As a songwriter, I often struggle to find balance between the competing notions that constantly pop out of my brain. I have tainted many good musical ideas by trying to pair several Right elements together into one Wrong song. I’ll have a big, complex story (or one that I insist on telling with complexity), and I’ll try to cram too many syllables into a simple, flowing melody line. Or I’ll have a funky, syncopated beat in my head, but the Chord Muse is taking her coffee break, so I get stuck in the old I-IV-V blues-shuffle-rut… AGAIN.
But there is one thing that always works for me – Harmony. Even the most atonal, grating melody can be transformed by a parallel song thread sung 1/3 up. Even when it’s not fancy, harmony works in any musical genre, from jazz to opera to pop. In fact, many of the most emotive songs ever written, the ones that move people to tears, take advantage of our ears’ natural desire for harmony.
The phenomenon is called an appoggiatura [AH-poh-gee-ah-too-rah], from the Italian word to lean. Thanks to NPR, I learned about the science behind this after Adele cleaned up at this past year’s Grammy Awards with her mega-hit Someone Like You. In short, our ears “expect” dissonant or competing notes to resolve themselves into a pleasing sound – so much so that when that resolution comes, the release can trigger an emotional reaction. It’s the reason that certain songs move some people to tears.
I am one of those people. There are many songs that will always make me sniffle. Either through an uplifting key change, a lyrical twist or even an appoggiatura, I am overcome. This is both a blessing and a curse, depending on my surroundings.
This same concept can apply to the things in this world that are seen instead of heard. Certain stories of joy, hope or sadness… often the deepest beauty is rooted in the transformation of something ugly. Something twisted becomes straight, a wrong is righted, despair gives way to hope.
I don’t know about you, but I joined National Avenue Christian Church because we make a difference – in many ways, in many places and in many lives. If you are here for the same reason, you’re in the right place. Go forth and seek out injustice, then find a way to change it. Offer a small comfort to someone in distress. When you discover dissonance in our world, add your own note to create a new, beautiful sound.
Find your voice, and sing out strong.
Be an appoggiatura. Become God’s Harmony.