Matching pitch is a great beginning, because it requires that there be at least two singers: the model, and the mimic. Sometimes this is a teacher-student relationship, but not always. Sometimes it’s just two kids playing on a playground, or sisters washing dishes together while they figure out how to harmonize with each other. The key to singing with someone else is to match tone and volume as well as pitch. If one singer overpowers another, or one voice is more strident than the other, it stops being fun pretty quickly. Choral directors work hard to create the perfect balance of voices, the perfect blend of choral tone. But it’s really very simple. If you want to sing with someone else and make it a mutually satisfying experience, you only have to follow one rule:
Listen louder than you sing.
Notice how the foundation of good singing has more to do with your ears than your throat? Listening means paying attention to what you hear. If you are trying to sing with someone else, but you only pay attention to your own voice, you probably are not going to be singing in perfect harmony with your partner. Chances are good that you will not even be singing in the right key. However, if you focus your attention more on the other people singing with you and less on your own sound, you will (almost) automatically sing with exactly the right volume, pitch, and tone to fit in with the voices around you.
Why am I so concerned with group singing instead of solo singing? Because I truly believe that the whole purpose of singing is to sing with more than to another. It is one of the fundamental ways we communicate things we cannot say. Besides, it is only when our voices work with other voices that what we sing matters. If you are singing alone, you can be in any key, at any volume, on any pitch, and get away with being less than accurate.
But when we sing together, a strange thing happens. What we do with our own voices suddenly matters to the whole of which we are a part.
If we apply this truth to the church, listening louder than we sing becomes a wonderful metaphor for Christian life in community. Putting my own voice in background, paying attention to what I hear around me, and finding my place in the harmony of Kingdom life together lets me be all of who I am, while reminding me that I am only a part of the greater whole. As we work together for peace, justice, and righteousness, my personal agenda becomes much less important than supporting my brothers and sisters. Love trumps all.
Coming Thursday: Breathing the song…