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observing Harmony

by | Feb 18, 2021 | Harmony, observe, The Fifth Dimension

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We were at the hospital for a procedure, and the nurse couldn’t get the IV started.  Without missing a beat, another one came right over, picked up the work … and the conversation … without even missing a beat.  As a keen observer of teamwork, I perked up and started to chat her up about what it is like to work here?  “It is amazing – from the people who take out the garbage, to the staff that mops the floors, to the administrators who make sure we have what we need, we all come together to provide you with the best care”.  We were then whisked off to another room, with a similar experience…. How does that type of Harmony happen? 

Singing has been a part of my life since I was small, and honed when I sang in an all boy’s choir when from ages 7 to 11.  And always being small, you might expect that I would have sung the high parts, but for some reason, not only was my voice lower, but I really enjoyed being an Alto.  It is not as flashy as the Tenor roles (or Soprano for women), but finding the note that fits in with what the lead is singing – finding that Harmony – was challenging and fun in ways that still are with me.  And honestly, if I could get people to sing more, I think the world would actually be Harmonious – but like my classic problem, I am getting ahead of the story… 

Florence La Rue was born in Pennsylvania before moving to New Jersey where she studied violin, dance, and vocal performance.  She moved to LA for college and won the Miss Bronze Los Angeles contest the year after Marilyn McCoo, and as such, was invited to join with the budding group that would become the Fifth Dimension.  Smaller than Marilyn, and with a lower vocal range, she naturally fell into singing Alto – the same vocal range as Karen Carpenter by the way. 

The fun of singing Harmony is you can’t do it alone… it is naturally a part of being in a group or team.  There may be notes on the page, but actually getting them to blend together with the same breathing patterns, diction, pronunciation… that requires everyone working together.  For the Fifth Dimension, it meant each of the individuals worked with a vocal coach of their own, but were all brought together by Bob Aclivar, an arranger and conductor who has a lot of credits (but not much is written about him…) 

So many leaders and teams I am working with struggle to create the trust and cooperation that they often hire me to provide.  There are many books and articles that offer the “simple” answer of their particular approach.  I am fortunate not to have one of those.  It requires that each member of the team works hard to be their best – alone.  AND, that they have an intention to also work hard TOGETHER.  It is that last part that makes great Harmony – the practice of actually watching each other work – at the same time.  Most teams simply do not make the time to do work together – to understand how interdependent they actually are… that it is not just 5 to 7 solos.  It is different voices blending together… and a conductor/arranger who can bring that out of them. 

I have been observing lately how much this work – what you are actually reading – has actually helped me to find my own voice again.  The details of digging into the background of music I know, and more importantly music I don’t, nurtures and recharges me so that I am ready to actually get back to my “day” job, ready to bring my best there.  Like my own “vocal” coach, my time here reminds me that preparation alone is as important as the time with others.  And the joy and freedom of digging deeper has reminded me that work is worth it…if you understand your “why”… 

What do you “observe” prepares you the most – the time to recharge, practice, prepare yourself – away from your team?  Walks outside, connecting with nature, long drives, loud or soft music, reading… that time is important to ensure that when you are back with others, you are ready for Harmony. And – that the leader/conductor has created work that depends on everyone doing it together. This last year has shaken all of us to our foundations, and my sense is that many of us are not going back to where we were… because we have rediscovered notes and Harmonies we had misplaced. 

Our experience at the hospital had many other interactions that demonstrated the Harmony we saw in our initial interchange.  Each person played their part and seamlessly moved between solo and supporting part.  Finding a song with Florence singing lead was hard – but I stuck with it… digging deeper into songs, many of which I heard for the first time.  She has a lovely Alto voice singing solo, but I suspect she would rather be singing Harmony.  Again written by Jimmy Webb, not a huge hit, but one that I think observes exactly what needs to be said today – This is Your Life. 

This is your life you’re living
And it’s the only one you’ve got
It’s your life you’re giving
Don’t you think it’s time you asked yourself for what?

This is your life, not a game that you play
It’s your life and you’re throwing it away
You’re a runaround
The worst one in our end of town
And everyone knows that I still love you so

That precious wine you’re tasting will be bitter when you’re done
It’s your life you’re wasting
Don’t you think it’s sad you had to start so young?

This is your life, not a merry-go-round
It’s your life, boy, and you can’t live it down
You’re a runaround
The worst one in our end of town
Yes, everyone knows that I still love you so

This is your life
Not just something to do
This is your life
And it’s my life, too

This is your life
I know it’s your life
I’m saying, don’t throw it away
This is your life but it’s my life too
This is your life
They say you’re a runaround
I know it’s your life but it’s my life too

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