Community is a Symphony…Not a Solo Performance!

As much as we might deify the Renaissance “Man” and worship the modern cult of celebrity, it’s easy to forget that community is a symphony, not a solo performance. That we need an eclectic diversity of voices, cultures and thoughts to create the depth and richness we need to be an innovative, creative, meaningful and productive society. A diverse community not only means a healthier community but it creates a more inclusive sense of belonging rather than those mutually hostile “us” and “them” enclaves which can potentially become very destructive.

Leonardo Da Vinci's Rennaisance Man.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Rennaisance Man.

Moreover, for community to progress, those different parts need to come together not as one colourless, amorphous blob but as an integrated whole where each retains its sense of self and unique character. This is like individual musicians coming together to form an orchestra where instead of playing a solo, the different parts harmonise to produce a richer, more complex and mind-blowing sound.No one player, other than a soloist, dominates the performance and different instruments stand out or indeed rest throughout the piece.

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra in front of the Sydney Opera House

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra in front of the Sydney Opera House

Not unsurprisingly, all this synchronised integration doesn’t just magically happen with the click of the fingers. Oh no! Coordinating all these varied musicians, each potentially exceptionally talented in their own right, not only takes a conductor and their stick but it also asks each individual musician to give up something of themselves for the performance.This is a big ask but they comply because while there is glory, adulation and enjoyment in being the prima donna soloist, there is something miraculous as well about being a small part of an incredible, much grander and even ethereal sound. It is also an incredible experience to play your instrument with fellow musicians where you somehow connect through those fusing sounds in a way that isn’t always possible through words.

The family playing violin

The family playing violin a few years ago.

Humble, novice violinist that I am, I play my violin in an ensemble. Most of the time the pieces we play are intentionally easier than our own pieces and sometimes my part is very basic. To be honest,sometimes it gets a bit dull. In some pieces, I’m playing lots of 4 beat semi-breves and when I practice at home, it can get a bit boring and tedious and I drift off. However, when I’m playing with the ensemble, the same part can actually become quite challenging  as I divert much of my concentration to listening to the other players as well as trying to perfect my timing. I am, after all, no longer an individual but part of an integrated whole which needs to work together. While we don’t want to sound like a machine, we do need that precision and timing. As I said, there’s depth, texture, complexity and as well as that spark which is created when a group of musicians comes together and adds an amazing je ne sais quoi. Put very simply, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Our violin ensemble performing at the school carols night.

Our violin ensemble performing at the school carols night.

“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.”

Nelson Mandela

I should also emphasise that when as our various parts harmonise, we are playing different notes for varying lengths of time and at a different pitch. Being in harmony, means difference coming together to produce a great sound not everybody playing exactly the same thing.

Sometimes, we forget that.

Ironically, while I’ve been thinking about the importance of difference coming together as an integrated, more inspirational whole,  World of Our Own by Australian 60s band  The Seekers, which coincidentally is renowned for its 4 part harmonies, came to mind:

The Seekers

The Seekers

We’ll build a world of our own
That no one else can share.
All our sorrows we’ll leave far behind us there.
And I know you will find
There’ll be peace of mind
When we live in a world of our own.

The Seekers:”World of Our Own”.


However, building a cohesive, diverse community is continuous work-in progress, largely because individuals don’t want to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the greater good or an element of extremism takes off which doesn’t tolerate any kind of conflicting view. For some of us and include myself here, the allure of being a prima donna is great. We want to be the star and strut around the stage. There are so many rewards for being Queen or King of Centre Stage and relatively few for being a backstage genius. However, we learn more when we listen and I dare say we also grow more when we work with others and learn how to work successfully together in harmony.

It is a challenge which begins with me.

Being a real prima donna posing outside Byron Bay Lighthouse on holidays. i almost died when someone asked me to play. 2013.

Being a real prima donna posing outside Byron Bay Lighthouse on holidays. i almost died when someone asked me to play.

xx Rowena

PS Thought I’d give Magic Johnson the last word:

“I have to tell you, I’m proudest of my life off the court. There will always be great basketball players who bounce that little round ball, but my proudest moments are affecting people’s lives, effecting change, being a role model in the community”.

Magic Johnson

8 thoughts on “Community is a Symphony…Not a Solo Performance!

  1. merrildsmith

    I played violin–very badly–in junior high school/high school. How cool that your family plays together!
    . . .and wise words on working as an ensemble whether in music or as a citizen of the world.

  2. roweeee Post author

    I played violin for a year as a child. My brother did Suzuki violin for many years, which makes him sound rather straight-laced when he was more of a Nick Cave from The Cure and found himself on the electric guitar at very high decibel levels.
    We haven’t played as a family for over a year now and we simply played Twinkle and the first piece out of the Suzuki Book. My daughter actually lead me into taking it up and when I get her health more sorted out I might have another go with her and her brother. WE’re working on him for his guitar audition at the moment for the performing arts stream at High School.
    The wise words are mine but my violin teacher has taught me about the difference in playing in a group and it has been life-changing. If I had the talent and time to put into it, I’d love to be the prima donna soloist but th chemo etc set me back a long way and I’m currently thankful to be hanging in there. I am currently playing a few fun pieces before getting back into my exam repertoire. I am playing “Where is Love?” from OLiver and “Memory”. Great pieces!!

  3. Minuscule Moments

    Rowena what a brilliant instrument to learn. I have no musical talents to speak of and my children block their ears if I sing. The violin is one of my favourite instruments to listen to. It can make me feel all of the emotions in one piece. Love to hear your family play together, what precious moments.

  4. roweeee Post author

    Those moments of us all playing together were4 very precious as it has been a few years, unfortunately. Must get the rest of the family back into it!!

  5. Rob McShane

    This is all so true Rowena. We grow up to be and perform as an individual, often losing the idea that we are part of more and by adding our own flavour to the whole, it only builds more from which we all gain! Nice post.

  6. roweeee Post author

    Thanks, Rob. Taking up the violin has certainly changed in me in so many ways. I think my true skill is really in writing about playing the violin, rather than my playing abilities. I am improving though, which is most encouraging!!

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