When I hear beautiful harmony,* I often become nostalgic for my long years in various choirs (mixed male and female, female, and a cappella). Although I am a natural second soprano, I used to sing alto I most often.** I miss the low, sonorous tones of the alto, and the art of getting the harmony just right.*** Singing (and playing the piano, which I did religiously between the ages of 5 and 18) engages a part of my mind that sociology doesn't, and can't.
When finishing dissertations, some people treat themselves to fancy stereo systems, computers, or long weekends in a big city. My present to myself is going to be a piano, and I will allow myself hours of uninterrupted pleasure singing while I play. It's been seven years too long.
*The Wailin' Jennys were my particular inspiration today. They're my latest favorite, and have great potential to displace The Indigo Girls.
**For the curious, I was taught that most women are natural sopranos. Due to lack of true altos, many sopranos who are good at reading music sing alto in choirs, only to find out later that they have more range to their voice than they originally thought. However, a true alto and a soprano singing the same note sound different; the altos sound is richer, especially in the lower notes. I recommend Handel's Messiah for examples of alto and first soprano solos that should give you an idea of what I mean.
***I know I'm biased when I say this, but I honestly believe that it's more difficult in many pieces to sing one of the harmony parts, rather than the soprano line, which is typically given the melody line.