jkhuggins

I miss harmony.

(Warning, long, self-indulgent, emo post.   Read on at your own risk.)

Several years ago, as my patient family will attest, I fell into a YouTube rabbit hole of barbershop quartet videos.   I couldn't get enough of them.   I'm not sure how I stumbled into that.   I think I had been looking for musical theater videos to show to my kids (to broaden their cultural references), and then I stumbled into this one:

And then I followed link after link of barbershop songs.   Some of it was a little familiar, having been exposed to barbershop singing from my high school choir (one concert, our men's select chorus had an exchange of songs with the local SPEBSQSA chapter) ... and in recent years, having been invited to sing in a pick-up barbershop choir at SIGCSE.

I was pretty sure why I'd fallen down that rabbit hole, and I didn't mind.  (More on that later.)   I still dive down there from time to time ... usually when the annual international championship performances are posted to YouTube.  (Except this year, sigh...)

And then this past month, I discovered a different rabbit hole:

Sea shanties.

But not just any sea shanties.   Tik Tok shanties.

If you haven't seen the phenomenon yet, here's the classic example.   It all starts with one singer putting a 1-minute video out on Tik Tok.    Tik Tok lets you film duets with other people asynchronously, so someone sang a duet, and then someone else sang a duet with them, and so on .... and, lo and behold, a choir emerges.   (Several choirs, actually, depending on when you join the thread.)

And so now I'm watching all of those that I can find.

YouTube, and its magical recommendation algorithms, recently suggested this video of a sing-along at an Irish wedding --- which I'd seen before, but seemed to fit the theme developing here.

So, why am I down in this rabbit hole?   I think there's a couple of reasons.

One: it's group music.   It's not just a solo artist singing with a bunch of paid backup singers and an orchestra, mostly focusing attention on the artist.   It's a group effort --- a group effort that is made better by everyone being a part of it.   Like stone soup: every new ingredient makes it better.

Two: it's joyful music.  Not merely because the music itself has a lilt to it, but because it's clear that those performing the music are doing so because it brings them joy.   And that joy amplifies, because the audience sees the joy and becomes joyful, and the performers feel the joy of the audience and become even more joyful, and a virtuous cycle forms.

The social isolation of the pandemic has been hard on everyone.  For me, one of my great sorrows of this time is that my experience of group joy, primarily through music, has largely been sidelined.    I know that the loss is temporary.   But I feel it deeply right now.    I long to be able to gather with others in unrestrained celebrations of joy.   

Videos like these seem like the antithesis of everything else I see in the world.   I see my state government unable to come together to get work done without fighting about who's in charge and who gets the credit and who gets the blame.   I see the same thing in my federal government, as I sit here watching C-SPAN as the House of Representatives is debating discipline of one of its own.  I see the same thing at my workplace, as my colleagues and I fight with each other about the best way to serve our students and our society.   All I see is conflict.

Because they cannot find harmony.  (Pun intended.)

But not in these videos.   Through the gift of music, I see people coming together to create something more joyful and beautiful than anyone could create alone.

And I so I watch these videos instead of doing my work ... hoping to pick up a little of the overflow of the abundant joy I see here.   

May we all know this joy soon.


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