When it came time for the nation’s obituaries and tributes to sing out with David Crosby’s story, one note kept getting played again and again.
I don’t mean his role in co-founding two legendary bands. I’m not referring to his often stormy personal life and recovery, his engaging presence on social media, or even his Yosemite Sam mustache. All those got talked about, to be sure, and more besides … but one element kept rising to the top in story after story and quote after quote.
“Master of Harmony.”
“… a harmony singer virtually without equal …”
“… his harmonic sensibilities were nothing short of genius.”
That’s a legacy I can appreciate.
If you’ve checked into this column before, you may have noticed that I tend to carry a torch for life’s supporting players. Like the stage manager who keeps a play moving behind the scenes. Or movie characters like Chewbacca who have to play their intentions with zero dialogue. Or the helpful neighbors who quietly make an entire community work without fanfare.
In each case, they’ve mastered the art of harmony. And these days, it can be a rare gift indeed.
In music, harmony’s a balancing act. You need to support the melody without overwhelming it, to hear and provide the notes that will lift someone else up … or, in some groups, that will lift everyone up together. That’s an art.
Now I don’t want to portray Crosby as some sort of selfless monk. That he decidedly was not. But he had the ability to hear how one plus one could equal so much more than two. And coming from his often chaotic life, that harmony may have been all the more remarkable.
But as I hinted above, the art of harmony doesn’t have to stop with music. You don’t need to be a rock star – or even a folk rock star – to make it work. Just someone who can listen for a need and fill it, without needing to seize the spotlight.
Yeah, “just” that.
The challenge is that we live in a world where everyone’s a lead, or wants to be. Step online and every breath of social media is about promoting your own wants and beliefs. Hit the highway, and you’ll find a dozen cars who need your piece of the lane right NOW. And while it’s certainly important to take care of yourself, it’s easy to get sucked into looking no farther than your own skin. If my life is OK and normal, then that’s what matters, right?
But taking that step back can make all the difference. Three melodies all going their own way without heed for anyone else is a recipe for discord. But when the same three musicians tune to each other and listen, the results can be more powerful than any one of them could have been alone.
In life or music, harmony doesn’t just help the lead. It helps the entire group.
I hope we all get the opportunity to learn that. After all, if rock-star egos can manage it for however brief a period, surely the rest of us have got a chance at getting it right.
It’s worth trying.
I just hope the mustache is optional.