My father sings barbershop. Yup. Even worse, he’s a baritone. What does that mean? Well, in this four-part harmony, the lead sings the melody, the tenor takes the high notes, the bass takes the low notes, and the baritone gets the leftover bits and scraps. To make the specific “barbershop sound”, sometimes those odd bari notes sound downright terrible. Hearing him practice singing his part alone can be an exquisite irritation.
But, sing it he must.
As one of the members of his barbershop quartet reminded him, “You’ve got to sing your song. Your part is your song. It’s not anybody else’s, so you’ve got to learn it and make it yours. Don’t worry about what other people are singing – sing your song.” This is very good advice. And not just for singing harmony – but also for living life.
We are all part of this world, this life, and God has given each of us a specific song to sing. Just randomly making up our lives as we go along will not allow us to become part of something greater than ourselves. The song given to us is suited to our distinctive talents and abilities. I am unique and my song isn’t like anybody else’s. Of course, there are many similarities to others’, for we humans share many things in common. There are only a finite number of notes, after all – but with myriad combinations to make unique sounds. We need to cooperate with God, thoughtfully, to find those combinations, discovering our true songs and striving to excel at singing them.
Sometimes, someone’s true song can be beautiful on its own – but, when others join in with their complementary songs, the sound of that first individual becomes deeper and richer than it was by itself. And, then, there are those songs that just shouldn’t be sung all by themselves. (I, a bit odd with my crippling disability, am certainly no good alone.) However, what sounds awkward and aberrant when alone gains belonging and importance when joined by community.
The fact is that there is no barbershop harmony, there are no magical barbershop chords, without the odd and sometimes jarring song of the baritone. In conversation with my father last week, we both recognized how this truth can be a lesson for everyone: we sound better together when we are true to our own songs. A tenor can’t sing the bass’ part and a lead isn’t going to sing a baritone’s part for him. If you are true to the song that is given you and sing it with heart, then you have done your part and done it well. And if your true song seems pointless, weird, or lacking, then you must seek out others who need your song – who need it to make the music complete.
Maybe this little life lesson that my dad and I stumbled onto will make me better appreciate, and even come to love, the baritone part of barbershop being practiced all by itself. Maaaybe…
© 2017 Christina Chase
Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.