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Imperfect Harmony by Stacy Horn

03 Nov

Imperfect Harmony: Singing Through Life's Sharps and FlatsPremise: Through life’s trials and disappointments, Stacy Horn found joy in in one aspect of her life: singing in a community choir. In this autobiographical account of her time spent in the Choral Society of Grace Church in New York she accounts for the constant encouragement and bliss found through singing with other people. In her constant search for companionship and happiness, Stacy’s one part of her life that regularly brings her joy is the community choir in her neighborhood. She walks to the same building every week during choral season to practice with other people in the community.

With a great amount of historical and scientific research, Stacy makes the convincing argument that singing with others in groups can not only make you feel better emotionally and spiritually, but physically as well. She also recounts her experiences, for better or worse, including insight into the music the choirs have sung and the people she has encountered because of her time at Grace Church.

Themes: Singing with others will make you feel happier and healthier. It is proven to lower blood pressure and positively affect the limbic system. Singing has been shown to cause euphoric and uplifting feelings, especially when it is done with other people. The quality of the singing doesn’t even matter. In fact, better singers have been shown to be more focused on hitting the right notes, lessening the overall positive effects than those of lower quality singers.

Singing in community can also bring you closer to those you are singing with, building friendships and relationships that would otherwise not have been there had it not been for the common interest and the action of singing in a choir or group.

Pros: Stacy Horn makes a great case for singing with other people. Stacy’s straightforward and humorous account of her years with the choir sound quite genuine, giving credence to her historical research. She backs up the historical and scientific statements with a good deal of evidence from multiple resources. Stacy lays her heart out there for everyone to examine, which makes Imperfect Harmony a very human and personal story. I can appreciate some of her favorite songs, as I have sung many of them. I can also relate to many of Horn’s experiences, especially the euphoria mixed with adrenaline when performing a heavily-practiced piece of emotional music. It is one of the greatest feelings in the world.

Cons: Stacy is very up front with not being religious, but sharing her derision for religion in this book is mostly unnecessary, especially considering it is the inspiration for much of the music she and her choir perform. Some of the songs she mentions about God’s wrath during Easter make me think their choir just needs to sing different songs. Even worse were the political infusions that really have nothing to do with the autobiographical story of music and community. The part where she talks about Barack Obama’s inauguration night is especially unnecessary, speaking about the joy of that occasion in such a way that it sounds almost like believers worshiping a deity. It really didn’t add anything to the story or even help make the point she was trying to make.

Recommendations: In spite of political and religious differences, Imperfect Harmony shares a visceral yet thoroughly-researched study of how singing with others can have a positive impact on a person’s life physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I only wish Stacy could personally experience the even greater joy of actually believing the words being sung when singing about God. In my experience singing in choirs and various a cappella singing groups I have found everything Horn says about the happiness found through singing in a community to be true. Accepting Horn’s words to be her honest perspective, singers and non-singers alike should take this book to heart and follow through; find people to sing with. Not only will reading Imperfect Harmony make you feel better, but it encourages you to sing, and that will make you feel better and happier regardless of how good a singer you think you are.

Stacy Horn’s website
Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others on Goodreads
Buy Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others on Amazon
Download Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

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2 Comments

Posted by on November 3, 2013 in Nonfiction

 

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2 responses to “Imperfect Harmony by Stacy Horn

  1. Stacy Horn

    November 4, 2013 at 10:57 am

    Thank you so so much for this wonderful, thoughtful review of my book! I love it!! But I just had to say that I am not sneering at religion in the book! Not at all. The thread about my agnosticism begins with me introducing myself as agnostic, then how weird it feels at first to sing sacred music when you’re agnostic, and then for the rest of the book I try to show how it doesn’t matter. Heart, soul, spirit, we all shimmer with it (mostly, hopefully) and I don’t think, for instance, that there’s that great a difference between me and a group of 16th century seminary students. The music itself, written in God’s name, was the ambassador between my heart and theirs. It is our common ground. The fact that sacred music unites people with different beliefs or no belief is a powerful plus mark in religion’s corner. I would never sneer at that. Also, I love the music about God’s wrath, I wouldn’t want to change a thing about what we sing.

    Please don’t misunderstand me, I am not criticizing your criticisms, and maybe I could have done a better job making the points I wanted to make. In any case, thank you for this great review!!

     
    • Tim

      November 4, 2013 at 2:54 pm

      I love it when authors respond to my reviews, especially when they are as gracious as you. I don’t think using the word sneer is really what I meant when I wrote this last night (after finishing the book a couple weeks ago). I didn’t necessarily feel an antagonism toward believers themselves, so I’m not sure why I put that. I’m not one to edit my reviews, but in this case my review might reflect how I feel if I removed that sentence entirely. What I really meant is what is in my Recommendations, that I think there is an even greater joy that comes in believing the words when singing sacred music (can music be sacred when written by broken people?) when the music reflects heartfelt worship to God. It is in this understanding where I think lies our greatest differences.

      But I’m just as broken as anyone, so I don’t assume I’ve got much of anything figured out anyway. I very much appreciate your willingness to share your brokenness to strangers like me. It gives me hope for humanity. And even though I already have musical outlets and I don’t really have the time, your lovely book made me consider auditioning for one of the local choral groups.

       

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