While we were talking earlier this week she told me that on the weekend, she and her three sisters had gone to a furniture sale at Jim’s cousin Laurie’s home. Laurie builds some furniture and reclaims other pieces and ‘the sisters’ (one of whom is Laurie’s mom) wanted to see what she had been doing. Jim’s mom told me that she managed to buy a nice piece for her living room, and she also mentioned that before they left the sale, the sisters sang a song.
Now, to the regular person, this may not seem like a regular thing to do at all. Who goes to a furniture sale and sings before leaving?! In this family, the answer would be, ‘The Ryckman Sisters’. They sing in each others homes, they sing at family gatherings, they sing in choirs, they sing at church and apparently they sing at furniture sales.
These sisters, Mary, Leila, Joyce and Joanie have been singing since they could talk. Their mother gathered them around the piano and taught them to sing harmony together. Singing together is as natural to them as breathing. I think they were all taught to play piano too, but whenever I have heard them sing, it is always Joyce, a gifted musician, who tickles the ivories.
As I pictured these wonderful, loving sisters singing together before leaving the sale (and likely after a few choice words about what song to sing!), I was thinking about the way harmonizing has served them so well in their lives outside of the music world.
When these girls were taught to sing, they were also, no doubt, introduced to the intricacies of this art form. I have no idea how their mother, Jim’s grandmother, taught them. I have no idea who gave her the skills she would pass on, although I suspect her involvement with the Lutheran church may have played a part in it. And yet, somehow, she taught them not only how to sing beautifully together, in perfect harmony, but also how to live as sisters in a similar way.
When singing in harmony, it is impossible for everyone to have the lead at once. One singer at a time has the lead and sings the melody, and the others each have a different, unique role. Sometimes a second (and third) singer will support the melody in a pitch slightly above or below. I have noticed, over the near 40 years of my being part of this family, that these sisters have learned how to let each other take the lead. And when one of them takes the lead, in singing as in life, the others quickly get themselves into formation to provide support and to allow the lead to shine.
When Jim’s mom was having trouble with her back for instance, I called her daily. I knew that Aunt Joyce (sister number three) was coming over each evening to give a back rub. Aunt Leila (number 2) would stop in during the day, sometimes with supper in hand. And Aunt Joanie (number 4), who lives furthest away, gave the bulk of her support by phone. I’m guessing that when they heard about the furniture sale at Laurie’s, they instinctively knew this was a place they could not only have fun, support Laurie and buy some new items but it was also a place where they could support Aunt Leila.
What is important to recognize in this relationship of sisters is that the dynamic shifts depending on who is in the lead role. These girls are absolutely practiced and on-point with knowing not only when to step in to give support, but also when to accept the support. What I find unique about them is they manage to demonstrate love in equal measure whether they are being supported, or whether they are the support.
This is the secret to harmony. The lead is not always the lead. Each member needs to know how to sing in support, how to give back up with the melody in a different pitch and how to modulate their voice appropriately. BUT, when it is time to take the lead, they have been taught to step right into it and to occupy that space as if they had waited their life for the chance.
We can learn a lot from this. It is not only in their beautiful blending of song that they each play an important part; in their daily lives they too ‘sing’ in harmony. Each of them has played many starring roles in life and the other three quickly line up to play support. When Grandma Ryckman gathered those little girls around the piano and taught them how to sing in harmony, I wonder if she realized the incredible gift of life lessons she was giving them. I’ve been blessed to be able to bear witness to her gift, both in song and in life.
Next week when Jim’s mom arrives we will gather four generations together. Jim’s mom, Jim, our daughter Kaitlyn and her son, Benjamin; mother, son, mother, son. These four will also have a special sort of harmony, each bringing a unique view of their stage of life. For me, I’m afraid my terrible affliction of leaky eyes may overcome me, as I bear witness to this new four-part harmony.
As you enter this week, notice where you are in harmony. Where are you asked to take the lead, and where would you be better served offering support.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘Lead or support? How am I adding to the harmony?’
Elizabeth is a life and leadership coach in Calgary, AB. She provides leadership coaching for individuals and groups and she creates and facilitates custom workshops for corporate, public and private groups. Contact Elizabeth to help you or your organization to figure out how to bring harmony to your life and work.