MUSICAL MUSINGS: Sum Of Its Parts > Weakest Link

By Scott Rieker

Director, Emerson Choir 



Aristotle said that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Paul of Tarsus expanded upon that, explaining that all those parts are interconnected, interdependent, and equally essential for the success of the whole. Then, some “motivational speaker” concocted the aphorism, “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” Which is it, then? Are we beings who can transcend our limitations to create great accomplishments, or are we destined to succumb to the lowest common denominator?

If choir is any model, the truth lies with the former. The fatal flaw in the “weakest link” mentality is the failure to account for love: teamwork, caring, and mutual support. After services on September 11, 2016, six brave souls joined us for our first-ever “come and see” choir rehearsal. At first, some thought we were having choir try-outs, and—in a strange way—that was somewhat true. Except, we were giving folks the opportunity to “try out” the choir, not to try out for the choir.


It was an opportunity to experience the mutual support and interconnectedness that makes an ensemble successful. We were allowed to succeed together and to make mistakes together in a safe space. Individual mistakes lose their crippling gravity when a section of singers is working—as a whole—to sing the desired musical line. Individual limitations of tone, range, timbre, etc. recede as each singer contributes his or her own unique gifts and allows them to be united in synergy with those of the rest of the singers. On Sunday, we quickly began to make some beautiful music as a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts.

I know that not everyone wants to be involved in music ministry. All of our brave attendees may discern that choir is an excellent fit for them and become choir members. Or, perhaps some will conclude that their time and talent are best used in other ways. Regardless, we must always remember: we are stronger than our weakest link. We are greater than our failures. We are more valuable than our worst deeds. This is true because we can love; we can cooperate; we can work together; we can transcend our weakness to discover our shared strength. Musically, this achieves extraordinary results in performance. In life, it shows how much meaning we each, individually and abiding together, actually have.