When it comes to tolerance, humanity doesn’t exactly have the best track record. Our past is plagued with horrors such as apartheid, slavery, and Jewish persecution – not mere facts in a textbook, but experiences of real people, real pain. And from that pain comes a fear: fear to open up, to explore people who are different from us. Cliques divide every high school (including my own), self-made walls against a potentially hostile unknown. Singing, I believe, can tear down such barriers. Too often, we forget what all of us do have in common: a voice.
When I was eleven, I joined Harmony: Atlanta’s International Youth Chorus. For the first time in my young life, I met true diversity. I learned to sing in 32 different languages, and performed for people who actually understood them. Our varied audience included everyone from parade onlookers and UNICEF to churches, synagogues and mosques; Desmond Tutu himself heard our music. On stage, our vibrant, patterned sashes caught the audience’s eyes and lured them in; but soon, they noticed something else – our faces. Black. Brown. Peach. White. Red. Forget the primary colors. Together, we made up the human rainbow.
Whenever I stepped into that chorus room, all of those superficial details were stripped away; nothing was left but a soprano, alto, tenor, or bass – nothing but a voice. A voice, just a sound, has no color, no nationality, no faith, and no political agenda. But it can sing. Before long, the tempo picked up, the harmonies interwove, and suddenly no one could tell who was singing what – it no longer mattered.
Song, like the human race, is diverse. Every section carries its own melody, its own identity. Sopranos sing high, overarching descants, cracking glasses, and their lower alto sisters complete the duet. Tenors struggle to hit those frilly high notes, while bases lay the foundation at the bottom of the music staff, hoping that someone can understand their subsonic rumblings. Each group can sing alone beautifully, I’m sure, yet despite their distinctions, they forsake isolated unison. They choose harmony.
At the time, we were just a bunch of wide- eyed, bouncy kids. What did we know about race or religion, or the meaning of the phrase “politically correct”? Yet there, the barriers had already started to fall. Self-proclaimed Buddhists sang with Catholics, Persians with Irish redheads, and half-French kids with one-quarter Russians. We were as different as could be, but none of us really noticed; music was the only connection we needed.
True, everyone is unique, dissimilar to anyone else. But there is no need to let that fact separate us. Through singing, I realized how similar we truly are. Despite our various nationalities, we are all one nation. Despite our different religions, we all believe in faith. In spite of our skin, our souls look the same. We each have a voice – to talk together, work together, and even sing together. In harmony.
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