is: It Sucks. It’s almost humorously horrible, but it’s not even good enough to be quite funny. What a pity. On the other hand, there’s the unofficial one of Woody Guthrie’s “Roll on, Columbia,” a far more singable and apt song, and one we actually *did* learn in school, so perhaps it’s just as well the official one remains decently hidden from most people most of the time!

      • From what you say, I’m fortunate to have left Washington as an infant, before running the risk of getting exposed to the state song. I’m also fortunate that when I grew up in New York it didn’t have a state song (unless the one adopted in the 1970s bumped a previous one I’m unaware of).

        • The only song I can think of that specifically mentions Tacoma, by the way, is the Steve Miller Band ‘Rockin’ Me’, which would at least make a heck of a superior song to that wussy little state song, in my opinion! I don’t know of any NY state ones, either, only NYC ones. πŸ™‚

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