An accompaniment is the music that collaborates with a melody to produce a more multi-dimensional musical experience than hearing a melody alone. The lines or layers that form an accompaniment might include drumbeats, bass lines, and/or sustained or activated chords. An effective accompaniment not only requires intricate coordination with the other accompanimental lines but also meaningful interaction with the melody. Such interaction often resembles a dialogue, in that an accompaniment will often become more active when the melody rests, supplying introductions or interludes between sections and fills between phrases, for example.
An accompaniment, like a good community, provides hospitable, responsive support.
A common misconception: the accompaniment as “background.”
For people who haven’t thought much about musical structure, using the visual metaphor of “a portrait in front of a background” is actually a helpful starting point, because it opens a way to conceptualize multiple layers of musical activity occurring simultaneously. But the problem is that nothing in the word “background” signifies “active participation.” We’re more likely to think “wallpaper” than “supportive friend.”
The right comparison: a melody and accompaniment as an individual within a community.
Why are we able to talk more freely and openly with our friends and family than we do with people we feel unsure of? It’s not only that we “know” people in our community, but little things our friends do while we’re speaking give signals that our ideas are welcome. Read the list below imaginatively, substituting the word “accompaniment” for “community,” and “melody” for “we” or “our,” while listening to several pieces of music to feel the relationships implied in each statement.
A community provides consistency and support so that we can say our lines with clarity and conviction. This support is most often established through simple routines that establish their own comfortable rhythms: sharing a meal or coffee, taking a walk together, exercising, riding in a car, going to a film or a worship service.
1) A community responds to our ideas: agrees at key moments, laughs at our jokes, knows when to pipe in and when to hush.
2) A community fills in when we are silent or away.
3) A community shows encouragement through body posture (which unconsciously mimics our own).
4) A community lets us try on “crazy” ideas, lets us vent, and even brag or show off, but holds its ground on what is acceptable, such that we feel compelled to resolve our dissonance.
5) A community knows that we need different amounts and types of support at different times.
6) A community frequently “leads” by setting up its own agenda and tone, while we join in accordingly. Other times, we set the tone.
7) A community often has more relevant ideas to contribute than we do.
8) A community not only helps shape and define our personality, it provides context and purpose.
9) When we share the same news with different communities, it may feel different each time.
More than a metaphor?
We might say that aspects of community help us understand musical accompaniments better, and that would be true. But what if we have this reversed? What if human relationships began to emulate the give-and-take support that we so often find in musical accompaniments?