Middling

The fancies and reflections of a loquacious ninja

Birdsong, Dissonance, and Harmony

I’ve missed Spring. I don’t think I realized how much I missed it until I heard the birds singing the other day, and realized how long it had been since I’d last heard their music. It was good to hear it again; the elegant trilling and chirping, dancing from the treetops in a lofty jumble, floating from the throats of singers unseen.

Isn’t it interesting how birds seem to sing completely oblivious of each other, except when communicating directly to another of their kind? They fill their lungs and let their songs go bursting forth, not caring who else is singing beside or over them. And the songs, different as they are, all mix and mingle with no problem, no clashing, no conflict; one great big potpourri of melodious music.

Contrast that to human music. Play even just two CD’s at the same time, and regardless of how great the individual songs were, you’ll probably end up with a horrible, grating mess of noise and sound. Once sweet melodies and notes become worse than awful.

Birds don’t seem to have that problem. Their songs don’t seem to suffer from dissonance the way human music does.

Humans have an enormous capacity for creating dissonance, both within and without the realm of music. When they exercise that ability freely (as they often do), ears are better off deaf. And yet… human beings also seem to have the unique gift of creating the twin brother of Dissonance: Harmony. Animals have been taught to move to music, to vocalize along to music, and even to sing human melodies (I’ve heard that several birds can learn how to do this). And yet, as I believe Dr. Ken Robinson once said, animals “can sing, but they don’t produce musicals.”

Human music is like no other animal’s. I don’t want to downplay the music that animals make; they too, can sing well and sing beautifully. But to my knowledge, no animal has ever even attempted harmony, save mankind. And if there is such another species out there that has, I’m not sure they’ve honed it to the extent that humanity can boast.

Some humans seem to have the ability to discover harmony out of nowhere (if life were a musical…).

When people sing a cappella, they often imitate instruments with uncanny accuracy. I had the privilege of seeing this talented group from Taiwan a long time ago, and amazingly, I still remember them performing this number. If you’ve ever heard the Oriental instruments they imitate near the beginning, they sound just like them.

(Apologies for the poor quality video.)

With today’s technology, people can even sing harmony with themselves. That was impossible up until pretty recently, but now it’s been developed to some amazing results:

A friend of mine highly recommended this next group to me. She couldn’t give them enough praise; she was right.

(This one has talking at the beginning; music starts around the 2 1/2 minute mark.)

And finally, who can resist the King’s Singers? (not to mention the music of the master, Billy Joel!)

There are so many more examples I could share here, but you get the idea. Note that none of these used any instruments, save the one that is most versatile, most expressive, and perhaps most difficult to play: the human voice.

Humans are more than capable of creating Dissonance. And yet, perhaps through that very same ability, they can create music that far exceeds what any animal might do, through the beauty of Harmony. Some would say that even dissonance, when intentional and done correctly, is only another form of harmony; not every chord you hear is a “happy” one, but the conflict can actually benefit the overall sound.

Unison is powerful. Melodies are lovely. But in my opinion, Harmony — the blending of differences to create something that is greater than anything the individual parts could have made on their own– can’t be matched.

I’ve heard that Heaven is a place where music abounds. Where legions of songs will be sung all at once. Where not one of those songs will sound strident or piercing next to its neighbor. Where every song will be all the stronger, fuller, and more beautiful for its companions.

Dissonance, that which divides, will fade. Harmony, at long last, will reign.

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4 responses to “Birdsong, Dissonance, and Harmony

  1. Author Thelma Cunningham May 28, 2012 at 6:03 am

    Hi! I am nominating you for the Thanks For Writing Award. Please go to my site for picture. WordPress has rules for award.

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