What Music Can Teach Us About Building Relationships

kings-singersIt all started with a simple tweet.

I was reminiscing on Twitter about the four years I spent as part of an a capella quartet. I get a bit nostalgic about it this time of year, as Christmas was our high season…we’d perform Christmas carols at concerts around town, house parties and on street corners in Ottawa’s Byward Market. I happened to tweet something about a vocal ensemble called The King’s Singers, who were such an inspiration to me at that time, mostly because of their song, “New Day”. This is one of the songs that made we want to sing a capella music. Have a listen, I’m sure you’ll see why.

Well, it seems my tweet was seen by none other than Jennifer Covert, someone I met briefly at Podcamp Ottawa this year, and eMarketing Officer at the National Arts Centre. She asked if I was going to The King’s Singers show on Monday night. I confess I had missed that announcement entirely, so I replied that no, I wasn’t, sadly! I went on about my business, and about 20 minutes later received a message from Jennifer saying that she had a couple of extra tickets and was giving them to me! Talk about a wonderful early Christmas gift!

I’ve been thinking a lot about online relationships. Lately, I’ve had a lot of really good experiences with relationship building and I’ve also seen a lot of really good examples of how NOT to build online relationships. Last night, and while I was sitting in the audience listening to the amazing, beautiful, heart-swelling sounds of this amazing vocal ensemble, along with some incredible pieces by the NAC Orchestra, I learned some important lessons about relationship building.

It starts with you. A capella music only works if each person in the ensemble knows exactly what they are doing. This takes a lot of individual work up front. In my quartet, we would get our music and a cassette tape of our part. The first thing we’d do is go home and practice and practice our part until we had it nailed. Only then, would we be able to come back as part of the group and put the pieces together. Last night it was obvious to me that the 6 guys in The King’s Singers know their individual parts so well, they could probably sing them during a hurricane with a tsunami and a tornado at the same time and not miss a note. This means, when they put the pieces together, 6 voices become one. It was an unbelievable experience.

Relationship building works in much the same way. In order to truly be able to build solid relationships online, you must know your own part first. You must know what you have to offer the rest of the network. You must practice, and think, and get focused. Then, you are ready to join the chorus.

Blend, but be unique, too. The King’s Singers are six voices: 2 countertenors (super high), one tenor (high-ish), 2 baritones (low-ish), and one bass (super low). Much of the time, they are all singing different notes. The real power of their sound is when all six different notes come together to sound like one voice. This is a result of their impeccable skill at blending. They are truly one of the best groups in the world at the art of the blend. Blending in a vocal ensemble is extremely difficult to do well. The key is to listen to the other voices, and find where your voice needs to fit in. Not just by singing the right note (which is helpful!) but by adjusting the tone and intonation of your singing to hit just the perfect balance of sound.

At the same time, it’s important not to blend in too much; that can be boring. Each of the men in the group (David, Robin, Paul, Philip, Christopher and Stephen), brings their own unique style and voice to the ensemble. As much as you can hear them as one voice, each of their individual voices makes the whole unique sound come to life. Stephen’s awesome bass resonates in your chest. David and Robin’s fantastic high notes sit up like they are on top of a mountain; refreshing and exhilarating. Paul, Philip and Christopher provide the inner workings – complex harmonies that fill the air and send shivers up your spine.

In our online relationships, blending is crucial. It’s how we get things done. It’s how we are able to come together at events like Podcamps, create incredible projects like 12for12k, and how we are able to successfully co-exist on tools like Twitter. We blend, we merge, we learn, and we move forward. But, at the same time, our networks would be nothing if it wasn’t for the uniqueness of all the voices. We’ve got the high vocals and the low key. We’ve got the nuances and harmonics of the in between. The power of social media is in the sum total of each unique voice. Without that uniqueness, the resulting blend is not possible.

Be Original. The thing I love most about The King’s Singers are their original arrangements of songs. This was a Christmas concert, so there were a few traditional arrangements of songs, like my personal favourite, “O Holy Night”, which you can hear them perform with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, here. It was astounding and magical.

But what I love is how they take a traditional song and give it a remarkable twist. For instance, they took “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and mashed it up with Dave Brubeck’s famous “Take Five” , creating something 100% unique and memorable. Their speedy, “let’s just get this over with” take on “Jingle Bells” was also funny and silly, showing that even though they are very serious musicians, they don’t take themselves too seriously. Their encore performance was a “drunk and debocherous” version of Deck the Halls, where, with each verse, they fell more off the wagon, but somehow managed to still show their unmatched technical skill.

Originality is what makes the online world what it is. Sure, we might all have different opinions on things. Sometimes, we might not all get along. But that’s just the thing makes the social web so amazing. We all have the opportunity to be unique and individual here. We all write our own arrangements. We mash things up, we create something new. At times, we tend to take ourselves too seriously, but soon, we’re made to see the lighter side of it all. Originality is expected and encouraged here, and in the end, the space is richer because of it.

If you ever get the opportunity to see The King’s Singers in concert, do not hesitate to do it. They are incredible, and even if vocal ensembles aren’t your thing, I guarantee you will be moved by their performance. And, as I did – you just might learn something, too.


One final note. Canada’s National Arts Centre has many wonderful things to offer online. Their multimedia section is home to many interesting and insightful video clips, audio clips and podcasts. They are extremely well produced and if you are at all interested in music and the arts, definitely worth listening to and subscribing to. Check it all out on their web site.

Photo by kingssingers6 on Flickr.

Category:music, social media
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