Global Psalms

I regard this this theme and material as a penultimate stage towards defining my Global Guitar genre, which I invite the curious reader to explore.


Divinity, Ethniciclty, and Tonality

Triad and Trinity

Martin Luther King’s Symphonic Dream

John Coltrane’s Bluesy Psalm

Miles Davis: In a Silent Way

Lenny Breau’s Five O’Clock Bells

Hendrix Chord


This performance theme of Global Psalms is a sort of intermediary work, as it was born from my musings concerning The Last Gig of Lenny Breau, and has led me to construct the similarly titled The Last Gig of J.C. (John Coltrane).  The material below is but a step in a creative process that is culminating in a more sublime statement.  

Divinity, Ethnicity and Tonality

“I have a dream that one day….the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together….With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony.”  Martin Luther King (Is. 40:4-5)

“Let us sing all songs to God to whom all praise is due.”  John Coltrane

“The music of a well-ordered age is calm and cheerful, and so is its government.  The music of a restive age is excited and fierce, and its government is perverted.”  The Annals of Lu Buwei, from Herman Hesse’s Magister Ludi

“Consciousness of the [major] chord of nature is a distinguishing feature of the people of the West.”  Felix-Eberhard von Cube

Reggae singer David Hinds recorded a song called Not King James Version.  The song begins with a harpsichord passage in a major key, as a mockery of English classical music.  The introduction gives way to electric guitar, bass, and drums playing reggae in a minor key.  The back beat, suggestive of the group’s name, Steel Pulse, seems to shatter the delicacy of the harpsichord sonority.  Is the snare drum of Steel Pulse a Jericho trumpet intended to shatter white power?  Is this the ambition of band members and their audiences as the music pulses into their bodies?   

Country guitarist Chet Atkins plays his version of an Afro-American song, There’ll be Some Changes Made, which is in a major key.  However, Atkins ends the tune mocking blues rock guitar with a blues scale played with power chords.  Does the cover of Atkins’ last recorded album, The Day Finger Pickers Took Over the World, indicate that his guitar was an instrument of white power?  

Is one to conclude from these, and similar, tonal jabs that major chords are the property of white folks and minor chords and/or blue notes are the property of black folks?  I wish to argue against such a simplistic supposition.  Most of the African and Afro-Caribbean music that I am familiar with is in a cheerful major tonality.  Wimoweh, Day-O, Island in the Sun, even Yellow Bird.  But it seems to me that much Afro-American music is expressed with discordant and minor tonality, be it blues, or Mingus’ Fables of Faubus (diminished melody), I’m Black and Proud (dominant seventh tonality); even Wild Cherry’s Play That Funky Music White Boy (dominant seventh tonality).  Young, Gifted, and Black is a refreshing exception in its beautiful major key tonality, Donny Hathaway tastefully throws in some blue notes in his version.  

My message is that concord is the birthright of every human being.  It is time to put an end to the worship wars.  It is time to realize the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. “to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood,” not to mention sisterhood.  

Triad and Trinity

Godwin states: “the very fact that music exists is astonishing enough.  No outsider to the human condition would suspect that proportional vibrations would affect us as we know they do.  There is every reason to question this extraordinary phenomenon” (Music and the Occult, 6).

“To be sure, music is a miracle – shall we therefore refrain from thinking about it?  It would be negligence to do so.  What miracle wants of us in not that we, as thinking beings, shall capitulate to it, but rather that we shall do justice to it in our thinking.  Precisely because music is a miracle, incomprehensible in the framework of the dominant mode of contemporary thinking, impossible to fit into the current conception of the world – a miracle not only in its greatest and most splendid, its most exceptional, manifestations, but in its plain fundamentals, in every simple melody, and indeed in every single tone of every melody – precisely because of all this, it is our duty to think about it.  The purpose is not a rationalization, a setting aside of the miraculous.  Thought that is true to its subject does not annul miracles.  It penetrates the fog around them; it brings them out of darkness into light.”  Victor Zuckerkandl, Sound and Symbol, Music and the External World

I want to focus on two gifts that God has given to humanity: the gift of salvation through the agency of the second and third persons of the Trinity and the gift of music in the form of the harmonic triad.  Both gifts are given to all of humanity.  The first gift arrived from the Jews (John 4:22), but they as a people rejected it.  The Emperor Constantine used the gift of the gospel as a means of holding together the Roman Empire.  The second gift was discovered by a student of Plato, but Plato overlooked the triad, and so did everbody else until the late Middle Ages.  Lutherans were particularly impressed with the perfection of the major harmonic triad and its efficacy as a model of the Trinity.  German composers up to Wagner were fascinated by this model, and this fascination resonated with leaders of the German Empire as well.  

So the divine gifts of Trinity and triad were exploited for imperial gain.  However, I repeat my contention that they are gifts, not solely for Romans and Germans, but for all humanity, and are intended, not for imperial exploitation, but for spiritual liberation.  The harmonic triad provides a model for the well tuned soul.  The powers of music and the gospel are free gifts to all, regardless of race or gender.  The musical triad and the spiritual Trinity are not agents of black or white power; they are agents of divine power for the transformation of peoples of all color.  That is the message of Global Psalms.  

The harmonic triad is the basis of all tonal music.  Levarie and Levy state: “Among the many theories, there is hardly any disagreement concerning the inherent consonance of the triad.  The senarius and the overtone series both point to the same conclusion.”  Viennesse music theorist Heinrich Schenker rightly stated that “the unfurling of a triad is music – it is music’s sum and substance.”  “In the first place, that which we know in music under the name of the common chord [accord parfait] is, for us, the image of that first unity that embraces everything and from which everything comes forth.  This chord is single and unique, entirely self-contained without need of any note other than its own; in a word, it is unalterable in its intrinsic value, like unity” (324).  Godwin notes that “Saint-Martin here transposes to the metaphysical level the theory of Rameau concerning the archetypal primacy of the triad” (466, note 2).    “Secondly, this common chord is the most harmonious of all; it is the only one that satisfies the human ear and leaves nothing else to be desired” (324).   Godwin comments: “It was Tartini’s discovery…that every note we hear, unless extremely pure in timbre, contains as harmonics the common chord” (466, note 3).

Stuart Isacoff limits the harmonic overtones forming the basis of music to three in his reference to the recognition of French Classical music theorist Jean Philippe Rameau that “all music stems from the natural action of a vibrating body which, by natural law, emits, in its first few overtones (the octave, third, and fifth), the ‘perfect chord.’”  In terms of the ‘natural’ laws of physics, then, the first three different notes just happen to be, not doremi, but domisol – the first, third, and fifth notes of a diatonic scale.  Concerning these three notes, Isacoff comments that “they whisper their support for those theorists who for centuries had declared these to be the purest, most natural, and most perfect harmonies of all.”  One such theorist is Rameau, who regards these harmonies emanating from the harmonic series as a first principle:

What fecundity there is in this phenomenon!  Can one refuse to consider a phenomenon which is so unique, so abundant, so rational, if I may use this term, as a common principle of all the arts in general, or at least of all the fine arts?  Is it not reasonable, in fact, to believe that Nature, simple as she is in her general laws, might have only a single principle for all things which seem to be related to one another in that they excite the same sensations in us, such as the arts destined to give us the feeling of beauty?

Nineteenth century Franciscan theorist Peter Singer also indicates a correspondence between aural harmonics and the triad when claiming that the three tones of the triad, “although quite different from one another, sound like a single and perfect tone, completely at rest in itself.”  Singer offers proof for this statement in the following comments:

Beside the evidence of the musical ear, large organs likewise give proof of this, where every tone sounds accompanied by its whole triad, both in each pipe and with the [mixtures of the] full organ, without the unity of any tone being thereby disturbed or destroyed.  Indeed, if the three tones did not appear as a unity, the full organ would be quite unusable, for the actual playing of a triad would be unbearable to the ear, since it would hear in these three components the most jarring dissonances.  For example, with the triad CEG sound CEG, EG#B, and GBD; yet for all that, the ear hears only the tones CEG, evident proof that the complete, perfectly tuned triad sounds like a single perfect tone.

While accepting the perfection of the triad, Zuckerkandl distinguishes it from an individual tone:

The triad is what no individual tone can be: demand and fulfillment, striving and consummation in one.  For this reason it is self-contained, perfect.  Separation and union, initial conflict and final reconciliation, are here embodied in one sound, which may be said to symbolize, to contain in germ, everything that art music offers in fully developed form.  As a symbol, the triad is situated outside time, yet not in space – at least not in the usual sense of the totality of loci where all things are situated – but in a form of supertime, which ancient and modern mystics call ‘the moment of eternal duration.’  Reversing the Platonic saying that time is the moving image of immobile eternity, one might call the triad the eternally immobile image of moving time.

Therefore David Hinds paints himself into a tonal corner when associating himself and his African roots with minor sonority and major sonority with English music, in Not King James Version.  Every person can claim the triad as their birthright.  Blues gospel singer Blind Willie Johnson did so when exchanging the dominant seventh blues chord for consonant major tonality in Let Your Light Shine on Me.  Jazz saxophonist John Coltane did so with his song, After the Rain.  The blue and rainy dominant sonority moves to the sunshine of the major tonic triad, mirroring the enlightenment of Coltrane’s soul, as he immerses himself in the melodic and harmonic motion of his composition.  

