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.
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.
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.
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.
“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.”
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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5pvpIvz5YQ
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.
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”.