Thursday, July 31, 2014

Imperfect Harmony: Singing Through Life's Sharps and Flats, by Stacy Horn

Imperfect Harmony: Singing Through Life's Sharps and FlatsImperfect Harmony: Singing Through Life's Sharps and Flats by Stacy Horn
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Current memoirs seem to fall into one of two categories: stuntblogging, or embarking on a contrived project in order to produce quasi-amusing memories for a book deal; or research-memoir hybrids, in which the author weaves his or her own experience into a historical retrospective of the larger topic.

IMPERFECT HARMONY falls into the latter category, since I have sworn off of stuntbloggers for the foreseeable future. I think if I had read this reporter/writer's other works, her personal story would have resonated more with me as a familiar voice, but this was my first time reading her, and I found her to be annoying and borderline offensive.

The research narrative in the book is very well done, as would be expected of someone with her journalism background. She has clearly done her reading and conducted interviews with some of the luminaries of choral music, and the information she presents is enlightening and very relevant to those of us who appreciate and participate in group singing.

The personal story, unfortunately, takes away from the cadence of the history; she is either whining about her status as an aging single New Yorker (which I suspect is topical for her other memoirs) or constantly reaffirming that while she is singing ecclesiastical works, she is in no way a religious believer. I'm a Unitarian Universalist, and even I was offended at the dismissive tone toward the religious content of the pieces she performs. She seems extremely uncomfortable with acknowledging that a set of very particular beliefs are the reason much of this music exists, and I found her smug tone very off-putting as she would translate a Latin text with the caveat of "not that I believe any of this nonsense, of course." She sings religious music in a church-based choir.

There's some excellent information on centuries-old to contemporary choral composition, including a lovely section on Morten Lauridsen and his transcendental "O Magnum Mysterium," one of the most beautiful choral pieces ever created. The bibiography at the back is a good resource for more historical background on the choral tradition.

I feel like I've written this review before, since I've read several memoirs in the past few years, mostly by unhappy and self-absorbed older New York women. I suspect fans of Ms. Horn would enjoy knowing more about her personal choral journey, but I didn't.

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