Joni Mitchell recognized a tripartite deity.  “He is three / One’s in the middle unmoved / Waiting / To show what he sees / To the other two / To the one attacking-so afraid / And the one that keeps trying to love and trust / And getting himself betrayed / In the plan-oh / The divine plan / God must be a boogie man!”  Boogie music outlines the four notes of a dominant seventh chord, and not the three notes of the triad that express the Triune nature.  

Rudolf Steiner, founder of Anthroposophy, uses the language of spiritual science in a discussion of major and minor tonality: “We experience musical pleasure when outer tones correspond with those within” (from Music, 258).  “One must understand that all consciousness arises through a kind of overcoming of the outer world.  What comes to consciousness in man as pleasure or joy signifies victory of the spiritual over merely animated corporeality, the victory of the sentient soul over the sentient body, so that the soul feels itself stronger than the body.  In the effects of a minor key man can always perceive how the vibrations of the sentient body grow stronger, while in a major key the sentient soul vibrates more intensely and predominates over the sentient body.  When the minor third is played, one feels pain in the soul, the predominance of the sentient body, but when the major third resounds, it announces the victory of the soul.  Now we can grasp the basis of the profound significance of music.  We understand why music has been elevated throughout the ages to the highest position among the arts by those who know the relationships of the inner life, why even those who do not know these relationships grant music a special place, and why music stirs the deepest strings of our soul, causing them to resound” (Lecture given Berlin, November 12, 1906, translated by Marie St Goar in Rudof Steiner, The Inner Nature of Music and the Experience of Tone, Spring Valley, N.Y., Anthroposophic Press, 1983, pp. 10-21; from Music, 258).

Discord and concord are not relative or subjective terms, as nature offers a major chord – it is built into the fabric of the universe.  The fundamental entity of music is not the tone, but the chord, as a tone does not resonate apart from its third and fifth.  Marshall McLuhan noted that the medium is the message, and the message of music is harmony, attained through a sacrifice of the will.  The third and fifth tones must sacrifice their will towards self-centeredness to attain harmony with the fundamental tone.

Global Psalms explores the diversity of ways in which musicians of various ethnic groups express tonality to convey their spiritual conversion.  In After the Rain, Coltrane follows the conventions of Western cadential tonality.  Lenny Breau’s polychord in the leitmotif to Five O’Clock Bells offers another means of this expression.  The second side of Miles Davis’ record, In a Silent Way, employs yet another means.   

Martin Luther King’s Symphonic Dream

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope….With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.  With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day….And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”  “I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.  They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” (Rev. 7:9)  In my dream all people wear white robes of purity and hold palm branches of peace.

My Dream

I have a dream that people will rise up and live out the true meaning of music: All men and women are created in the image of the triad and have the potential to repair the ruins of our first parents to regain that image.  I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.  With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of humanity into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood and sisterhood.  With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together.  And when we allow freedom to ring we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children will follow St. Paul’s injunction to “be filled with the Spirit, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”  “I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.  They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” (Rev. 7:9)  

For the notes about John Coltrane visit the web page, The Last Gig of J.C.

In a Silent Way

In the 1920’s Viennese classical theorist Heinrich Schenker stated: “Jazz stirs the bones but not the soul.”  My intuition is that Schenker had ragtime piano in mind.  In the 1960’s Canadian literary theorist Northrop Frye described jazz as sounding “like a demon trying to get born but not succeeding.”  My intuition is that Frye had John Coltrane in mind.  Jazz is more Blakean than the “square cut” pieces of Clementi, which Frye, a Blakean scholar and amateur pianist, was fond of playing.  Classical pianist and conductor Andre Previn stated: “The way jazz has been handled in films is really revolting...There’s a lot of jazz scores now on television, but every time you hear jazz played on a background score it’s a safe bet that somebody’s stealing hubcaps.”  Emily Hughes, daughter of Breau and Judi Singh, perpetuates this sort of musical stereotyping in film when stating in an interview in her documentary, The Genius of Lenny Breau: “I think she [Emily’s mother, Judi] found needles in the garage, I heard her tell somebody, and she kicked him [Lenny] out.”  At this point the documentary features Breau’s Indian Reflections for Ravi [Shankar], from his live album in 1969, and the video shows a sign saying Live Jazz.  Breau’s Indian Reflections continue as the documentary examines his drug addiction.  It is unfortunate that Hughes associates Breau’s Indian inspired music with his drug use, for East Indian classical music is a sacred art for clear headed and inspired practitioners.

Western ignorance of Indian classical music was evident in sitarist Ravi Shankar’s words to the audience at the Concert for Bangladesh in Madison Square Garden in 1971.  Shankar asked the audience to refrain from smoking during his performance and then proceeded to tune his sitar for a minute or two.  The audience, apparently believing they had heard an entire piece, applauded, leading Shankar to say: “Thank you.  If you appreciate the tuning so much I hope you will enjoy the playing more.”  He then played a 17-minute raga.  John Coltrane named his son after Ravi.

Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way combines elements of jazz and raga.   The structure is ABA.  It’s About That Time is in the key of F and both the bass riff and keyboard vamp move freely from major to minor.  Davis’ composition is the B section framed by Joe Zawinul’s In a Silent Way, in the key of E major; the melody is mixolydian.  The piece has a raga-like mood.  Zawinul’s version.  “Recording in February 1969, Miles Davis seemed to pick up the vibe of what was going to go down that crazy summer. It was a tumultuous time as the sixties came to a close. First came the Manson Family, then the murder during the Stones Altamont show overshadowing the nave utopia of Woodstock.  With In a Silent Way Davis seemed to sum up the dying of the light as the war and violence took over from love and peace. Certainly his most somber record since Kind of Blue, it was a reflective record that would bridge the gap from one of the greatest quintets in jazz history to the most controversial era of Miles Davis work.  In a Silent Way is a foreboding and deeply meditative record that has an almost spiritual quality.”  Quote from an online review.  It’s interesting to see how Global Psalms is developing organically.  It is emerging as a collection of prayers of peace among various ethnic groups.    

In 1970, Davis contributed extensively to the soundtrack of a documentary about the African-American boxer heavyweight champion Jack Johnson. Himself a devotee of boxing, Davis drew parallels between Johnson, whose career had been defined by the fruitless search for a Great White Hope to dethrone him, and Davis’ own career, in which he felt the musical establishment of the time had prevented him from receiving the acclaim and rewards that were due him.

Miles’ first electric album, In a Silent Way, features  the Hendrix chord.  The title track begins and ends with a calm melody written by Zawinul using the major mixolydian scale.  The lengthy middle section features a bass riff  composed by Zawinul which outlines the Hendrix chord.  Starting with the root, F, it descends to the major third, A, and climbs to the minor third, Ab, an octave higher.  The keyboard vamp over this bass riff was also written by Zawinul, who plays F major, then F minor, then F suspended, and back to F major.  Unlike Strauss’ Zarathustra motif, the alternation of major and minor in this context signifies a choice of equal options.  The harmonic context is set up so the soloist can play any note.  Chromatic runs are frequently played by Davis.  As all notes are equal the music suggests an egalitarian social order in which all are free to exercise their independent will.

Erik Otis describes a jam session that took “place at one of Miles’ infamous parties in his upper NYC townhouse/apartment. Most of the playing is drowned out by the voices & chatter of the party crowd and it’s not really a jam session.  It’s more of a learning session for Jimi.  Clearly all through the jam Jimi is lost most of the time, as Miles is comping through extensive jazz chording while yelling out the key changes to Jimi who is playing confusingly on top of the changes.  The only time in this jam he relaxes and stretches out is when Miles periodically comps on one chord…Miles’ townhouse parties were not closed affairs. They usually spilled out into the uptown streets.  Anyone who was hanging in the city at the times of these parties knew about them by ‘word of mouth’ and for the most part, anyone could simply walk in uninvited.”  Erik Otis mentions Tom Nitelife, who was briefly “a hustler / pimp who…supplied Jimi with drugs, ladies for his orgies.”  “Quincy Jones…is singlehandedly responsible for getting Jimi & Miles back together as friends after Betty Davis got caught in the affair she supposedly never had with Jimi.”  Davis’ jazz funk fusion, influenced by Hendrix’s music, plays with all notes of the chromatic scale as guests interact at an open party, or as couples cavort at an orgy.  Very Wagnerian.

