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Imperfect Harmony: Singing Through Life's Sharps and Flats

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3.94  ·  Rating details ·  461 ratings  ·  116 reviews
Why do we sing? For Stacy Horn, singing in a community choir the Choral Society of Grace Church in New York is the one thing in her life that never fails to take her to a transcendent place and remind her that everything good is possible. She s not particularly religious and (she ll be the first to point out) her voice isn t exactly the stuff of legend, but like thousands ...more
Paperback, 284 pages
Published July 2nd 2013 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (first published January 1st 2013)
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Average rating 3.94  · 
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Laysee
Jun 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
The merry month of May was not merry for me. I lost my singing voice to a tenacious upper respiratory tract infection, which meant I was not able to be at my usual Thursday evening choir rehearsals, often the high point of my workweek. I was delighted therefore to be immersed in the world of choral music and choristers’ experience so rapturously captured in Stacy Horn’s Imperfect Harmony. Horn’s foray into musicology, history of choral societies in America, background of composers and their ...more
Angela Risner
Dec 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Stacy Horn is a writer by trade, but has found a secondary home in the Choral Society of Grace Church for the past 30 years. She doesn't dream of stealing the scene with a solo nor does she desire to one day conduct the choir. She simply enjoys coming together with fellow music lovers and singing.

Having sung in choirs from my early childhood through young adulthood, I loved her observations about the music, the feelings, and yes, how first sopranos feel about the rest of the choir. I didn't
...more
Kate H
Mar 14, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
I loved this. I would have given it 5 stars but for one problem: the book is divided up into chapters, some of which reference musical pieces which are then described in great detail. If you are a general reader, or even a choral singer with limited knowledge of choral piece s (i.e. me), it is hard to fully understand what Horn is talking about. Fortunately, there is Spotify and I used it to look up some of the pieces and listen to them.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed in some of the pieces
...more
Monika
Jan 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: all musicians, amateurs and pros alike
Last week, I was browsing NetGalley for the very first time. I was so excited to find "Imperfect Harmony" by Stacy Horn. The subtitle and description grabbed me immediately; I had to read this book. I was thrilled to receive an email letting me know my request had been approved.

Professionally, I'm an instrumentalist, not a singer. I'm in the flute section of a symphony, I work as a church pianist, I teach private lessons, and I play chamber music, weddings, and other gigs. The church choir where
...more
John
Oct 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
I sing in a choir. My wife doesn't. I was only on page 42 of this book when I said to her, "If you ever want to know why I love singing in choir so much - read this book!"

This book is the best expression I've read of the joy of singing together in groups. I laughed out loud repeatedly, I shivered with shared experience. Throughout, I kept thinking to myself, "I know exactly what she means!"

Her descriptions of the physical effects - the visceral sensation - of singing harmony are especially
...more
Gail
Dec 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
As one who sings in an auditioned volunteer choir, this book hits all the right notes!!! I am completely swept up by the melodic phrases, the history of choral societies and the humility that is achieved by singing.

I hope there is an encore and repeat performance!
Melody
Jan 30, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: alamw13
I picked this up (free at ALA Midwinter) because one of my dearest friends is a singer in a choir, and my son also sang when he was in high school. I enjoyed parts of this very much. I loved Horn's descriptions of what it is like to sing, how the feelings one has when creating music are different from (and probably superior to) the feelings one gets when listening to music. I really enjoyed her discussions of various pieces of music, and the music history in general. I didn't like the memoir ...more
Mayda
Jun 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, christian, music
When you sing, you cannot be sad for long. This quote from the book comes from a British study and sets the tone for this memoir. I was under the mistaken impression that this book would be about the author’s experiences in church choirs. Not so! The author was fortunate enough to be part of the Choral Society of Grace Church, a chorus that rehearses in the church, but was not part of the services there. They were not learning anthems to sing every Sunday to enhance the worship experience; ...more
Jacqueline Masumian
Here's why this book deserves a 5-star rating (Amazing). It's amazing that someone could write a book about choral singing that is so much fun and so interesting! When I bought the book, I was expecting something dry about how to be a better choral singer. But what I got was a reminder of the joy and fun of standing next to other singers and making beautiful harmony. As a choral singer, I found the book delightful.

