Lessons in harmony

IssueDecember 2016 - January 2017
Comment by Penny Stone

When we sing, we vibrate – that’s how we make sound, it’s a bit like having two little guitar strings in our throats that are amplified by the whole of our bodies. So when we sing together, we vibrate together. There’s no avoiding it, if you’re in the room with a group of singers, you will feel the vibrations in your body in some way. And if you sing as well, you will feel your own vibrations mixed in with other people’s vibrations. There’s no way to vibrate collectively alone. It’s one of the few things in the modern world that can’t be replicated through technology.

When I’m working out parts for a song, I sing a line then record another line over the top of it, then another, and I can create the impression of a choir, but it will never sound quite the same as if many voices were singing together at the same time, and it will certainly never feel the same.

I could have written this month’s column about how music has been used in the US election, but rather than waste my energy on the rich and the powerful, I’m going to focus on the millions of other people on that continent. There are grassroots community activists working every day to make life better for people around them in the USA, and no political shift will stop these people working towards a better world.

‘A group of people cannot all speak at once, but they can sing together’

As activists, we will organise, as always we do, and we will oppose injustice using the tools that we have. Music will no doubt be an important part of that opposition, as well as an important part of keeping the flame of hope alive in all of us. And entwined with this audible opposition to injustice is the bridge-building within our own communities, like two threads intertwined.

Wherever we live, there are people from diverse backgrounds, there are people alienated and ‘othered’, whether by race or sexuality, by gender or class, and we can extend our hand to each other and take time to listen to different experiences. At the moment, this feels to me like the only rational response to global shifts seemingly beyond our power.

When we sing together, we vibrate together. What better starting place to build bridges between people who have not necessarily spoken to each other before? What better common ground to stand upon? We can sing together regardless of political belief, we only need to find the right song – and there is always a song to share, always some common experience from which to begin.

When we sing together, we have to listen to each other. We don’t have to all be singing the same note, it is our very diversity that creates this beautiful harmony – if we were all the same, if we all sang the same note, we would never make such beautiful music. But we do have to listen to each other to enable our notes to blend, for the diversity to work together as beautifully as it can.

It was a South African musician whose name I can never remember said, during the anti-apartheid years, that ‘a group of people cannot all speak at once, but they can sing together’. Wise words indeed, and we must listen also to each other.

So if you’re feeling despondent this month, and a little more powerless than you would like – find a friend and sing a song. Singing helps. Vibrating helps. And from there, you can go on to find someone who is not yet a friend, and sing a song with them, you never know what wonderful friends you might make….

If you missed it, last month I wrote about some of the sounds of Standing Rock. They are still standing strong and I would like to remind us all to stand with them, to use our voices to amplify theirs. This is the USA we can be proud of right now – united indigenous people standing together for justice for themselves, for their world, for all of us and for our world.

Sing out, fellow humans, sing on.

Topics: Culture
See more of: Radical music