I work in an “open office” environment that has no cubicle walls so everybody can see everybody else in their immediate vicinity. (Yeah, I was skeptical at first but it actually works really well thanks to white noise generators and the overall demeanor of the folks I work with. If the intent was to get people to talk to each other and get stuff done, it’s an unqualified success.) A few rows of desks over from me in another department is one of those naturally beautiful women (I won’t get all sexist here, that’s not the point) with a smile that can truly light up a room. Sadly, other than when she’s talking to her co-workers, I think I’ve seen it a grand total of two times in the years we’ve been in the same neighborhood. She walks down the office aisles with her eyes straight ahead and avoids making contact with anybody. Ever.

I don’t know her story, there are any number of reasons why she would hide in a little bubble like that, but it makes me sad that she’s missing all of the positive things that come from being part of a social environment. I do know one thing however: I’d bet a whole pile of cash that she was never a choral singer. That sort of isolation just isn’t in the singer’s DNA. The level of cooperation and communication and mutual support won’t allow it. As a matter of fact, if someone who’s not all that comfortable in a group gets involved with singing that shell they’re hiding under cracks. Every time, without fail.

How am I so sure? Well let me tell you a story…

I was a part of a large choir some time back that had a young, quiet soprano. She never missed a rehearsal and had a lovely voice but wasn’t much for conversation. As the months of rehearsal went by she opened up a bit and even had a laugh or two with her neighbors. I discovered that she suffered from Asperger Syndrome, an autism disorder that, among other things, manifests itself in difficulties in social interaction, a failure to develop friendships and no desire to seek or share achievements with others. There are also elements of issues with verbal communication and some other behaviors.

I don’t know how our young soprano found her way into that choir. Maybe a family member or therapist suggested it (strongly, I suspect) as it’s simply not something that she would have sought out herself. It’s just not on the list of things that someone suffering from her syndrome would consider. Regardless, the experience of participation was fantastically therapeutic. Not only did her interactions with the singers around her become more and more comfortable, she was also more likely to say a quick hello in the grocery store (rather than duck into a different aisle to avoid the contact, which would be the typical move).  I bet family members and the therapist noticed the progress she made over time and were thrilled.

Imagine their joy when, a few seasons down the road, she stepped out in front of the choir during a concert to sing a solo. Yeah, THAT lit up the room. I bet our soprano doesn’t keep HER eyes straight ahead when she walks past people at work.

Music is magic, y’all.