Imperfect Harmony by Stacy Horn

Title: Imperfect Harmony
Author: Stacy Horn
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Expected Release: July 2, 2013
Source: publisher (NetGalley)


Why do we sing? For Stacy Horn, singing in a community choir the Choral Society of Grace Church in New York is the one thing in her life that never fails to take her to a transcendent place and remind her that everything good is possible. She’s not particularly religious and (she ll be the first to point out) her voice isn’t exactly the stuff of legend, but like thousands of other amateur chorus members throughout this country and the world, singing with other people makes her happy.

As Horn relates her funny and profound experiences as a choir member, she treats us to an eclectic history of group singing and the music that moves us, whether we re hearing it for the first time or the hundredth; the dramatic stories of conductors and composers; and discoveries from the new science of singing, including the remarkable physical benefits of song. Life can be hard, battles continue to rage all around us, and by midlife most of us have had our share of disappointments. Here is the unexpected story of one woman who nevertheless has found joy and strength in the weekly ritual of singing some of the greatest music humanity has ever produced.

Shortly after starting this blog just over a week ago, I was browsing NetGalley for the very first time. I was so excited to find Imperfect Harmony by Stacy Horn. The subtitle and description grabbed me immediately; I had to read this book. I was thrilled to receive an email letting me know my request had been approved.

Professionally, I’m an instrumentalist, not a singer. I’m in the flute section of a symphony, I work as a church pianist, I teach private lessons, and I play chamber music, weddings, and other gigs. The church choir where I work is small, and often there aren’t enough altos to carry the part. So in the past year or so, I’ve tried my best to help from the piano whenever I can, singing along with my amateur-but-nice-enough voice; and I’ve discovered that I love to sing! So it was interesting to read Imperfect Harmony from the perspective of a professional in classical music, yet also as a (very) amateur singer.

Horn’s experiences in the Choral Society of Grace Church are vividly brought to life in her book. I often felt that I was right there in the room, in the choir, having the very same experiences. She seamlessly and naturally interlaces music history with her stories. Before I knew it, I realized I’d just read pages of – gasp! – music history, and didn’t find one bit of it dry. I couldn’t stop turning the pages. I wish my own college music history texts had been as captivating. Horn also does a wonderful job describing more advanced musical concepts in layman’s terms, which helps to keep the book accessible to all music lovers. She cites studies that give insight into why singing feels so good and how it affects us emotionally and physiologically. Even with the inclusion of history, a bit of music theory, and science, the flow of her words is never once broken. The reading never felt bogged down.

I cried while reading stories about how song came forth, often spontaneously, out of moments of deep grief to help carry people through. I laughed while reading some of the interactions between choir members, especially the “where to sit” and “someone’s in my chair” antics. During that chapter I texted my best friend, a soprano in our local choral society, to ask her if they have assigned seats. She replied with, “No, but no one better ever sit in my chair!” which gave me a nice laugh. I highlighted on my Nook like mad, taking special note of the many thought-provoking quotes by famous composers, conductors, and music educators; gems of knowledge and experience that I’m sure I’ll pass on to my own music students.

Imperfect Harmony inspired me to listen more often, too. More often than I care to admit, I find myself listening to music out of necessity: I’ll soon be performing the piece and need to study the score, or I have a student is learning a piece and I need to get to know it again. Horn’s honest and heartfelt appreciation of each piece highlighted in the book compelled me to find recordings of each, put them in one playlist, and simply take in the music. We professionals forget to do that at times.

I have a few friends who will be receiving this book as a gift when it is released. If you love to sing with others…actually, disregard “to sing.” If you love making music with others, you will love Imperfect Harmony.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other compensation for this review.

About the author

%d bloggers like this: