Being a Sympathetic String

I love music, but I don’t pretend to know a ton about it. Recently, I saw William Close and the Earth Harp Collective perform, where I learned about sympathetic strings. As he stretches the strings out over the performance space, there are some strings he’ll never actually play.

They’re not tuned to particular notes, they’re just there. 

Yet, as I watched the strings above me, not being tuned and not being actually played doesn’t mean sympathetic strings are inactive or unimportant. As he plays, the sympathetic strings vibrate and bounce nearly as much as the strings he’s actually playing.

Wikipedia states, “They are typically not played directly by the performer (except occasionally as an effect), only indirectly through the tones that are played on the main strings, based on the principle of sympathetic resonance…Sympathetic strings are used to enhance the sound of an instrument.”


I love that they’re called sympathetic strings. I love the idea that they sit alongside the strings making the music, and though they don’t *technically* have an action of their own to perform, they add something to the mix. Without them, the music wouldn’t be quite as lovely, quite as touching, quite as powerful.

When it comes to the people I care about, I want to be a sympathetic string. Sympathy itself is a tricky business–I don’t want to pity people, which is where sympathy can often lead–but I do want to feel for them, to understand what they are going through as best as I’m able. I can’t physically or emotionally take on the joys and difficulties of my family and friends, but I can be alongside it, listening, adding resonance to their lives by simply showing up and being there.

This isn’t easy for me. My natural tendency is to want to fix things, to put Band-Aids on them so they don’t hurt anymore. I have yet to come across a situation someone is going through where I actually have the capability to fix it, though. Sometimes I can take some level of action–sympathetic strings do move in response to the other stringers, after all– but lives are messy, especially other people’s lives.There aren’t wands to magic things all better. We make better sympathetic strings than Band-Aids.

I can’t fix; I can show up.


Til next time…


p.s. How can you be a sympathetic string for those around you?


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