Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Symbolism of Singing

Being a singer myself, one of the most enjoyable parts of Conclave, for me, has been the performances of the SigEp Chorus. Some would say that the chorus is a fun little addition to the Conclave, and not particularly important or even pertinent. I, however, disagree. There is a huge amount of symbolism in any choral singing, and in this group in particular, that is absolutely relevant to the mission of SigEp.


First of all, any chorus is a bringing together of different voices. Variety is a necessity. If there is uniformity, there is also limitation. The music is only complete if some voices take the high part, others the middle, and still others the low. It doesn't matter that the high voices can't reach the low notes, because the lower voices can, and vice versa. Each voice fills in a piece of the overall picture that others cannot. Only when different kinds of voices are brought together can the full range of the music be expressed.

Second, balance is crucial. If one voice is too strong and another is too weak, the harmony is lost. Each voice needs to listen to the other voices and adjust itself so each of the parts complements the others. Everyone has to be aware of those around them. Sometimes that means fading into the background, sometimes it means taking a more prominent role. But always, it means being aware of the strengths and weaknesses of those around, and either helping or compensating for them. 

Third, everyone has to pay attention to the leader. There are times when members can - and should - make suggestions, and every member makes a contribution. But unless there is a single leader taking those suggestions into account and making a final decision, the voices pull apart and confusion reigns. The beauty is drawn forth when there is a single leader setting the pace and establishing unity. 

And finally, an aspect that is somewhat unique to the SigEp Chorus: these voices take what they have learned and practiced with other groups and other singers, and learn to apply it in this group. The songs they perform here, each has performed in other places, amidst other voices. But no two groups perform any piece exactly the same way. They must adapt their usual styles to find a common style that works for everyone. They must let go of the familiar and be open-minded enough to try a different way of doing things. They bring their different experiences together and form a unified whole by choosing the best parts of each contributor and finding what works best in this unique circumstance.

There have been scientific studies showing that choral singing creates a physical unity among the singers: they breathe in rhythm, even their hearts begin to beat in a single rhythm (The Scientist, July 2013). Anyone who has sung in a chorus - particularly a very good chorus - knows that mystical feeling when everyone seems to be in perfect sync, as if they are reading each other's minds. They are perfectly attuned to each other singer and to the leader, and they work together as a single, unified whole.

So what better analogy of the workings of an organization like SigEp than that of members of a chorus working together? Brothers come from many geographic locations and walks of life. They each bring their own unique set of skills and experiences. All brothers need to contribute, and if some do all the work and others just coast, there is no balance, and the chapter - or the national fraternity - suffers. Yet if they work together, the strengths of one member can offset - or better yet, teach - the weaknesses of another. Although there are many voices, there needs to be a single point of leadership, whether it be an individual or a small group, or consensus will never be reached. The leader must take input from the membership, but must then make a decisive choice.

At the national level, SigEp takes the unique styles and experiences of each chapter, all with a common mission yet with their own methods of achieving that mission, and melds them into a single, cohesive whole, weighing the different variations and choosing the best combination of all the varied experiences and practices of the member chapters. There are many individual SigEp brothers, many individual SigEp chapters, many individual SigEp regions, but when they combine as a national whole, their hearts beat as one.