Carlos Santana on meeting Hendrix: “We spoke very little because it was… It was kinda embarrassing [laughs].  No, it was embarrassing because at that time there was like, uh, ‘lady swapping’, you know, and his old lady [Devon Wilson] would, you know, check the rounds and he knew that she was checking the rounds so… I dunno. It was awkward for me – I don’t know whether it was awkward for him… ‘Monitor’! I used to call her ‘monitor’ because she used to say everything about everybody, you know. I used to say, ‘I don’t wanna hear anything [laughs]! I don’t wanna know anything, I just wanna like learn about the music, I don’t wanna know about the other “stuff”, you know. You keep that to yourself, you know.  There was a family that we used to call ‘The Cosmic Family’. And it was the same family that hung out with Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis – it was the same group of ladies. Uh, I won’t go into names but it was like about, almost ten of them that just like… Uh, like moons, they would just gravitate around certain things, you know.”  Santana with Hendrix’s girlfriend, Hendrix with Davis’ wife, Davis and Hendrix with The Cosmic Family, and how about Hendrix with Quincy Jones?  The lack of social structures was manifest in the free and open musical structures.

Like its Western counterpart, Indian classical music theory percieves tones as analogous to dramatic characters.  Sufi mystic Khan writes: “Each raga has an administration of its own, including a chief, Mukhya, the key-note, vadi, a principle note; Samvadi, a minister, a subordinate note; Anuvadi, a servant, an assonant note; and Vivadi, an enemy, a dissonant note [which is never played].” (62) Inayat Khan.  The Mysticism of Sound.  Banff: Ekstasis Editions, 2004.  vadi and samvadi; major 3 and 7; minor 6 and 2; 1 and 5.  In this sense, Indian classical music is non-confrontational, as the enemy note is never played.  I regard In a Silent Way as a sort of raga that provides a context of order before and after the tonal anarchy of It’s About That Time.  Socially and spiritually, In a Silent Way seems to me to be a prayer for peace in a socially turbulent time.  

Lenny Breau’s Five O’Clock Bells


McCoy Tyner’s Vision begins with a piano vamp consisting of a suspended chord over a clave rhythm.  The absence of a third in the chord and the equality of phrases in the clave suggest a vision of equality.  However, the melody employs the pentatonic minor mode.  

Close to God

James 8:8a “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”  Psalm 73:28 “But for me it is good to be near God.”

In the song Rally Round reggae singer David Hinds sings the provocative line, “closer to God we Africans.”  The line is sung predominantly over a minor third.  Mystical-minded musicians generally associate the deity, or God the Father in Christian Trinitarian thought, with the keynote.  Proximity to the creator is expressed musically by a tone, or tones, close to the fundamental in the harmonic series.  The first three different tones in the harmonic series are the three tones of a major chord.  A minor third is a distant relation to the fundamental tone.  From this harmonic perspective Hinds’ use of the minor third to convey the spiritual proximity of Africans to the deity could be interpreted as an error or an irony.  The following line, “closer to God we can,” is sung over the intervals b3, b3, b3, b3, 4, 5.  The word can is sung over the fifth interval, the closest from the fundamental, apart from octaves.  

Hinds’ song, Blessed is the Man, ends with the refrain, “Can you feel it [the Spirit of God]?”  The corresponding intervals are 2, b3, 2, 1.  The minor third, sung over the word “you”, traditionally implies a painful deficiency and a yearning for the joyful triumph of the major third.

John Coltrane in 1961: “I know that I want to produce beautiful music, music that does things to people that they need.  Music that will uplift, and make them happy – those are the qualities that I’d like to produce.  Some people say ‘your music sounds angry,’ or ‘tortured,’ or ‘spiritual,’ or ‘overpowering’ or something; you get all kinds of things, you know.  Some say they feel elated, and so you never know where it’s going to go.  All a musician can do is to get closer to the sources of nature, and so feel that he is in communion with the natural laws.  Then he can feel that he is interpreting them to the best of his ability, and can convey that to others.”  (C on C, 118)

Coltrane’s song, Equinox, written in 1961, is unequivocally a minor blues, and his suite, A Love Supreme, written in 1964, is supremely minor in tonality, apart from the opening half minute.  In 1965 Coltrane confessed: “”Perhaps my main fault at the moment is that I have a natural feeling for the minor.  I’d like to do more things in the major.'” (Kahn, 116)  Consistent with his characterization of the minor as a “main fault”, Coltrane wrote and recorded several spiritual songs in a major key in 1965, including Welcome, The Father the Son and the Holy Ghost, Love, and Dear Lord.  His ambivalence about settling on the root note of these songs suggests that he did not feel welcome in the presence of the Christian Trinity.  The bulk of his final work until his death in the summer of 1967 is in a free jazz mode, liberated from all harmonic and melodic constraints.

Lenny Breau in 1981: “To the musician that’s really serious it’s the fastest way to God.  When I’m playing my music, when I’m doing stuff like

G, A, C, Eb, F, G, B, C, F    A, C, A, G, F, Eb, C, A  [F7#4; lydian scale].

I hear that and it inspires me.  It makes me feel close to God.  Like I don’t have to go to church and kneel down and say, ‘praise the Lord,’ because this is my way of praising.”

Breau says the series of notes alluded to above makes him “feel close to God.”  As God the Father is analogous to the fundamental tone, it is ironic that Breau play such distant harmonics as the flat seventh and sharp fourth.  His words say one thing, but the tones, as is often the case, betray the inner truth – he was high on drugs and far from God.

Heinrich Schenker indicates a hierarchy among the procession of tones when stating that, because the fifth precedes the third in the overtone series, it is “more potent than the third.  The fifth enjoys among the overtones, the right of primogeniture, so to speak.”  The tonal primogeniture of the fifth is analogous to the theological conception of Christ as the first-born in the resurrection.  The following analysis of Breau’s music has nothing to do with his human relations and everything to do with his relationship with God, which he stated to be his primary musical concern.  


Breau’s use of artificial harmonics is his most distincive technique.  “I got the idea for the chime tones from Chet…I started using it in jazz.  Nobody else was doing it and I just developed it.”  In a 1981 interview with Guitar Player magazine Breau elaborated: “I first heard Chet Atkins do them…. He’d pick both the note and the harmonic together: picking the harmonic on the A note–first chord, fourth string, seventh fret–and simultaneously picking the F#–first chord, second string, seventh fret. Then you do the same thing on the third and first strings, harmonic on the third and note on the first, which is an A6. That was the first technique I learned, but I changed it a little. I played the note first, then the harmonic.”  “I learned [harmonics] from [Chet] and like everything else I adapted it to jazz.  I feel that it gives the guitar a whole different sound; a whole different shading.  When you go back to the normal sound it changes again.  What I’m trying to do is get all the different kinds of colors, shades, and ranges out of [harmonics] that I can.

Atkins acknowledges: “He had taken the harmonics that I kind of developed…so much further than I ever had and was doing things that I never dreamed of.  It was one of the greatest days of my life, the first day I heard Lenny.”  Atkins continues: “Yeah, he plays a lot of my licks, but he’s modern with them.  I’m kind of old fashioned and square, you know.  But he plays the harmonics that I do.  I originated that but he does it a lot better than I did.”  It may have been in 1977 that guitarist Andy Summers came to Nashville on tour with The Police and got a forty-five dollar lesson from Breau on the use of harmonics; Summers featured the technique in his solo on the song Can’t Stand Losing You (1:45-2:15).  In Nashville in 1977 Breau was the opening act for a concert by guitarist Larry Coryell. Coryell states that, after the gig, “He showed me…how to do his artificial harmonics thing.  I worked the harmonics into my playing with some practice.”  In the January 1978 issue of Guitar Player magazine Coryell wrote an article called Lenny’s Lesson in which he analyzed Breau’s use of harmonics.  Breau’s own article on harmonics was published in the May 1981 issue of Guitar Player.  Metheny states: “When I got to know Lenny a little bit the first thing I did was say, ‘How do you do that thing with the harmonics?  He was into the sharing of the information because he really did find something new.”  “What he was doing with harmonics…it’s sort of his voice…he could do it for days at will.

In his signature song, Five O’Clock Bells, Breau associates the sound of harmonics on the guitar with the tolling of cathedral bells.  He plays harmonics between the concluding phrases, How I love to hear, and five o’clock bells in the morning, and the song concludes with a flurry of harmonics.  Harmonics perhaps signified to Breau the idea that God is a harmonious being; the deity is a harmony of Father and Son, a harmonious integration of the attributes of all the colors of humanity.

Breau’s introduction: “This is a tune that I wrote called Five O’Clock Bells in the morning.  Sometimes I try to sing on this tune.  I’m not really a singer but once in a while I’ll try to sing a note in there.  It’s got words to it, but it’s more of an instrumental, with lyrics.”  It seems to be the first song that he wrote, and the only one that he introduces by stating his authorship, a token of the personal nature of the song.  The paradoxical description of it as “an instrumental with lyrics” suggests that the music speaks for itself; the music is the key to the message.  The personal element, “a tune that I wrote,” coupled with the musical element, “an instrumental,” suggests to the listener that the artist is represented in the music, and my analysis of the musical structure will show this to be the case.

