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Review: ‘Imperfect Harmony’ by Stacy Horn

Review: ‘Imperfect Harmony’ by Stacy Horn post image

Title: Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others
Author: Stacy Horn
Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir
Year: 2013
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Acquired: NetGalley
Rating: ★★★★☆

From Bloggers RecommendStacy Horn is not a wonderful singer, yet each week she heads to her community choir in New York to harmonize with others and center herself. In Imperfect Harmony, Horn reflects on her 30 years with the Choral Society of Grace Church. This meandering memoir blends history and science to explore why we love to sing with other people.

Review: In general, I think I have a pretty good grasp of who the big nonfiction writers of the last, say, 10 years are. I haven’t read all of them — not even close — but I usually recognize their names and can often come up with a title they’ve published. That said, I’m always pleasantly surprised when I come across a new nonfiction writer with an extensive backlist to peruse.

That was the case with Stacy Horn and her new book, Imperfect Harmony, which moved to the top of my reading list after Citizen Reader mentioned Horn as a nonfiction author you should know. Horn has written a variety of books in her long career — memoir, investigative journalism, and true crime. In Imperfect Harmony she blends memoir, history and science to write about why humans love to write, learn and perform choral music.

Horn comes at the book from the lens of her own experience as a member of the Choral Society of Grace Church in New York City. Although she’s not a particularly good singer, Horn writes about the kinds of moving, transcendent, community experiences she’s had while singing. Along the way, she looks at how the brain responds to music, the history of ensemble singing, the stories of composers known for their choral music and the story of how a community choir survives in the world today.

Part of what I responded to in this book was how wide-ranging it was. Horn uses the thread of her time in the choir to anchor a story that meanders in several different directions at once but never feel disjointed because of how deeply enmeshed the author is with the subject. Additionally, Horn is a lovely writer. Citizen Reader called her “sincere,” which I think is apt. It’s clear how much the subject means to her and you can’t help getting pulled in.

I thought Imperfect Harmony was lovely, and I absolutely recommend it if you have any interest in a story about singing. I’ve already got another one of Horn’s books on my shelf (The Restless Sleep, a look at New York City’s cold case squad) and can’t wait to get to know her writing further.

Other Reviews: Tea and Savories | NPR | Publishers Weekly |

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Vasilly July 29, 2013, 10:00 am

    I’m not really interesting in singing but Horn sounds like an amazing author. I plan on giving this book a try in the future. Great review.

    • Kim August 1, 2013, 8:11 pm

      I’m not entirely interested in singing, myself, but I also love books that help me learn or appreciate things I don’t have a connection with. This book did that wonderfully.

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) July 29, 2013, 10:10 am

    This sounds like a book I’d like even though I’m not a singer.

  • Andi @ Estella's Revenge July 29, 2013, 10:52 am

    What a unique book. This looks awesome.

  • Christy July 29, 2013, 5:19 pm

    I’ve been part of school choirs and church choirs, and have had some wonderful experiences in those, but also interminable rehearsals as well. When I was in college, we had mandatory chapel twice a week (it was a Christian college). We all grumbled about chapel because we were college students running on little sleep and if the speaker was dull, we struggled to stay awake. However, the one thing I always loved about the mandatory chapels was everybody singing together, all of the hundreds of students. Not the same as being part of a regularly rehearsing group, of course, and I suppose the experience is somewhat replicated if one goes to a very large house of worship, but it was still special.

    I’ll have to add this book to my to-read list, thanks!

    • Kim August 1, 2013, 8:12 pm

      I’ve had similar experiences, singing in group every once in awhile. While I always feel like I am sticking out like a sore thumb, if I can get over myself it’s really lovely.

  • Katie @ Doing Dewey July 29, 2013, 9:35 pm

    I definitely don’t do enough keeping track of non-fiction authors, but it’s something I trying to do better about. For some reason, fiction author’s names are far more likely to stick with me.

    This sounds like a great read! I love a book that ties some interesting science and history together for a good narrative 🙂

    • Kim August 1, 2013, 8:13 pm

      As much as I pay attention to nonfiction, fiction authors come to mind more quickly for me too. I think because everyone else is talking about them, the names stick better.

  • Joy Weese Moll (@joyweesemoll) July 29, 2013, 9:37 pm

    The thing I miss most by being un-churched is group singing. There just aren’t that many opportunities in a normal adult life. I sometimes get chills down my spine at the ball park when the crowd really gets into singing along with one of the songs.

    • Kim August 1, 2013, 8:13 pm

      Yes, me too! The national anthem, especially, gives me chills.

  • Stacy Horn August 1, 2013, 4:35 pm

    Thank you for this absolutely fabulous post about my book!! By the way, the group I sing with, the Choral Society of Grace Church, is a community choir. You don’t need to be a member of the church or any church at all to be a member (I’m agnostic, for instance).

    If you ever look at any of my other books it will be interesting to see if you like them. This book is a combination of what I learned from writing a memoir (Waiting for My Cats to Die) and everything I’ve learned writing books about subjects I had no personal connection to (the NYPD’s cold case squad, the former Parapsychology Laboratory of Duke University). I think this book is my best in a way, because I took what I thought was the best of both worlds. But my take is the least objective of course!

    In any case, thank you for this very generous write-up of my book.

    • Kim August 1, 2013, 8:14 pm

      I could definitely tell that this book was pulling together different threads of personal writing and impersonal reporting. I really enjoyed that!

  • Jennifer August 12, 2013, 9:22 am

    I love discovering new writers and then fully exploring their work! I’m glad that you were able to discover someone you enjoy. I’ll have to add Horn to my list!

  • Care August 13, 2013, 2:03 pm

    I saw this post and exclaimed, STACY HORN! I know (of) her! I didn’t realize you didn’t participate in Citizen Reader’s menage when we all read Restless Sleep. I still think about that book and now I have a great reason to finally get around to reading another Horn book (I’ve been meaning to…)

    Point is, I loved that I recognized the author’s name and you mention it as one to remember.

    • Kim August 14, 2013, 9:19 pm

      I don’t remember that menage — weird! I’m excited to read that one when I find some time for it.

  • Care August 15, 2013, 8:22 am

    We read a graphic novel by Rick Geary (on the Lizzie Borden mystery) to go with it: http://www.citizenreader.com/citizen/2009/11/book-menage-day-1-stacy-horn-and-rick-geary.html

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