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Vocal Harmony Performance/Workshop

General Assembly 2000 Event 440

Presenters: Barry and Holly Tashian

Barry's pick dug into the strings and he and Holly lit into a tight, close harmony version of "Will You Travel Down This Road With Me?" The Tashians are two of the talented professionals who are members of the Nashville Church. Barry plays lead guitar and usually sings the lead while Holly plays rhythm guitar and sings the tight harmonies that have brought the group their fame and fans. This workshop combined performance and harmony singing.

Harmony is an important part of their singing and their relationship. Two voices come together, singing different parts and make beautiful music together. Does that sound like a formula for life? To the Tashians, it is. What is harmony and how do the Tashians make it work?

First, the song must have a clear melody, and both singers need to agree on exactly what that melody is. If you don't know the melody, you can't sing the harmony. Second, Barry and Holly decided the world is full of songs, so they won't sing any that aren't meaningful in some way for them. Their second piece, "Fishin' in the Sea of Love," a fast-moving tune in G has the line to the effect that "I caught a keeper when I caught you." It shows. The ease with which they sang and melded their voices showed that, different people or no, they clearly had caught keepers. That sort of thing shows and adds to the music.

The third factor is the key in which the music is performed. Men and women's voices sometimes don't blend well and require a compromise key. You can't sing harmony if you're having to hitch up your drawers to hit the high notes! The fourth factor is vowel pronunciation. Both singers have to sing the vowels the same way and start and stop at the same time, too.

Finally, the two singers have to establish a rapport, to "be one" as it were and to find a way to blend their individual voices into a new entity, at least for the moment the song is being performed. When this process succeeds, the world disappears when they sing together. Bringing differences to the relationship and finding common ground is what music is all about.

After a rousing performance of several songs, they invited some singers from the audience to sing the bass part. Five volunteers stepped forward, including your reporter, and a third voice, the bass part, blended with their close harmonies that are built mostly upon intervals of thirds and fourths. The Tennessee Room rang.

As the workshop ended, the Unitarian Universalist (UU) audience sang some songs that some might consider anathema to UUs. The old gospel favorite, "Amazing Grace" rang out. One audience member explained the origins of the word "wretch" that so many find offensive. John Newton, the author, had been a captain of a slave ship until his conversion, which resulted in this amazing song first appearing in the 1770s. So, like so many music parties involving UUs in your reporter's church, we celebrated our musical roots in Christian gospel. We've come a long way, but we still honor our roots.

Reported by Bob Hurst

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Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.

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