Though she has a so-so voice and she's not particularly religious, Stacy Horn has sung with the choir of Grace Church in New York City for more than 30 years. Through the lens of a dozen beloved pieces of music, Horn's memoir, Imperfect Harmony, explores the deep pleasure she and thousands of others derive from the practice of communal singing.
Horn joined the Grace Church choir after her marriage ended, desperate for a reliable source of joy in a life that was proving less stable than she'd hoped. Over the ensuing decades, she has sung many choral masterpieces, including Handel's joyous Messiah and Bernstein's famously difficult Chichester Psalms. She blends biographical sketches of these and other composers with information about the history of singing societies in Europe and the United States. She also shares recent research about the physiological benefits of singing--as most singers know, making music can calm and strengthen the body as it soothes the soul.
Horn's best scenes are those describing the experience of singing at Grace Church, sharing vivid memories of rehearsals and performances. Though her historical research is thorough, it sometimes veers into the tangential. And she hits the dissonant note of her agnosticism repeatedly, making the reader doubt her early assertion that she has made her peace with not believing many of the words she sings.
But both Horn's storytelling and her experience bear out a simple truth: people from all walks of life--Welsh miners, American frontier settlers, today's urban dwellers--draw hope and strength from singing together. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams