“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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