Harmony Requires Honesty

Back in high school I played drums and sang in a few different bands. One of the bands played mostly Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, Cream… you get the idea.

One day we were jamming when Jim, our lead guitarist, started playing Happy Together by the Turtles. It was funny at first… but then we all joined in and something clicked. While it was outside our genre, something about this song resonated with us. In fact, our version of Happy Together not only sounded great… it was fun to play. So now what? How do you transition from Black Dog and Iron Man to Happy Together? We weren’t certain, but we had an upcoming gig and decided to find out.

It was the night before the event and we had been practicing hard all week. Since we hadn’t performed Happy Together publicly, we decided to go over it a few more times. Jim was/is a talented musician and he had figured out all the harmonies, including a great three-part harmony for the “Ba-ba-ba…” part. (If you’ve never heard this song… you can do so below.)

Oh yes, there’s something I neglected to mention… it was for good reason that our bass guitar player rarely sang. He was notoriously off-key and pitchy (I’m being polite). Perhaps that’s what amazed Jim and me the most about us playing Happy Together… he actually sang one of the harmony parts.

Back to practice… I was singing lead and Jim was singing background harmony when we reached this part of the song…

Me and you and you and me
No matter how they toss the dice, it has to be
The only one for me is you, and you for me
So happy together

Then we all jumped in… Ba-ba-ba…

Before we could hit the second, Ba-ba-ba… line, Jim stopped playing, turned and looked directly at me. Accept for the ring in our ears, the room was silent.

“What are you doing?” Jim asked looking confused. “You’re completely off-key… maybe we aren’t ready to perform this yet!”

I didn’t respond at first. I respected Jim… and I knew he was right. To compensate for the bass guitarist, I was compromising my part in an effort to create harmony! I had been doing so all week… just not to this degree. That night during practice, my extra compromising crossed the line and Jim called me on it. Explaining my actions meant telling the truth… an inconvenient truth as we were all friends. When we put the facts on the table, we’re in a better position to honestly address the situation… and hopefully find a solution. That’s what we did. Then we made some harmony modifications and Happy Together was back on track—even better than before—as confirmed by the audience the following night. The “Problem” became a solution.

That night at practice I learned some valuable lessons about harmony… and not only about music, but life, too. It’s easy to slip into denial or to try and fix what’s wrong by overcompensating or compromising our own efforts for someone who isn’t doing his or her part. And sometimes, to a degree, it may be okay or even necessary. But in the long run, it rarely works. Honesty, in most cases, truly is the best policy.

I think most people prefer knowing the truth–even when it hurts. I know I do. It’s hard to improve yourself or a situation when you don’t know where you stand. Ironically, attempting to bend reality to create “harmony”… typically accomplishes the opposite. True harmony requires that we each do our part… and communicate open and honestly.


2 Responses to “Harmony Requires Honesty”

  1. NDR on June 10th, 2010 1:30 pm

    I have to agree with “It’s hard to improve yourself when you don’t know where you stand.”

    I have to disagree with “most people prefer knowing the truth.” (Especially in the southern region of the U.S.–they are masterminds at secrecy and untruths to keep a particular superficial image.)

    In business I have lost jobs and in life I have lost friends by telling the truth. But I have no regrets because I was true to myself. And when I am not true to myself, I am miserable.

  2. Lynn Serafinn on June 23rd, 2010 9:38 am

    Having come from a musical background, I love the analogy in this story. It is a lesson that took me many years to learn. I was never more apparent when I was a new manager of a college department, and I was continually compensating for what I believed to be other people’s shortcoming. The end result was that my own choice to compensate made me both exhausted and resentful, and it didn’t do diddly squat to empower my staff or help them in any way. I thought I was helping by covering their proverbial backsides, but I was simply trying to make things “look good”, when the truth was they weren’t working. When we become truly honest in life, we can see just how frequently we do this in our lives, not only in work, but in our personal relationships. Transparency is the much-needed medicine that will bring us into harmony.

    And by the way… I fully understand how you can transition from Black Dog and Iron Man to Happy Together. The track has a deliciously haunting tune, and there’s great irony in the contrast between its minor key and the “happy” lyrics. Probably why Robert Plant ripped it off in his track “Big Log.” ;-)

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