This last Christmas season I was part of a choir and orchestra who performed a 30 minute selection of music. It is always a highlight that time of year!
As we were practicing, we came upon a part of a song that does not make sense when each part is sung separately – there seemed to be too much conflict. My section’s part, sung alone, does not sound like it would blend well with any other part. In fact, it does not even sound good by itself. It sounds disjointed and as if random notes where thrown in. And that is the same when each of the other parts are sung alone. Yet, when they are all put together, it sounds incredible.
Because of the conflict, this song is difficult, yet musically it is incredible.
(The whole song is great, the part I mention is just after 2:25)
Our wonderful choir director, when talking us through this section said, “You need to have confidence in dissonance.” That simple phrase struck me as being profound. I interpreted this as “Be comfortable, and even thrive, with conflict.”
Dissonence is defined by Dictionary.com as “a simultaneous combination of tones conventionally accepted as being in a state of unrest and needing completion.”
Here is what a musical conflict, or dissonance, sounds like.
(Start at 2:10)
Together, yet out of context, the two notes don’t sound great together. But within context, dissonance adds life, understanding, feeling and emotion in music.
I stood next to anther section, and specifically my friend John Ricks who sings second tenor. Sometimes the only way I can make sure I am in tune is to listen to his great voice. Even though my part is completely different, his often dissonant voice anchors my tone.
Another way to look at this is to think of a sunset. Here are two different sunsets.
Q: Which is arguably more beautiful? A: The one with the clouds; the one that isn’t a pure colored sky; the one that shows a possible storm or rain coming. The clouds are a tension against the sky. Yet that is exactly what makes it more beautiful.
Dissonance As We Work
In the same way, dissonance (conflict) as we work can be profoundly enlightening. It is possible to all be working on the same team, doing what seems like conflicting actions, yet be totally in harmony. If we drive out all of the dissonance on a team (either large or small) we will be missing some of the opportunities that will arise.
In essence, we must be comfortable with conflict from others within our work. Not insurrection nor toxic behavior. But dissonance which may seem inconvenient and uncomfortable for a moment (the clouds are blocking the sun) or a bit contrary to the path we want to take (like other musical parts seemingly conflicting ours) because this is where we find the beauty and possibilities that were always there, but we didn’t realize existed.