Monday, June 2, 2014

Book Review: Imperfect Harmony

Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others
By Stacy Horn

I recently read Stacy Horn's Imperfect Harmony, a creative non-fiction work that combined memoir, essay, and research. I enjoyed reading about Horn's experience in the Choral Society of Grace Church, a choir made up of amateurs of varying levels in New York City. Although every member of the choir had different abilities (and Horn was not shy admitting her inadequacies), they all came together because they loved to sing.

Horn uses her experiences and research about composers, history of choral groups, the psychology of music, and science of sound to explain why music, and singing specifically, makes us feel good. We sing when we are sad and facing death. In fact, some of the most glorious music was written about death. Many of the choral pieces the Choral Society sang were about Christ's death and each person's own mortality. We sing to express happiness and joy. Many of the choir members were not religious, but that didn't matter when they were singing. The music was deeper than faith. It still touched the members deeply.

My favorite aspect of Imperfect Harmony was that each chapter was named for a composition the Choral Society of Grace Church had worked on. Of course, she talked about her experiences with that piece and then moved on from there to the composer, its history, or whatever else. The piece was a springboard. I loved that and looked up most of the songs on YouTube. I am not very familiar with choral repertoire so this was a simple way for me to hear some of the great pieces for choirs. Because each song was important to the chapter/essay, hearing it gave depth to what Horn wrote about in that essay.

A conglomerate of stories and ideas is hard to summarize in a review. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone who likes creative non-fiction and who is interested in music. Although I did not learn anything that was particularly lasting or life-changing for me, it was an interesting and enjoyable read. I wanted to read this over other novels I was reading at the time. Horn's enthusiasm as an amateur really spoke to me, as a fellow amateur. Her reflections on the power of being part of a musical group spurred me to look into nearby choral groups and community symphonies. I believe that it will also motivate other readers to bring music more deeply into their lives.

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