Breau’s habit of intermixing is evident in the polychords and polyrhythms, and the paradoxical setting, introduction, and lyrics of Five O’Clock Bells.  The setting is the time between night and day.  Breau introduces the song as “an instrumental with lyrics“.  The first verse ends with, “If I could but see five o’clock bells in the morning.”  This lyrical line suggests that his communion is incomplete; it is also metaphorical, for he could probably see the actual bell tower from the window of his apartment across the street from the St. Boniface Cathedral in Winnipeg. “I’d like to play sounds you can see if you’ve got your eyes closed.”  When he expresses a desire to see the bells he perhaps wants to play sounds that evoke a vision of the bells, which harmonize tones as the early morning harmonizes the dusk of yesterday and the dawn of tomorrow.  Assuming that what he wants to see is an image of the harmony he hears in the bells, then this song is evidence of Breau’s synaesthetic imagination.

Breau’s signature song may fall into a tradition of French musicians’ fascination with the sound of bells.  There is Marin Marais’ La Sonnerie de Sainte-Geneviève du Mont; Jacques Loussier’s interpretation owes something to Dave Brubeck’s Take Five.  Breau’s fixation on the sound of bells is reminiscent of French composer and music theorist Jean-Phillippe Rameau’s obsession with the tonal triad, which he called the resonating body.  James Doolittle notes Denis Diderot’s opinion that, “provided the parish bells that toll…continue to sound the intervals of the twelfth and the seventeenth [fifth and third], all will be well” with Rameau.  These intervals outline a musical triad.  According to Doolittle, “Diderot was not exaggerating much.  The corps sonore had by now become a fixation to Rameau.”  Rameau stated: “‘It seems to me possible to see in the corps sonore (if one will pardon me this supicion in favor of the most striking image of a Creator, as one will see) a sun suspended above our heads in order to enlighten us.’”

The polychord that Breau plays in Five O’Clock Bells may be analogous to the Bach motif – Bb, A, C, and B.  In German musical nomenclature, in which the note B is written as H and the Bb as B, the Bach motif forms J.S. Bach’s family name.  Hans-Heinrich Eggebrecht goes as far as to reconstruct Bach’s putative intentions as an expression of Lutheran thought, imagining Bach to be saying, “I am identified with the tonic and it is my desire to reach it….Like you I am human.  I am in need of salvation; I am certain in the hope of salvation, and have been saved by grace.”  I reconstruct Breau’s putative intentions on similar lines.  Breau seems to identify with the flat seventh, Bb, of the tonic, C, consistent with his reluctance to kneel down and pray.

As Rameau was fixated on the triad, Breau was obsessed with polychords.  Breau found communion, not with bread and wine of the eucharist, but with the sound of bells – in a cathedral bell tower or in the harmonics of his guitar.  Music was Breau’s communion: “To the musician who’s really serious it’s the fastest way to God…It makes me feel close to God and I don’t have to go to church and kneel down and pray because this is my way of praising.” Breau found communion outside the cathedral and independent of the priesthood by responding to the sound of cathedral bells with the composition of his song.  This experience contrasts with the setting of Augustine Barrios’ Le Catedral.  In the second movement the guitarist is in the cathedral and the music evokes the counterpoint of Bach.  In the third movement the guitarist walks on the street outside the cathedral and the music sounds anxious and restless.

Breau was an avid reader of Freudian psychology (his Aunt Rachel claims “he was into…Sigmund Freud, reading books – he was so deep.“) and his life is full of ambivalence towards superego, or father, figures.  His mother recalls: “He joined his father’s band; he was only fourteen at the time, and when the guitar players heard Lenny, the guitar wizard, that’s what they called him.  Pine used to hug him a lot and always told him how good he did.”  “Things weren’t the same between Lenny and his dad because Lenny had his mind made up on jazz.”  Ray St. Germain: “Lenny went and started getting more and more into jazz at that point and leaps and bounds, I mean he went really fast into jazz.  He just went from playing Chet Atkins cover tunes to playing jazz in it seemed about a year.”  “Lone Pine used to like to sing the current hits of the day along with his other hits, but there was one he sang called Old Lonesome Me, and Lenny had of course up to this point been playing some jazz when we were off the road and instead of playing the solo as Chet [Atkins] did Lenny broke into a jazz solo and stunned Lone Pine on stage although he kept a smile on his face you could tell he was just mad.  Anyway we thought it was pretty funny, Lenny and I, and the audience looked confused too.  They thought he had somehow completely been playing out of tune or something.  So anyway we got off the stage and Pine went to Lenny and he said, ‘Don’t you ever play that kind of music behind me again.’  And he slapped him.  And I could say that was the slap that changed the jazz world forever.  At that point Lenny knew he had to move on, and you could tell.  He left his dad’s show.

His first wife Valerie recalls his relationship to his father in 1959: “Pine was very controlling over Lenny.  He would have hated to lose him.  Lenny went through his teenage years with his dad as his boss – not a normal life.”  In 1980 Breau recalled: “I wanted to play jazz. l’d be playing a square dance with my father’s band and I’d be playing Tal Farlow runs in the middle of it and he’d turn around and say, ‘What are you doing!’  l’m supposed to be playing ‘Little Brown Jug,’ but I’m playing bebop licks and the people were just square dancing.  I just had to try it out.”  When his father fired him from his country band later that year Breau felt free to pursue jazz music.  Cedar Christie comments on Breau’s interactions with his father in 1970: “Everybody wants acknowledgement from their parents, but Lenny never got it from his dad, and it saddened him.  He didn’t say anything about it, but I could see it in his body language when his dad was around.”  Breau’s friend, Stephen Anderson, recalls his response to his father’s death in 1977: “He’d break down and cry and talk about his dad and how he’d let him down, sometimes during gigs.  He’d been expected to follow in Hal’s footsteps and he felt that he’d disappointed his dad for not being his little sidekick, for not staying as little Lone Pine, Jr., for making that split.”  Shortly after his father’s death Breau accompanied his friend, Buddy Spicher, to a church service.  Spicher recalls Breau’s conversation with the minister: “He asked Lenny about his relationship with God and I’ll never forget it: Lenny said, ‘music is my god.’  But he went to church with me rather than hurt my feelings by saying no.  Still, he didn’t worry about hurtin’ this fella’s feelings when he said music was his God.  It kinda broke my heart to tell you the truth.  Still, Lenny was a beautiful soul.”  American literary theorist Harold Bloom is of the opinion that “the Freudian Superego just about is Yawheh.”

Breau seems to have been genuinely ashamed of his father’s heritage.  Breau’s father was inducted into the Maine Country and Western Music Hall of Fame on Sunday, April 30, 1978.  Breau agreed to accept the award on his father’s behalf, but his ambivalence was evident the night before the ceremony, when he broke into a bar to drink stolen liquor.  Dan Hall recalled the following day at a gig: “He got into his Jimi Hendrix mode, tied a bandana around his head and was doing this anguished kind of stuff.”  Steve Grover describes the aftermath: “I visited him one day, and he’d put up these pictures by the Impressionists.  He’d also bought a record player at a pawnshop along with six records, and he’d transcribed every note from every one of them.  He had this Bill Evans record called Alone Again and there was a tune called ‘Make Someone Happy’ and he was trying to pull some voicings off that.  He said, ‘Man, if I can learn a couple of voicings every day, I’m happy.”  As Freud was a cynical atheist, he may have regarded Breau’s music as simply wish-fulfillment, an aural conjuring of a replacement for the father figure, in the form of an ebony queen perhaps.

The setting of Five O’Clock Bells is just before dawn; Breau is in an apartment with his Afro-Indo-Canadian girlfriend listening to the sound of bells from a cathedral across the way.  Breau wrote Five O’Clock Bells in the fall of 1966 while sharing an apartment in St. Boniface, Winnipeg with Judi Singh, an eighteen year old Afro/Indo-Canadian jazz singer (see Lenny & Judi, Lenny & Judi2).  During this period the couple frequented Winnipeg art galleries and Breau began wearing a French beret and cultivating an interest in French Impressionist painting.  Singh recalls: “He liked that very soft, watery Impressionist painting very, very much and he was very visual in his playing.  It was about playing different feelings as opposed to the music itself: the instrument becomes a paint brush.”  Singh recalls one morning just before dawn when she awoke to the sounds of Breau composing a gentle bossa nova song: “He told me he couldn’t sleep and was woken by the bells of St. Boniface Cathedral and was trying to write a song using the sound of the bells.”  Breau never got over his feelings for his ex-girlfriend Singh and in the summer of 1974 when he met her again he had added African thumb pianos, percussion, autoharps, and even tubular bells to his palette of sounds when performing.  He also took to wearing little silver bells on his long Afghan overcoat as the sound inspired him.  Whereas the practice of wearing bells on his coat was short lived his habit of carrying Inayat Khan’s Mysticism of Sound and Music with him continued with him from that time.   Breau’s girlfriend  in the early 1970’s, Cedar Christie, recalls Breau’s response to viewing Impressionist art at Ottawa’s National Gallery: “He tried to talk to me about his love of Renoir, but he didn’t have that kind of articulation and he’d get very frustrated trying to express what he saw in these paintings, but he loved them, just loved them.”  On one level Breau’s frustration may have been due to his memories of viewing art in Winnipeg in 1966 with his previous girlfriend, Singh, whose colored skin Breau associated with colors in the art.

