I sang in choir back in the day. I remember this one time a smaller group of us were getting ready for a competition we had coming up and we just could not seem to get this one part of the song down. Every time we got to this part it sounded chaotic and muddy.
On this particular day I was frustrated. I was mad because I knew where the problem was coming from. It was the girl next to me. We will call her “Mindy.” She was nice enough but would go off key every time we hit this point of the song. The worst part is she was the one who kept trying to tell us all what she thought the problem was. Hint: it was everything and everyone BUT her.
Needless to say, my nerves were rubbed raw and the petty in me was ready to make a scene. The quiet side eyes of fellow friends let me know that I wasn’t imagining things. This girl was OFF! And she was throwing everyone else off as well. I was done and just when I thought I might lose it on this girl, in walks the teacher. She asked how things were going. “Good!” Miss tone deaf spoke up. My blood pressure immediately shot up.
“Well actually…” I found myself saying. I paused when I saw everybody look at me. I hated confrontation and wasn’t sure how to address this without getting folks upset. “Yes, Megan?” the teacher asked. “Well, um…” I looked over at my friend and she gave me the “Girl you better SAY IT!” face. I cleared my throat. “Well on this one particular part of the song I think we sound a little off.” That’s when a lot of the other girls chimed in agreement. “Yes! Something is definitely off.” The teacher nodded and smiled. “Ok let’s hear it and see what we discover.”
I was relieved. I knew the teacher would see the obvious problem. We sang the song beautifully and as we headed to the one part of chaos I watched her face intently to see if she would notice the girl’s problem. She did. As we sang I watched her stiffen at the muddiness of our sound. I saw her eyes pause on the girl who was clearly off key and then watched her take some notes. I inwardly smiled. Finally! The teacher was gonna tell this poor girl she was off and how it was affecting everyone around her.
We finished the song and waited. The teacher nodded and said “Well you were right, Megan. You guys are definitely struggling on that part.” She paused a minute, playfully smiled and said “So do you guys want to know what the problem is?” I calmly nodded “yes” on this inside but inwardly I was shouting “MINDY!!!!!” The teacher said “well the problem is: you aren’t listening to each other.” I thought about screaming “I’m sorry, WHAT?!” but was afraid that blood would spill out of my mouth from the hemorrhaging stress ulcer forming in my gut.
She went on to explain that in choir it’s important not only to listen to our part but to listen to how it blends with those around us. She shared how often when you can tell something is off in group setting the temptation is to sing your part louder than ever. It’s an attempt to try and drown out the off noise, but it only causes more chaos. People start singing out their different parts more boldly in an attempt to fix the problem but it actually just makes everything sound noisy and hard to decipher where the real issue is coming from. “Make sense?” She asked. We all just looked at her.” So now let’s sing it again and this time when we get to that certain note where it seems to derail, I just want you to hold it.”
We sang until we got to that note and we held it. It sounded awful. “Keep holding it!” She shouted over our voices. “Keep singing your part but also listen!” We kept holding our note. She shook her head. “You are getting louder but you aren’t listening. Listen!” We held the note and slowly we started to relax a little bit. Those with the perfect pitch held their note firmly but not overaggressively. Those who’s pitch was close to perfect but not quite, slightly adjusted their sound. And to my girl Mindy who was way hella off: her cheeks turned red. For the first time she heard it. She was flat. She quickly adjusted her tone and just like that we were all singing in harmony. The teacher smiled and signaled for us all to stop. “Now sing the song again from the beginning.” We did and this time there were no issues, only beautiful music.
Right now, our world is awfully noisy. Tensions are high and frustration is even higher. I may not be a high schooler singing in choir anymore, but I would be a liar if I didn’t say that lately I haven’t felt similar. Sometimes I feel as though I am assigned to a choir called “humanity” and I’m trapped near some folks who are just painfully off. On the outside I remain calm, but on the inside is a exhausted soul who sick of hearing the same troubling rhetoric that makes my heart cringe.
Today I thought of the words of my choir teacher. I remember the way she encouraged us to solve the problem. It wasn’t by shouting violently and it wasn’t by remaining silent. The answer came in holding the note but also listening. Now I know the mess we are facing is far greater then a choir performance. People are being hurt and mistreated. There are voices that are fighting not to be silenced. The world is full of the cries of the oppressed, the shouts of those who try to drown them out and the deafening silence of those who refuse to say anything at all. And it all just sounds like noise. Terrible off-putting noise.
As unpleasant as society’s current noise is, I still believe in the power of harmony. I think we all want the same thing and that is for all of us to get along and flow together. In order to have that kind of unity we are going to have to listen for each other. This type of listening is strategic. It’s a listening that requires us to be true to our voice as well as be aware of the ones that surround us. It’s easy to shout your opinion all the louder, but takes wisdom to share confidently from your heart and allow those around you to blend with your sound.
For those of us who know in our heart we are on the right side of history, we are going to have to learn how to hold our ground firmly, but not so aggressively that we are just adding to the noise. For those of us who have more less the right heart but recognize where we could make some improvements in our approach, lets do so quickly. And for those of who cheeks are currently red with the embarrassment of just now realizing how off we have been: time to silence the pride, let go of the shame and adjust.
Beautiful things happen when we listen.