Opposites (un)Attract


The theory that opposites attract has been a well accepted, but unfounded, myth for decades. The concept is fairly simple, we seek in others the traits and skills that we ourselves lack. 

The theory is based in the belief that extroverts & introverts, adventure seekers & couch surfers, and night owls & early risers are at their best when they find companions and partners with qualities that they themselves lack.

But apparently it just isn’t true.

In his new book, Great Myths of Relationships, relationship expert, Matthew Johnson, used a fact based approach to dispelling this long held myth. Johnson writes:

"Whether people really find opposites more attractive has been the subject of many scientific studies. Researchers have investigated what combination makes for better romantic partners – those who are similar, different, or opposite? Scientists call these three possibilities the homogamy hypothesis, the heterogamy hypothesis and the complementarity hypothesis, respectively. The clear winner when it comes to successful relationships? Homogamy.” 

Mr. Johnson’s research seems to imply that for long lasting relationships, we are better off looking for our doppelganger than our nemesis. But I’m not convinced his research applies to musicians or our ensembles.

Harmony, both personally and musically, are critical to the success of any ensemble. A great deal of time, effort, and care are required to take divergent tones and craft them into one singular blended sound. 

As a musical conductor, your responsibilities include balancing and blending divergent melodies, rhythms, tonalities, timbres, and voices. Similarly, as an educator, you are responsible to blend different ages, maturity levels, languages, temperaments, ethnicities, economics, and cultures. As a music educator, you do more than blend sounds, you blend lives. You are charged with creating harmonies on stage while maintaining them in your classroom. And that is as difficult as it is complex. 

Harmony, literally and figuratively, requires more than one voice, more than one sound, more than one person, and by extension, more than one opinion. By definition, it is impossible to have harmony without first having diversity. In this way, opposites DO attract and Mr. Johnson's hypothesis fails.

Yes, it would be easier if we taught just one type of student with one type of talent. Yes, it would be easier if all of our students had the same level of commitment and dedication. But, I think most musicians would agree that harmony, musical AND personal, is at it’s finest when it involves a wide assortment of sounds, pitches, and people. The greater the complexity, the deeper and richer the beauty.

So yes, Mr. Johnson, when it comes to relationships, homogamy may win out, but when it comes to music and the young people that create it, harmony trumps homogamy every time.