Breau’s vocal phrasing recalls that of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis.  Canadian guitarist Monte Nordstrom opened for Breau during his two week run at Le Hibou in Ottawa in 1972.  Nordstrom recalls: “His limited vocal ability was offset by his delivery.  He explained that he used his voice like a horn, thinking like Miles Davis.”  The Davis inspired phrasing of the verses of Breau’s Five O’Clock Bells contrasts with the metronomic phrasing of the chorus, “five o’clock bells in the morning“, sung over the Westminster chimes melody.  This constrast in phrasing is yet another example of Breau’s tendency to mix things.  The jazzy phrasing aligns with the Bb bass note in representing Breau as a cool jazz musician, his id, his Dionysian side; the strict phrasing of the bell melody aligns with the C major melody of the bells representing Breau’s father figures, his superego, his Apollonian side.  Breau seems to have identified more with the former category, and to have struggled to integrate the latter category.  The cool phrasing of the verses may be analogous to Blake’s state of Experience, his tyger burning bright in the forests of the night analogous to a jazzman blowing riffs in a nightclub.  The filial piety of the choruses may be analogous to Blake’s state of Innocence, his little lamb blessed by God analogous to a child repeating answers verbatim in a catechism.

These two sides of Breau are also manifest in the only two original songs, as in pieces of music with lyrics, as opposed to instrumentals, that he recorded – Five O’Clock Bells and Toronto.  He wrote a few other songs, including The Waves are Angry (an id-like title), but no recordings of them have surfaced.  Five O’Clock Bells can be seen to represent Breau’s Apollonian side, as it looks to the day and to the metaphysical ground of his music.  How I love to hear five o’clock bells in the morning.  Toronto represents Breau’s Dionysian side, as it looks to the night in a jazz club.  I find that lately I’m missing old Toronto where the basses strum and the drums are full of fire.  His music was a canvas onto which he portrayed his psychic conflicts, his existential angst, his metaphysical dramas, his attempt to find harmony in his polarized cosmos.  Raj Rathor stated that when he attended a Breau gig he forgot that he was in a jazz club and felt that he was in a church.  Breau was the priest of the jazz club, music was the communion, drugs were the Holy Spirit, and the Father was conspicuously absent.   This alternative religion may reveal the inadequacies of institutional religion, when its rituals are degraded to empty gestures and its formality inhibits the human spirit.  Guitarist John McLaughlin speaks of Bill Evans achieving a state of grace during a club gig.

Breau seems to have had a traumatic aversion to going to church.  He stated: “I don’t have to go to church and kneel down and pray because [music] is my way of praising.”  A therapist told him that he needed to go to church and that was going to save him, rather than the drugs he was taking.  He reluctantly accompanied his friend, Buddy Spitcher, to a church service, where he belligerently informed the minister that music was his God.  It seems that an ecclesiastical community in Maine helped him recover from his drug addiction.  Perhaps music was a form of therapy that offered what seemed to him a tolerable representation of the deity in the form of polychords, polyrhythms, and the like.

Both Five O’Clock Bells and Toronto express Breau’s desire to commune with what is signified by their respective titles.  Breau identifies himself with the Bb bass grounding the polychord of Five O’Clock Bells, and the song expresses a desire to integrate his setting in an apartment with his girlfriend with the setting and sound of the bells, signifying his father figures outside of the apartment.  A Freudian reading would associate the Bb with the id and the C melody and chord with the superego.  It’s significant that there is no C bass note in Five O’Clock Bells to correspond with the key of the bell melody.  The song begins in the key of Am with the words can’t sleep sung over B and G, respectively, suggesting a polychord of E-/A.  As mentioned before, the chorus is sung over a Bb bass.  The guitar solo is in the key of A-, and the song concludes very curiously with harmonics outlining an A major chord.  It’s as though Breau were saying the God of his father is C, but music is Breau’s god, and Breau is an A.  By ending with harmonics he is affirming that God is a harmony, and that he as an A can coexist with God as a C.  Yet the song begins in A-, suggesting a tragic Breau acknowledging God, as A is the relative minor of C major; the third and fifth of A minor are the root and third of C major.  The song ends in A major suggesting Breau can be his own man, independent of filial piety, for God is a harmony, and harmony is tolerant of modulations, and competing tonal centers, to a degree.  The ending does not come across as very certain, triumphant, or convincing, as though to say Breau is fooling himself into thinking he can live as the center of his own existence (Five O’Clock Bells, 2:55-3:10).  Breau regarded the time of his recording these songs as a dark and painful period of his life, and he attempted to change his way of living after a near death experience.

Hendrix Chord

The harmonic structure of Five O’Clock Bells is I-vi-ii-V7 which resolves, not to the I, A minor, but to the C major with Bb bass.  The bridge modulates to the key of Eb and the final chord is a polychord blending D7b3 with an Ab bass note.  I’ve always called this last chord, minus the Ab bass, the Jimi Hendrix chord as it is the chord Hendrix uses in his song, Purple Haze; you can see him finger it on the seventh fret at 2:15.  Purple Haze is considered one of the archetypal drug songs of the sixties.   Hendrix stated that Purple Haze “was all about a dream I had that I was walking under the sea.”  The term “purple haze” has been used to refer to LSD, due to the form sold by Sandoz, called Delysid, which came in purple capsules.  The phrase itself appears in print as early as 1861, in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, chapter 54: “There was the red sun, on the low level of the shore, in a purple haze, fast deepening into black…”  Although, Hendrix himself stated that the song was partially in reference to a sci-fi story entitled “Night of Light” by Philip José Farmer.  In it, “purple haze” is used to describe the disorienting effect of sunspot activity on the inhabitants of a planet called Dante’s Joy.  The song is known for its use of the “Hendrix chord” (dominant 7 # 9) played as the first chord after the introduction. This chord structure was often used in jazz by artists such as Horace Silver in the early 1960s, but was not used in rock on a regular basis.

The intro itself is notable for its prominent use of the distinctive tritone interval, also used commonly by jazz musicians. It is sounded when Hendrix plays an E7 #9 (low to high: E, G#, B, D, G) on the guitar while the bass plays a B flat (and its octave); such a “dissonant” interval was unusual in popular music of the time.  Hendrix is introducing himself with the tritone, which is upside down to the tonic in the cycle of fifths.

That cements the relation of Breau’s chord to Hendrix, for Hendrix’s bassist played the flat five as well.  Here’s an article about the Hendrix chord.  Shapiro and Glebbeek claim that the Hendrix chord “is an example of how Hendrix would embellish chords “to add new colours to the music, often derived from his own roots in black music.”  “In essence,” one author has written, the Hendrix chord is “the whole of the blues scale condensed into a single chord.  In jazz, 7♯9 chords, along with 7♭9 chords, are often employed as the dominant chord in a minor ii-V-I turnaround.  For example, a ii V I in Cm could be played as: Dm7♭5 –G79 – Cm7.  So, as blues music uses the dominant seventh as a ‘home’ modality, the Hendrix chord is the home modality of Purple Haze, Foxy Lady, and Voodoo Chile.  The dominant 7♯9 chord was also used in impressionist classical music.  A good example can be heard in Claude Debussy‘s Feuilles Mortes (Dead Leaves, 1913), where the unresolved, dissonant ninth chords (at least a, “C#7with a “split third” and added minor ninth”) help create an, “utterly sad, desolate character,” throughout the piece.  Bruhn, Siglund (2007). Images and Ideas in Modern French Piano Music, p.172 and 174. ISBN 9780945193951.

A Fender article asks: “What is it about the 7#9 “Hendrix chord” that makes it sound so colorful, so huge, so dirty and so bluesy? The chord’s appeal lies in the fact that, like the blues scale from which it is derived, it is both major and minor at the same time, which is to say that it includes both the major third and minor third tones. Normally, these two notes sounded together would produce a naturally unpleasant dissonance, but the 7#9 “Hendrix chord” structure spreads the two notes far apart enough and includes enough root tones (and a seventh tone) to convey a singularly interesting and not at all unpleasant sound.”  The chord and scale are democratic in that neither third is more important, and any scale tone can be used with it.

An interesting contrast to the Hendrix chord is Richard Strauss’ Thus Spake Zarathustra, which “starts with a sustained double low C on the double basses, contrabassoon and organ. This transforms into the brass fanfare of the Introduction and introduces the “dawn” motif (from “Zarathustra’s Prologue”, the text of which is included in the printed score) that is common throughout the work: the motif includes three notes, in intervals of a fifth and octave, as C–G–C (known also as the Nature-motif).  On its first appearance, the motif is a part of the first five notes of the natural overtone series: octave, octave and fifth, two octaves, two octaves and major third (played as part of a C major chord with the third doubled). The major third is immediately changed to a minor third, which is the first note played in the work (E flat) that is not part of the overtone series.”  Strauss’ composition conveys the natural superiority of the major third, which is analogous to light, as the minor third is analogous to darkness.

Purple Haze: Purple haze all in my brain, lately things just don’t seem the same.  Acting funny, but I don’t know why.  ‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky.  Purple haze all around, don’t know if I’m coming up or down.  Am I happy or in misery?  Whatever it is, that girl put a spell on me.  Purple haze all in my eyes.  Don’t know if it’s day or night.  You’ve got me blowing, blowing my mind.  Is it tomorrow or just the end of time?

