Three-Part Harmony

21 01 2010

Recently Jess and I have had the pleasure of singing with a new friend, Michelle Westbrook, on occasion during our weekend services.  It has been wonderful to have a third harmony part for the songs.  Creating rich three-part harmonies is one of my favorite things to do!

However, it’s not easy.  Two-part harmony is not easy, either, but it is certainly simpler.  In two-part harmony there are usually several note choices that will sound good with each step of the melody.  You might sing close to the melody on one part and then farther away on another.  There are many different combinations that will each create a pleasing sound to the listener.

But three-part harmony is much more complex.  Each step of melody and two harmony parts now creates a chord that must match what the band is playing and make sense within the movement of the vocals.  It takes a lot of painstaking work, often working slowly through each note of the song to make sure that each chord is correct.  But the payoff?  The payoff is glorious!  Rich tapestries of vocals that undergird each note of the melody with emotion and substance.  It’s a sound that two-part harmonies can never imitate.

It occurred to me that trying to sing three-part harmonies is a lot like trying to live in community with fellow believers.  When it’s just us and God, and God invites us to harmonize with his melody, we might find it fairly simple, like two-part harmony.  We can choose what notes make the most sense to us within the context of the melody the Father sings.

But as soon as we move into community it feels a lot more like three-part harmony.  We can’t just choose whatever we want anymore.  We have to listen to what other people are singing and figure out how we can sing something beautiful together.  We have to change what we’re singing when it sounds wrong, and we have to lovingly invite others to change when their notes stray from the chord.  It takes painstaking work!

But the payoff?  The payoff is glorious!  In community we create beautiful music that could never be imitated if we were left to ourselves.  And even better, the music we create is the music God intended us to create when He made us.  He intended us to live and work (yes, work!) in community, because He knew the beauty that could come from it.  Love.  Hope.  Peace.  Patience.  Kindness.  Goodness.  Faithfulness.  Self-Control.  How can we practice these virtues if not in community?

God knows the incredible blessings we receive from living in community.  Just like three-part harmony, it isn’t easy, but the payoff is glorious!

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One response

7 04 2010
Andrew Brackmann

Beautiful thoughts, Dave!

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