Wednesday Quotes
Singing in Pairs
November 11, 2015

Boy and Girl Singing,Rockwell

“Friends are said to sing in pairs.” Ancient proverb, quoted by Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics, IX

Aristotle relates this little proverb in the course of explaining that a person can have few true friends. True friendship involves such a depth of sharing, and intimacy of living that it can only be done with very few people. Likewise singing–from the heart, a kind not done into a microphone–is a rather intimate affair. Somehow it too is best done among a few people.

Here the human body itself is the instrument. Each of has our own, always with us. When I sing, the vibrations resonate from me and through me, and into those near me. To sing together, in unison or in harmony, or even out of tune, is to be together.

A millennium and a half after Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas in commenting on this same proverb writes, “It is a widespread custom for young people to stroll two by two singing in good fellowship.”

A widespread custom? Times have changed. We find ourselves wondering where are the innocence and the joy, so uniquely instantiated by young people strolling and singing in good fellowship. Wherever the innocence has gone, probably there too has gone the joy. They can and they must be re-discovered. Our instruments might need refurbishing; but they can be purified and re-tuned.

What better context for the intimacy and joys of singing than our homes, and among friends? Here our natural shyness of singing–itself a sign of its power as revelation and sharing of oneself–can be gently overcome. If as Augustine says he who sings prays twice, then perhaps those who sing together live-twice-together.

Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), student of Plato, tutor of Alexander the Great, has been considered by many to be the greatest ancient philosopher. The Nicomachean Ethics is his main moral treatise.

Image: Norman Rockwell

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  1. This post is very appropriately timed as our family just had the pleasure to sing with your family this past weekend. The pig butchering weekend is always memorable, but this one will ever have a place in my heart. A big “thank you” to you and your family for hosting and for fostering these friendships. We are truly blessed.

    1. Jamie, The sentiment is mutual. Both working together and singing together–sometimes at the same time–are great gifts.

  2. This reminds me of what the choir director Paul Salamunovich used to say about the human voice: “Just as a violinist might say, ‘I have a Stradivarius’ (i.e. a violin made by Stradivarius), singers should say, ‘I have a God’ (i.e. an instrument made by God).” I thought this was clever, but a little confusing if said out of context – still it makes a basic point.

    1. Thank you very much for sharing this. A great point for our reflection.

  3. When I was growing up, we sang together as a family at all of our family reunions and such. I doubt that this is much done in these times… A sad losss. As an Orthodox Christian, we sing and chant all of our liturgical services, using the human voice alone as our instruments. Indeed, praying twice. Great article. Thank you for sharing.

    1. And thank you for sharing. My experience of the eastern liturgy is surely in accord with yours.