The disorientation of the lyrics is reflected in the the Hendrix chord; it doesn’t know if it’s major or minor.  The chord mixes a major third, on the fourth string, with a minor third, on the second string an octave higher; this doesn’t make musical sense, and yet the chord works, in its own way.  Breau played a Hendrix record to the child of his second wife, and she removed it from the turntable, threw it on the ground, and crushed it under her feet, saying, “This is evil.”  She was a Sunday school teacher.

The disorientation of Purple Haze is evident in the title and lyrics of If 6 was 9: If the sun refused to shine, I don’t mind, I don’t mind.  If the mountains fell in the sea, let it be, it ain’t me. ‘Cause I’ve got my own world to live through and I ain’t gonna copy you.  Now, if 6 turned out to be 9, I don’t mind, I don’t mind.  If all the hippies cut off all their hair, I don’t care, I don’t care.  ‘Cause I’ve got my own world to live through and I ain’t gonna copy you.  White-collar conservatives flashing down the street pointing their plastic finger at me.  They’re hoping soon my kind will drop and die, but I’m gonna wave my freak flag high.  Fall mountains, just don’t fall on me.  Point on mister businessman, you can’t dress like me.  I’ve got my own life to live.  I’m the one that’s gotta die when it’s time for me to die so let me live my life the way I want to.

David Crosby interpreted Hendrix’s freak flag as a symbol of long hair in the song Almost Cut My Hair:Almost cut my hair, it happened just the other day.  It was getting kind of long.  I could have said it was in my way.  But I didn’t and I wonder why.  I feel like letting my freak flag fly.  Yes I feel like I owe it to someone.”  Cutting long hair is a castration symbol; long hair equals long phallis.  Crosby expresses castration anxiety in this song.  Maybe he felt he owed the preservation of his locks to victims of social institutions such as law court and church.  Crosby bragged, “I figured that the only thing to do was steal their kids. I still think it’s the only thing to do…I’m not talking about kidnapping…but about changing young people’s value system.”  Reggae singer David Hinds was the victim of taxi drivers, on account of his locks.  Hinds no longer erects his locks.

The Hendrix chord from Purple Haze is found on the album Are You Experienced.  The title track suggests an aesthetic: “If you can just get your mind together then come on across to me.  We’ll hold hands and then we’ll watch the sunrise from the bottom of the sea.  But first, are you experienced?  Have you ever been experienced?  Well I have.  I know you probably scream and cry that your little world won’t let you go.  But who in your measly little world are you trying to prove that you’re made out of gold and can’t be sold?  So are you experienced?  Have you ever been experienced?  Well I have.  Let me prove you.  Trumpets and violins I can hear in distance; I think they’re calling our names.  Maybe now you can’t hear them, but you will if you just take hold of my hand.  Oh, but are you experienced?  Have you ever been experienced?  Not necessarily stoned, but beautiful.”  The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and the Hendrix chord, offer a new conception of beauty.  Hendrix’s sentence, “Let me prove it to you,” is followed by a backwards guitar solo which is a sort of precursor to the jazz rock that Miles Davis would play a few years later, for the solo contains notes from both major and minor scales.  No notes are off limits.

The keynote, Ab, is played throughout by what sounds like a piano, in a manner recalling the function of the tanpura in raga.  Unlike Indian classical raga, where notes are classified as characters in a drama, the improvisation in Are You Experienced is like that in most, if not all, raga inspired psychedelic rock – any note goes.  If classical Indian raga is analogous to a formal dinner party, psychedelic raga rock is analogous to a wild party where people come and go as they please, and the host is indistinguishable from the guests.  The latter recalls Cohens The Guests: “No one knows where the night is going, and no one knows why the wine is flowing.”

Carlos Santana: “A lot of hearts, they’re like in a swamp, you know, and guitars are like cranes to pull people’s hearts from self-imposing misery [laughs].  How’s that?!  And then they put them in a place where people can fly…What Jimi did, the electric guitar was an extension of his goals and his goals were like to literally live in a world that wasn’t screwed up like it was in the ’60s.  When every time you turn around Martin Luther King, or someone really important, was getting shot.  All of Jimi Hendrix’s music tells a tale of the ’60s and also of the future.  It’s not just about Cherokees or black Americans or the blues.  Those are just the pencils and the brushes.  The colours and the emotions to me are stories that we can learn so we don’t have to make the same mistakes.”  “Everyone was using tiny brushes and doing watercolors, while Jimi Hendrix was painting galactic scenes in Cinemascope. We are working in a field of mystical resonance, sound and vibration… that’s what makes people cry, laugh and feel their hair stand up.

Santana’s Samba pa ti was written to express the compassion he felt for a black man he saw in a back alley holding a saxophone in one hand and a bottle of liquor in the other, undecided which to connect his mouth to.  Santana: “He just came out like Michael Tyson, when Michael Tyson would knock guys [out] in 3 seconds.  There’s a certain ‘stance’.  That’s what Miles Davis said: ‘I can tell whether a person can play just by the way he stands, you know.’  He had a certain stance, man.  He was all over that Strat and had supreme confidence, that’s all I can say.”

Santana: “My favourite part that I miss about Jimi is when he would open up certain channels and let certain demons and angels dance together, you know what I mean – that it was beyond ‘B’ flat or ‘C’ flat.  That’s when it’s music to me.  Anybody can play music just like anybody can think.  Very few people are conscious and very few people can do something beyond the note.  So thank God that Jimi had that kind of spirit that…the foundation was the blues but he also was a very cosmic person [laughs].”  Hendrix’s aesthetic goals may have been similar to Breau’s: “I’d like to get something together – like a Handel, Bach, Muddy Waters, flamenco type of thing.  If I could get that sound, I’d be happy.”

The Hendrix chord suggests another possible explanation of Breau’s signature chord.  Though the bell melody is in C major, the chord could be considered an E minor seventh with a flat five bass, Bb, just as the E chord in Purple Haze is grounded with a flat five, Bb.  They even share the same key, so that may be what Breau was thinking when constructing his arrangement.  This would make sense of the chord coming after a i-Vi-ii-V and before the i; the chord is an extension of the preceding V chord.  If this is so, it really is a perverse way to perceive the bell tones – through the purple and hazy lens of the Hendrix chord as played in context of his archetypal drug song, Purple Haze.  I think that’s it – I nailed it there.  The five o’clock bells called to Breau’s mind white French Canadians sitting in pews across from his flat, and he wanted to introduce some color to the sound and the vision that it represented (I like to play sounds you can see with your eyes closed).  In his mind’s eye he saw stiff white folks and through harmonic manipulation he transfigured his mental vision with elements of the Hendrix chord – a spash of wild color and some haze to obscure the harsh clarity of the morning.

JIMI HENDRIX’ girlfriend, Fayne Pridgon, said: “He used to always talk about some devil or something was in him, you know. He didn’t know what made him act the way he acted and what made him say the things he said, and the songs and different things like that … just came out of him. It seems to me he was so tormented and just torn apart and like he really was obsessed, you know, with something really evil” (sound track from film Jimi Hendrix, interview with Fayne Pridgon, side 4, cited by Heartbeat of the Dragon, p. 50).

Hendrix once said, “I can explain everything better through music. YOU HYPNOTIZE PEOPLE… And when you get people at their weakest point you can preach into the subconscious what we want to say.  That’s why the name “electric church’ flashes in and out.”

English poet William Blake wrote: “To generalize is to be an idiot.”  At the risk of being an idiot, I wonder if one can generalize about the inspiration and aspiration of musical genres.  According to Little Richard, David Bowie, and other rock artists, rock music is infernal.  David Bowie: “Rock has always been the devil’s music, you can’t convince me that it isn’t. I honestly believe everything I’ve said—I believe rock and roll is dangerous.  It could well bring about a very evil feeling in the West. I do want to rule the world.  I feel that we’re only heralding something even darker than ourselves” (Rolling Stone, February 12, 1976, p. 83).  Little Richard: “My true belief about Rock ‘n’ Roll–and there have been a lot of phrases attributed to me over the years–is this: I believe this kind of music is demonic.  I have seen the rock groups and the punk-rock people in this country.  And some of their lyrics is demonic.  A lot of the beats in music today are taken from voodoo, from the voodoo drums. If you study music in rhythms, like I have, you’ll see that is true.  I believe that kind of music is driving people from Christ.  It is contagious.  I believe God wants people to turn from Rock ‘n’ Roll to the Rock of Ages – to get ready for eternal life.” (The Life and Times of Little Richard, 197).  “I was directed and commanded by another [205] power.  The power of darkness.  The power that you’ve heard so much about.  The power that  lot of people don’t believe exists.  The power of the Devil.  Satan.  We must realize that there’s a force that is fighting against us in this world.” (206)  Based on statements of Northrop Frye and John Coltrane, jazz is purgatorial.  According to theologian Karl Barth, cadential classical music, specifically that of Mozart, is paradisal.  Tartini’s Devil’s Trill is one diabolical exception.

The musical elements of Five O’Clock Bells suggest that Breau identified himself with black jazz and rock musicians Miles Davis (nicknamed the prince of darkness) and Jimi Hendrix and found this identity more interesting than that of white Catholics.  Breau’s song validates Cohen’s comments concerning his song There is a War [between black and white…]: “Even in the midst of this flood, or catastrophe which we are in – these are the days of the flood, these are the final days – in a sense all of the institutions are and have been swept away, and the ethical question is what is the proper behaviour, what is the appropriate behaviour in the midst of a catastrophe?”  Cohen answered this question when accepting the hospitality of a Japanese Zen master in a monastery.

The literary hero conquers darkness to usher in light.  The musical hero triumphs over the dissonant seventh chord with the ruling tonic chord.  The bells frame the tonic chord, yet Breau represents this chord in the context of a chord derived from the dissonant seventh chord of the relative minor.  He is effectively identifying himself with discord.  His leitmotif presents two tonal languages, cadential tonality expressing a Christian worldview and an Afro-American tonal language expressing rebellion against the Christian worldview, in which light, life, and concord triumph over death, darkness, and discord.  In the African aesthetic, as manifest in the clave, light and dark, concord and discord, life and death have no greater value, but are part of a continuum.

Bruce Cockburn has a song called The Trouble with Normal.  The lyrics reflect a paranoid state of mind anxious about any form of external control or repression.  The musical norm is the harmonic triad derived from the natural phenomena of the harmonic series.  From the perspective of this harmonic norm Breau’s representation of bells is abnormal, as is the social and spiritual vision that the representation conveys.  The same could be said for the paranoia of Cockburn’s song; it is abnormal, for a clash of wills and consequent subjection of will is normal in society.  The triad is my trump card.  One can’t argue against the triad; it just is.  How it is interpreted is another matter.

The will and consciousness of the dominant chord seems analogous to that of the human body, which wills corporeal members to do as they like, as in a blues jam or a funk groove any note fits.  The dominant chord seems to have a democratic inclination.  The will and consciousness of the tonic chord seems analogous to that of the human mind, which wills corporeal members to submit their instincts to the natural law of conscience, as derivative tones submit to the ruling tonic in a classical sonata.  The cadence represses the will of the dominant so that it conform to the natural norm of the harmonic triad.  The tonic chord seems to have an autocratic disposition.  Nature is autocratic.  The sun doesn’t mind everyone lying in its glow, as long as they recognize the source of the glow and express appreciation.

Perhaps Atkins and Breau are analogous to tonic and dominant chords, respectively.  Atkins personified the simple clarity of day and concord.  Breau chose to identify with darkness and discord, and found a world of colors in the labyrinths of discord.  My own aesthetic is perhaps a compromise between those of Atkins and Breau.  The Apollonian cadence dominates and yet the Dionysian discord is part of the body of tonal reality and should not be negated or discarded; together these competing principles make a world of complementary sound.

The title of the song is Five O’Clock Bells.  The subject of the song, Breau, hears the bells in the distance.  The sound of the bells is in the key of C major, and yet the sound is framed in a chord derived from the dominant chord of a 2-5-1- progression in the key of the relative minor, A-.  As Wagner identified himself with the Tristan chord, a half-diminished chord, related to the dominant chord, so Breau identified himself with a Bb altered chord, also related to the dominant.

The Hendrix chord is featured in The Doors’ Break on Through (to the Other Side); Robby Kreiger can be seen to play the chord an octave higher than Hendrix at the fourteenth fret, from 1:53-1:58.  The chord fits the theme of the song, which seems to describe a transition from the Apollonian light of reason to the Dionysian darkness of unbridled passion: “You know the day destroys the night, night divides the day, tried to run, tried to hide, break on through to the other side.  We chased our pleasures here, dug our treasures there, but can you still recall the time we cried break on through to the other side.  I found an island in your arms, a country in your eyes, arms that chain us, eyes that lie, break on through to the other side.

Hendrix and Keaggy

There seems a deep need among some for the greatest guitarist in the world to be an American Protestant.  This need would account for the apocryphal story concerning Hendrix and Christian fingerstylist Phil Keaggy.  A story would circulate widely and persistently concerning Keaggy and Hendrix.  It has been said that during an episode of The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson asked Hendrix, “Who is the best guitarist in the world?”  Hendrix is said to have answered, “Phil Keaggy.”  Another version of the story has Hendrix being asked, “Jimi, how does it feel to be the world’s greatest guitar player?” To which Hendrix supposedly replied, “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask Phil Keaggy!”  This account is sometimes attributed to a magazine interview in either Rolling Stone or Guitar Player.

Occasionally the story has the setting for the question being the Dick Cavett Show.  Other versions have the question being posed to Eric Clapton.   A more recent variant has Eddie Van Halen being asked the question by either David Letterman or Barbara Walters.  Keaggy has long insisted that such stories are completely unfounded, noting that “it was impossible that Jimi Hendrix could ever have heard me…We…recorded our first album at Electric Lady Studios two weeks after his unfortunate death, so I just can’t imagine how he could’ve heard me. I think it’s just a rumor that someone’s kept alive, and it must be titillating enough to keep an interest there…So I don’t think it was said…and that’s it for that!”

At the time Keaggy recorded his first album at Hendrix’s studio in 1970, Keaggy was nineteen years old.  One song of Keaggy’s in particular, “Can You See Me,” reflected his newfound Christian faith, with its reference to Jesus’ death.  Keaggy recalls, “It was recorded in New York City in about a week.  Even though I had bronchitis and had to sing one verse at a time, it worked out.  And I was even able to get in a witness for the Lord Jesus in “Can You See Me” and “Look in the Sky.”  Peter Thompson raises the possibility that “the whole thing is a genuine CCM Urban Legend.  It could be interesting to go into the reasons WHY Christians would want to believe this, but I don’t have time, ability, or inclination.”

I think the American religious conscience, which views conscience as linked to a morality inherent in all humans and to divinity, requires that the greatest be connected to divine energy, to the Holy Spirit.

Breau’s Impressionist Chord

Breau could be seen to have expanded the vocabulary of the Hendrix chord with his Impressionist Chord, which he described: “I play a chord and then I put a harmonic on the bottom [note] of the chord…[that] raises it up an octave and it gives you a cluster.”  Tal Farlow: “Lenny Breau plays a harmonic under the chord, he showed me how to do it but I don’t do it too well. By making the harmonic on the fourth or fifth string, the bottom voice moves up an octave in between the other notes, where it wouldn’t be possible to finger them. He gets a very good close harmony sound that way. He uses a thumb pick all the time, so that makes it easier for him and he plays fast with it.”  The cluster brings notes that were formerly stratified according to class and social standing closely together and may comprise a scale, which democraticizes the notes of the scale, as they are all found in the chord, so none has more importance, necessarily.  The cluster also does away with the neeed for tonal sacrifice.  The notes come and go as they will, with no prominent notes to boss the others around.  Here we see a musical correspondence to Breau’s will-less lifestyle.

In his arrangement of Tyner’s Vision Breau stacks fourths to make a chord, thus eliminating the interval of the third.  This is another means of democraticizing tones.  The traditional association of major tonality with light and minor tonality with darkness may remain, but neither tonality has ascendancy over the other.  The primeval war of light and dark is negated.  There is no hero, for there is no triumph or conflict.

Northrop Frye: “Every good lyrical poet has a certain structure of imagery as typical of him as his handwriting, held together by certain recurring metaphors, and sooner or later he will produce one or more poems that seem to be at the core of that structure.  These poems are in the formal sense his mythical poems, and they are for the critic the imaginative keys to his work.  The poet himself often recognizes such a poem by making it the title poem of a collection.  They are not necessarily his best poems, but they often are, and in a Canadian poet they display those distinctive themes we have been looking for which reveal his reaction to his natural and social environment.  Nobody but a geniune poet ever produces such a poem, and they cannot be faked or imitated or voluntarily constructed…Such poems enrich not only our poetic experience but our cultural knowledge as well.” (Bush Garden, 179)  The same could be said for a musician.

The title track to Breau’s comeback album is Five O’Clock Bells.  The song he recorded most may have been Vision, which closes Five O’Clock Bells.  The leitmotif of Five O’Clock Bells, combining polychord and polyrhythm is an imaginative key, as is Breau’s Vision chord, which stacks fourths, and the chromaticism it inspires in the melodic soloing.  Vision is in the tradition of Davis’ free jazz, an improvisation in which any note is acceptable.  Indeed, Breau plays every note in the chromatic scale in the version from this album.  The reaction to his social environment that these imaginative keys suggests is one of indiscriminate inclusivenss.

Tyner’s song Vision is from his 1968 Blue Note album Expansions.  The cover features a close up of Tyner with a Che Guevara like expression.  “Why is the world the way it is and how can I make it the way I want it to be?”  The pianist is portrayed behind bars.  The melody of the bridge consists of three notes, A, B, and E, repeated three times in three harmonic contexts.  The first context is G major to A dominant seventh, the second is D major to E minor, and the third is C major to D dominant seventh.  The melodic notes are the fourth, fifth, and tonic of the key, and as such they assert the power of the ruling tonic.  The absence of a third in the tonic chord suggests an abandonment of the light – dark, major – minor struggle, and yet the melodic verse use the minor blues scale.  This scale, coupled with the assertive tone, suggests that the song portrays a vision of black power.