Stacy Horn provides a fascinating narrative about choral pieces she has sung and
...more
Claire
Sep 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book really 'spoke' to me! A beautifully written account of a woman's 30+ year career of singing with the Choral Society of Grace Church in New York. She captures so many of the feelings I have with singing in a choir- the struggles, challenges, but most of all the joy coming together as a group to create beautiful music. The author takes us through a journey of some of the greatest choral music ever written, while also providing great insight into the history of music, singing groups, ...more
Julia
Jan 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an intimate look at what it's like to sing in a chorus. For musicians like me who love playing an instrument and listening to music (just not singing it), this was a real treat. Stacy Horn shares her knowledge and experiences as a member of the Choral Society of Grace Church in New York City. She seamlessly weaves personal and professional stories together in a charming memoir that more than once sent me to the internet to look up a piece of music. I learned so much about the dynamics of ...more
Anne Wright
Feb 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I devoured this delicious memoir of an ordinary singer who becomes a part of something extraordinary once a week as she joins other singers in the Grace Chapel Community Choir. After many years away from choir singing, I returned this winter to a community chorus and, happily, one of my new Alto II singing acquaintances recommended this book. So as I was learning Mozart's Grand Mass in C Minor, Stacy Horn was regaling me with her stories coupled with the history, memorabilia and benefits of ...more
Barbara
Jun 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
I love to sing and envy Stacy Horn's experience of singing under the guidance of a conductor whose rigorous approach to his task I admire without reservation. She has interesting things to say about works her impressive choir has performed. The thrill of part singing is beautifully described (with references to the neuroscience that helps explain all the delight).

I am recommending this inspiring book to chorister friends (the Kindle edition is going for AU $1.44).

I'm taking off a star because
...more
Nancy
Jul 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Oh, my god, I love this book. I love the way it combines broad historical and uniquely personal stories. But most of all, I love the passion for choir singing, and I love the way she talks about music and singing. If I wasn't already in a choir, it would inspire me to go find one immediately.

Also, I highlighted so many lines in this! It just really resonated with me.
Ray
Sep 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Very enjoyable look at what belonging to an amateur adult musical group is like. The author states so well many of my own feelings about singing in a choir--namely, it doesn't really matter that I can't sing worth a hoot--singing with others brings about numerous individual and collective benefits.
Laura
Jan 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
It's all about the blend. I've always known that; felt it. There is a unique joy in combining your voice with those of others. Stacy Horn shares her motivations, doubts, frustrations and happiness on the path to choral harmony. Included are the history and science of musicology. The book left me even more enthused about singing weekly in an ensemble.
Nick
Oct 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: music
Years ago I read a similar book on the experience of choral singing. A little memoir, some sociology, a peek at the scientific literature on music and how it effects the human brain. People love singing so much that I suspect this is a mini-genre.

Pluses: Good insights into the social aspects of choral communities. Oh no! the singer with the inerrant sight-reading skills isn't here today! Good description of the legal and business side of running a choral group. Good discussion of how to
...more
Suzy
Mar 30, 2018 rated it liked it
I loved the prospect of this book: A sort of "Bowling Alone" memoir of Horn's experience of singing in a choir focusing on the meaning and importance of the choir membership to her well-being and that of all the other members. (Horn is an atheist who sings in a choir of well-established protestant church in NYC.) By her own admission, she is but an average singer, but she is avid about her long-standing stint in the choir. Horn writes in a very open, conversational manner, somewhat reminiscent ...more
Cole
Dec 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Everyone who's ever sung in a choir, or who has a friend who loves singing in a choir, should read this book. It perfectly captures the joy and wonder I feel in choral singing. And it is well-written, both of itself and in the mirth, humor, and fascination that comes through in every paragraph.
Becky
Jun 28, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction
First: typos. More than one. Yikes. Second: as more a collection of short stories than anything else, the book never seemed to me to strike the right balance between personal experience and connection to the rich history of choral tradition. The honest personal reflection seemed a bit too honest and, at times, narcissistic. More often than not, the personal stories detracted from best parts of the book, which are the interviews with composers or experts and the impressive amount of history and ...more
Marcie Lovett
Jul 01, 2013 rated it it was ok
I started out really enjoying the book, which combines the author's personal history of choir participation along with musical history and science. After a few chapters, though, I got tired of hearing how miserable she was. Yes, singing in the choir made her feel good but how many times did we need to hear about her unhappy relationships or poor cashflow?

Her writing about composers was interesting; however, even those sections started to drag on for me and I found myself skipping pages.

...more
Ann G.
Jan 04, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Choral singers will understand and appreciate Horn's evocative descriptions of how it feels to sing with others, and non-singers may get a glimpse of why we love it so much. This is an unusual and interesting presentation, including history, music theory, music history, neurology, sociology, psychology, and Horn's own personal story, with each chapter focusing on one or more specific pieces of choral music. Unfortunately, however, there's a lot of repetition, especially of Horn's bewailing of ...more
Lorie Allion
Feb 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book! There were some times where I thought she digressed into talking about herself in ways unrelated to music, but it well worth getting through those. Her descriptions of the way it feels to experience music in many different ways made me smile and cry and laugh. I don't know if people who don't love music would understand, and I have music-lover friends who thought there was too much talk about specific pieces - but I loved every music-related word in it!
Zoann
Jul 11, 2016 added it
Quick history of vocal singing, told through the author's participation with one of the oldest amateur singing groups in New York City. Makes me want to join a choir again!
Sandra
Dec 17, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: choral-singing
Recommended for choral singers. Stacy Horn articulates that happy feeling one gets when singing together, a kind of human interconnectedness that doesn't seem to happen anywhere else.
Joyce
Feb 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ala-2014
This book inspired me to want to sing more often in community settings. Great read.
Kaye Sivori
Beautiful book on singing in choirs, but got too detailed and technical for my liking.
Janee
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A friend and former chorus mate gave me this as an unexpected Christmas gift. "You'll enjoy it, as I did," she told me. "The parallels with our chorale singing are amazing - even the conductor has the same name as as ours, and his stories and mannerisms are so similar!" I really enjoyed this, reading about the author's experiences singing with a choral society in New York City, and her explorations about what it means to be part of a group of singers. Her writing is exquisite, describing the ...more
Denise
Jun 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Reading between the lines, I suspect this was originally less a history of choral music in America and more a memoir about the therapeutic value of singing. Horn's writing about composers and composition is a bit dry, but I did learn some things and it was nice to go online and listen to the music she chose to highlight. I enthusiastically agree with her about how wonderful it is to sing great music in harmony with a group, even if one has a less than harmonic (or melodic) voice. Modern churches ...more
Mary Beth
Horn gives a superficial, introductory gloss to the science of music and research on music-making, which is fine, but what makes Imperfect special is how thoughtfully and movingly she writes about the subjective experience of singing with others. Her deep love of choral singing is palpable, and she beautifully describes the alchemy of the experience, even for those who don’t share the faith for which much choral literature was composed.

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I've just finished up my sixth non-fiction book. It's about Blackwell’s Island, now called Roosevelt Island. In the 19th century, management of New York City’s poor, insane, and lawless were thrown together and warehoused on the same narrow, two-mile-long island in the East River. It didn’t go well.(Algonquin Books, 2018).
“I tried to catch the eye of everyone around me who wasn’t a soprano I. I get it. First sopranos don’t feel this. You hear it, but you don’t feel it. You don’t know that those lowly peasants making a nice vocal cushion for you to step on had parts that were every bit as rapturous as yours” 4 likes
“Music will enable you to see past facts to the very essence of things in a way which science cannot do. The arts are the means by which we can look through the magic casements and see what lies beyond.” 1 likes
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