Harmony and Community: What Singing has Taught me about my St. Lawrence Family | St. Lawrence University

Harmony and Community: What Singing has Taught me about my St. Lawrence Family

Friday, April 19, 2019

When I came to St. Lawrence, I knew that I wanted to sing.  I joined the Laurentian Singers, our co-ed choral group on campus during my first semester, and it catalyzed my desire for more. I was learning to sight read, I saw first hand what beautiful noises a dedicated group of singers could produce, and I started to feel purposeful here at SLU.  At the end of my first semester, a friend of mine told me about the Singing Sinners, a women’s and gender non-binary a cappella group on campus who were holding auditions that week. I knew this was something that I wanted to be a part of. After auditioning and being invited for callbacks, I got in, and when I tell you that accepting my spot in the group is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, there is not one ounce of exaggeration within me. 

I am surrounded by people who share the same passion as I do, and when we put that passion together and channel it into our music, it sounds REALLY good. We typically have rehearsals three days per week, two end-of semester concerts, and are invited to sing at various events and services on and off campus throughout the semester. Our repertoire this year ranges from Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” to Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (shameless promotion for our Spring Concert on April 25th!). I have spent an extensive amount of time during this year questioning whether or not my passion for singing is “practical”, especially when I think about potential plans I have with singing in my future. I pondered the thought of whether or not I should be dedicating the amount of time that I do towards something that is largely perceived as just a hobby. This year has been special for several reasons. I have realized not only the practicality of singing, but also the necessity for it to be an integral part of who I am. There are so many things about singing in an a capella group that have helped me to understand life. 

Successful harmonization in a song must be recognized as a collective effort. In “Sinners” rehearsal, our musical directors, Bailey Sherwin ’19 and Caleigh Burchfield '22, always urge us to “blend." What this means is that we should stray away from trying to overpower other voices in the group. True blending is achieved when we listen to each other, and we stay on key. It’s tempting to showcase an impressive vocal run, or singing at a boisterous volume when you know you have it right. Ultimately, its not just about you, it’s about making the song sound beautiful. Harmonies sound much better when we all pay attention to our pitch, our dynamics, when we work together. A harmony is not one voice, and community is not an individual. Musical harmonization has made me understand the interconnectedness of our existences. The soprano, alto, tenor, and bass parts are seemingly unique, but they’re all contributing towards the same thing; all adding color, and texture, and depth to the same song. 

When I think about St. Lawrence, I see of all its constituent parts similarly to how I hear the harmony in a song. When we sing too “sharp” or “flat," it may just mean that we’ve lost sense of the pitch, not necessarily that we don’t know how to sing. True community can only be achieved when people understand that every being plays an active role in the workings of this place. This understanding instils an added sense of responsibility and accountability in all of us, or at least I hope it does. We have the power to either build or break the harmony in a song, we have the ability to uplift ourselves and our peers to optimize the beauty of the “harmonies” that we cultivate during our time here at St. Lawrence. Singing at SLU has not only increased my love for finding metaphors in every inch of my being, it has also made me have a stronger appreciation for the people around me. I would not be who I am without the "songs and voices" of my peers that uplift me on a daily basis. College is no solo act. 

Singing in the Singing Sinners has become the most “practical” part of my college experience. It is where I feel most in touch with myself, and most connected to my home. The Singing Sinners have taught me a great deal about what it means to be part of my St. Lawrence family. I am constantly giving to and receiving from something much greater than myself.