Tyner’s piano solo on Vision uses all of the chromatic scale, yet remains in a minor key framework.  Ron Carter’s cello solo is much more free, as he plays with major and minor, and slides up and down the neck in a way that challenges the fixities of the tonal system.  The horn solos are in a free jazz idiom.  The song has an angry and aggressive quality as if impatient to realize a social order consistent with the dynamics of the music.  Breau’s version is unique in that it has a kinder, gentler tone, and he modulates to the major key before returning to the head, or melodic theme.  Breau’s modulation to the major sonority brings some brightness to Tyner’s relatively dark and anarchic version of Vision.

In Five O’Clock Bells and Vision Breau attempts to reconclie the black aesthetics of Hendrix, Davis, and Tyner to the aesthetics of his upbringing, signified by the bells of his signature song and the major sonority of Vision.  In these imaginative keys to Breau’s work he envisions the transfiguration of African, and perhaps East Indian, aesthetics to a beatific vision drawn from his Catholic heritage.

The pronouns used in Five O’Clock Bells reveal the state of the singer.  The first verse, “I can’t sleep, it’s too late now,” indicate a noctural setting consistent with the minor key.  The phrase “’cause I hear,” is followed by the bell melody played over a dissonant chord substituting for the dominant.  The first chours, “If I could but see,” is followed by a Hendrix chord grounded with a flat five bass note.  The dissonant chord substituting for the dominant, and its original context from Hendrix’s Purple Haze, suggest that the singer desires a vision of the bells from a drugged state of consciousness, akin to the disoriented state of Hendrix in Purple Haze.

The second verse, “If you lend an ear you will hear,” is the singer’s invitation to his audience to join in his altered perception of the bells.  The second chorus, “How I love to hear,” superficially indicates the singer’s fondness for his altered perception of the bells; the phrase implies that the singer does not love a normal perception of the bells and the deity they represent.  The pronouns suggest that Breau’s music at this time was a form of rebellion against his Maker.  He loved Renoir and wanted to portray a hazy impression of bells, of the deity.  Music is my God; he didn’t like a white or harshly clear deity.

Here’s a new insight.  By inverting the harmony of the bells Breau was bringing color into the communion of souls. “I think in terms of the colors and the inversions of the chords.  When I play chords, I think of the inversions because every inversion has its own color.  If one color is blue another may also be blue, but a different shade.  Everytime you play a different inversion that shade will change.  That’s why I think of painting with the guitar, because when you mix colors you get different shades.”  So his painting with chords was really a spiritual vision.  I discovered this not through an effort of will but through a creative process.  “Lenny looked right at me and he said, ‘So you have to take music as a religion.  You have to say: “music, I’m your student for life.”‘ And that’s where he’d always been musically.”  Breau, to Raj Rathor, a week before his murder  Brad Mehldau: “Jazz is always not been afraid to take from anything and then transfiguring it and really raise it up to another level.”  Maybe Breau was transfiguring Hendrix in Five O’Clock Bells.   Mehldau: “Life would be more grey without rock’n’roll!

Music, like poetry, has two poles: content and form.  The form is the harmonic, melodic, rhythmic structure.  The content is the personal data the musician brings into the form.  How do musicians use major and minor, cadences, rhythmic motifs?  This manifests their musical vision.  Music like poetry, cannot be written by an act of will.  It is involuntary, and the musician submits to the creative process.  Frye stated: “Literature can derive its forms only from itself.”  The forms of literature can only come from literature itself.  The forms of comedy, romance, tragedy, and satire are parts of a meta-narrative concering the creation, fall, and redemption of humanity.  Similarly, music comes from pre-existing forms.  Minor keys are tragic, blues and discordant flamenco forms are satirical, major keys are comic and romantic.  Light and summmer make romance the literary norm as the triad makes major key forms, such as sonata, the musical norm.

You have to love [music] to the point where it means everything to you

Breau considered music to be a form of prayer.  Music and poetry offer means to express complex dynamics between humanity and divinity.  Many psalms begin in a state of conflict with divine will, yet resolve to a state of harmony.  Ralph Waldo Emerson called prayer a disease of the will.  The initial lack of ease caused by a conflict of wills can be resolved by submitting to the higher will.

Triadic Tonality and Trinitarian Theology

Lydia Goehr writes: “The claim regarding philosophy’s identity with music has not lost any of its impact: it carries as much weight today under the pressures of poststructuralist analyses of ‘negative theology,’ absence, presence, and infinite interpretation, as it carried in German Romanticism” (217).  Goehr’s claim is based on a logocentric perception of philosophy and music, and therefore it counters that of Downing Thomas, who believes that it “is insufficient” to call music “a version of logocentricism”; Thomas bases this dubious belief on the opinion that “the overarching compass of logocentrism cannot be expected to fully explain the meanings of particular discourses on music” (17, 18).  However, all such discourses must recognize “harmonic intervals”, which, Thomas acknowledges, “can be judged according to the universals of mathematical knowledge” (26).  The significance of logocentricism encompasses the universally intelligible phenomenon of harmonic intervals. 

Goehr’s claim also counters that of Susan McClary, who insists “that music is a socially constructed discourse rather than a manifestation of metaphysics” (183, note 2).  McClary also denies that music is a manifestation of physics when stating: “in most tonal music of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, nothing less will suffice for purposes of concluding pieces than complete resolution onto the triad.  Equivocal endings, not coincidentally, are few and far between.  Yet the fact that most listeners do not know how to account for the overwhelming push for closure they experience in this music means that it often seems like a force of nature rather than a human ideological construct” (62). 

In the light of such negative claims it is ironic that McClary cites the following passage by twentieth century composer Arnold Schoenberg, for it implies that music is a manifestation of both metaphysics and physics:

Of course the idea of closing with the same tone one began with has something decidely right about it and also gives a certain impression of being natural.  Since indeed all the simple relationships derive from the simplest natural aspects of the tone (from its first overtones), the fundamental tone then has a certain sovereignty over the structures emanating from it just because the most important components of these structures are, so to speak, its satraps, its advocates, since they derive from its splendor…I think that would indeed be enough to explain why one is justified in obeying the will of the fundamental tone: gratefulness to the progenitor and dependence on him.  He is Alpha and Omega” (Theory of Harmony, 128; from McClary, 105-6). 

Despite the irony in Schoenberg’s imagery, his representation of equivocal endings as both a force of nature and an analogy of metaphysics counters McClary’s claims.  However, she distances Schoenberg from this representation by introducing the passage with the assertion that “Schoenberg lays bare the inherited binarisms he detests” (105) and by opposing his views to those of one of his contemporaries, Heinrich Schenker: “What Schenker continued to hold as sacrosanct – rational tonal procedure, dissonance regulation, and laws of necessary closure – Schoenberg perceived as oppressive conventions, rather than immutable or natural” (105).  In this same treatise, however, Schoenberg allies himself with Schenker, stating that he “is in my opinion worthy of attention and respect just because he is one of the few who are really striving for a system; still more, of course, because he loves and understands the works of the older art with the same fervor as I” (408).  Schenker’s perception of a relation between musical and metaphysical systems is evident in his description of tonal harmony “as a purely spiritual universe, a system of ideally moving forces” (Harmony, xxv).

Contrary to McClary’s claims, music is not merely a socially constructed discourse as its ratios are a manifestation of physics, the order of which has provided conceptual models of a metaphysical Logos for millenia.  In spite of these facts, McClary follows Bloom in denying the efficacy of music in relation to Logos: “to the very great extent that Western culture is logocentric, music itself always gives the impression of being in excess, of being mad – and thus Barthes’ statement…‘In relation to the writer, the composer is always mad (and the writer can never be so, for he is condemned to meaning)’” (102).  

The enduring meaning of music in the face of fluctuating philosophical trends is due to the intrinsic relation between ratio, Logos, and music.  That these relations were recognized in the ancient world is evident in the observations of Quentin Faulkner, that the word rational “originally [meant] in ‘tune’ with the Pythagorean ratios” (147), David Fideler, that, “In the mathematical and Pythagorean sense”, Logos is “the same as the Latin ratio” (333), and Daniel Chua, that ancient “music was ratio-nality itself” (15).  Victor Zuckerkandl claims that the same relations apply to all music in his recognition that the systematic “mode of existence – as relation, ratio, logos – is an essential characteristic of music” (Man, 291).  The only way that music could be characterized as alogon is if one were to reject its intrinsic order.  Lucia Dlugoszenski describes the result of her attempt to experience music in this way: “I soon found that to repudiate Logos totally reduced one to a very limited and fragile world.

Experiencing music through the senses as a kind of relative, hedonistic, irresponsible selfish pleasure degenerates into an effete personal aestheticism where no two people can agree” (5).  In affirming the Logos, