Singing in a Choir

[The magazine Vidya , edited by associates of the United Lodge of Theosophists in Santa Barbara, USA, published the following article in its Autumn 2017 issue; here is a slightly revised version.]

 Theosophy Vidya 2

When singing in a choir, one of the qualities that you quickly discover you need is that you must listen. There is an acute balance needed between you and the other singers because if you are too loud you are overpowering somebody else so that they can't be heard. If you are too meek and don't play your role sufficiently, then the full sound of all of the singers has been lost. There is a degradation of the power of the whole. Finding that critical balance requires the capacity to listen. The peculiar thing is that you have to be actively projecting your voice – and simultaneously, you have to hear your choirmates. You have to discern exactly what they are doing. If they get a little bit too loud, you have got to rise up with them. If they get too soft, you have to drop down. So it seems that in the process of developing and working with a nucleus of Theosophical co-workers, there must be a listening equivalent. How, then, do you find a balance between individual initiative and cooperative listening to others?

Exploring the analogy, we see that we shouldn't thrust ourselves forward in a way that drowns out everyone else because we want the audience to hear us and not the others. Equally, will the balance in group activity be upset if we "sin€' too softly and timidly. So we have to find not only the right pitch but the right level at which we have to sing. We have to listen to others. Most of us, when you think about it, don't listen to others. Some years ago it was very common for people to say, "I hear you. I hear you" and that's exactly what they were not doing. They were caught up in their own thoughts and what they were going to say next. They didn't really listen to or hear what others were saying. So, here, we have to listen to not only what key other people are singing in, but also what level of sound and harmony they contribute. 

When playing an instrument in an orchestra, certainly in Western music, the conductor tells us when the music has to be soft and when to play allegro. Everyone does it in unison. Paying attention to the conductor would be the equivalent in our analogy to listening to the Higher Self, which is concerned not with the performance of one, but the overall performance and the harmony that emerges from everyone making a contribution and sharing in the good results. Saying that we should not sing too loudly or softly is to be aware of our own responsibilities. We must not say, “I know I'm just an unimportant part of this whole thing so it doesn't matter if I don't do very much.” No. We have to be aware of exactly what our duties are and perform those duties. If we therefore do it at the right level then we contribute to the whole. As the Bhagavad-Gita says, the duty of another is full of danger. We have to be very perceptive of what our own duty is and perform it. We are an extremely important and essential part in creating a harmony. 

We should try at least, to rise to the level of the universal spirit, which is a level of harmony. Mystics and great teachers teach of the high levels of love and harmony. The Voice of the Silence emphasizes being in harmony with everything, with all men and with all of nature. In creating this harmony, we don't strive too much. We don't do too little. That is not always an easy thing to determine, but that is what we constantly have to strive to do. Plotinus, in one of the Enneads, uses that analogy of the choir singing around a central person. This is an analogy worth reflecting upon.