“The hidden harmony is better than the
I learned about the new NBC situation comedy, “Perfect Harmony,” during the summer. I was flabbergasted. Someone thought a sit-com about a choir, a church choir, would be entertaining? Impossible! I hoped it wouldn’t denigrate what we do. I went about my usual summer activities of repertoire planning, reading ChoralNetters’ emails and doing some home improvement projects and forgot about it.
I didn’t pay much attention to the buildup for PH until ACDA announced a contest for choirs on its Facebook page. I watched a few promo clips and what I saw, I thought was funny. But a few funny clips do not a comedy series make. I took a “wait and see” attitude though secretly, I hoped it would BE funny.
My spouse, a physician, has long luxuriated in dramas, comedies and a reality show or two about his profession. We laugh at “Scrubs,” cringe at “Dr. Pimple Popper” and try to figure out the disease du jour on “House.” Hubby remarked during the run of that series, while he would never be caustic or curmudgeon-like with his own patients, he loved to watch Dr. Greg House. Well fellow Choral Folk, we have our own Dr. House!
Arthur Cochran (Bradley Whitford), a retired music professor from Princeton University, is in the small town in Kentucky where his late wife grew up. He’s there to bury her and has come to the realization he has nothing to live for after her death. As he is sitting in his car, deciding how to finish himself off, he hears a rather “second-rate” church choir butchering the “Hallelujah Chorus.” He does NOT want that rendition of Handel to be the last thing he hears in life, stomps out of his car and into the church. The choir begs him to help them win the local church choir competition. Comedy ensues.
I was worried our profession would be portrayed in an unrealistic and “magical” way; the choir would be terrible and then good, old Arthur would say or do something and then suddenly they would be outstanding. For the most part, important choral details seem to be accurate; he is guiding them to get better and it’s not exactly sit-com magic. I loved that he had folks stand tall and asked them (well, he demanded—he’s a curmudgeon after all) to sing on the vowels. Some tired sit-com tropes are trotted out with a few unrealistic convoluted plot points but I do understand its fiction and a comedy. I would request a few less church choir competitions (around here, we call them “Church Choir Fests”); in real life, those happen about once a year in ADDITION to all the Holy Day services we sing. Unrealistic goes with sit-com territory but I hope the relationships and making music together are what drives further episodes. It seems to be headed that way.
Each PH character seems to have a story primed for the telling. Choirs become family and it seems like this is where PH is moving toward as an ensemble. I was very touched by the ending of this first episode; Arthur’s choir is in his home (it’s a house boat) and brought him groceries and other things to help him set up his household. They are bossy and butt into his life, like a real choir often does with each other.
As your Choral Ethics Maven, I should tell you there are some aspects of Arthur Cochran’s personality that are not exactly what I purport here on ChoralNet—he’s more of a ‘Don’t Be’ than a ‘Do Be.’ I would never tell a woman singing Soprano she’s an Alto and it’s because she’s aging (I’ve thought such things, not exactly my best Choral Ethics persona). The character “Adams Adams” has the best comeback to his comment–which was bleeped out! I laughed and laughed. He’s a bit caustic and blunt and not careful with his comments but quite frankly, they are funny! And not just funny, but so close to the truth we live in our profession, which is why it’s funny.
I hope “Perfect Harmony” can show the general public how much fun and soul fulfilling singing in a choir can be. And how a group of people can work together for a common goal, which is not always musical, and still love each other. Here at ChoralNet, “Perfect Harmony” is preaching to the choir!