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Originally published Sunday, November 17, 2013 at 12:12 AM

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‘Imperfect Harmony’: the pleasure of singing with others

In “Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others,” Stacy Horn writes about the transcendent pleasures of singing in a choir, and the connections she feels with the music and the people who created it.

The Washington Post

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‘Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others’

by Stacy Horn

Algonquin, 284 pp., $15.95

Stacy Horn would make a lovely dinner companion. Well-versed music lover; curious researcher; humble, wise and keen observer of the world, Horn seeks in her new book to understand why she has always found comfort and joy in singing. “As long as I am singing ... it’s as if I’m inhabiting another reality,” she writes. “I become temporarily suspended in a world where everything bad is bearable, and everything good feels possible.”

Horn is no diva, and in fact the book is littered with self-doubt and self-deprecation. Using the titles of choral compositions that her New York City choir has sung as subtitles in her chapters, she searches for her personal truth by writing about people, historical events and the music that binds them. Featuring quotes from other modern authors who have written about music, as well as from composers, music historians, and past and present choristers, Horn’s book is at once an in-depth musicology paper as well as an anthropological dissertation.

Her enthusiasm is such that the reader soon recognizes that she is after something deeper than musical pleasure. “As I move firmly and inexorably into midlife,” she explains, “I need [music] more than ever. I thought that these would be the easy years. I was sure I’d be settled by now, not wondering how I’m going to pay for all the dental work I just learned I needed or still crying about the last guy who broke my heart.”

In the end, despite Horn’s adamant claim that she does not believe in heaven, she may protest too much. It is clear that she touches it, if ever so slightly and doubtfully, through music. “I was sobbing so hard I had trouble reading my music,” she writes. “It was the line ‘Ye shall have a song, and gladness of heart.’ ... What more could anyone want or ask of life than gladness of heart?”

Moira E. McLaughlin can be reached at

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