July 10, 2013

Where Will the Harmony Come From?

My father-in-law and I recently had an interesting talk. Dad is very music smart, as evidenced by his career as a school band director and decades of service as a municipal band drummer. So we “talked shop.” I eventually explained how I can sing alto or tenor when serving on my church’s worship team and how I have to think carefully when asked to sing melody so I don’t unwittingly morph into a harmony line. And he said, “That’s because of your French horn. Or maybe you could play horn because you can do harmony.”
Beginning at the age of 11 and continuing through college and for a few years afterward, I did play French horn. I had to practice and faced plenty of musical challenges. But the horn playing itself seemed to come rather naturally, and I could never understand why everyone said it was the hardest instrument.
Dad has said for years that it came easily because my embouchure – the shape and size of my lips – is built for French horn. But the other day, he said it also takes an ability to hear tight harmonic intervals. As he spoke, I recalled how it often seemed as if I could hear the sound of written music notes in my head a few beats before I actually had to play them. And I can see now how that natural inclination has transferred to my current role as a vocalist because I can almost always “hear” a harmony line to compliment the melody whether or not I have written music to follow.
I’ve struggled with jealousy during my years as a singer, feeling at times that I don’t quite “measure up” because I don’t have a soprano voice and, thus, don’t get the attention showered on the soloists. But my conversation with Dad confirmed something I’ve been realizing over the past few years: I have a valuable musical talent despite not being a soloist because I can add texture to the music through my harmonies. Those who hear what I sing can’t easily pick out my part and wouldn’t know what was missing if it weren’t there. But they’d know something was missing because the melody by itself would be hollow.  Not everyone can do that, but I can.
I don’t say that toot my own horn, so to speak. Rather, I use it as an example of how a multiple intelligence strength – in this case, music smart – can and does manifest differently in each individual. I’m not less music smart than my melody-singing friends; I simply have a different “skill set” within the broad category of what it means to be music smart. And I can and should use that gift for good. Additionally, it’s fascinating to see how my particular expression of music smart enabled me to be a good French horn player and how the training I received instrumentally can be used in a different musical setting now.
In thinking about the children in our lives, I believe that points to two important truths: First, we cannot know how the opportunities our kids have to grow their smarts now will be used later on. And, honestly, we shouldn’t try to figure it out. Rather, we should simply provide the experiences and let God decide how He’ll use them in their lives. And, secondly, we shouldn’t question a child’s gifting, as if it doesn’t measure up to that of a peer or sibling. Each individual has a specific purpose in life; one child is not meant to be the clone of another. After all, if everyone sings melody, where will the harmony come from?

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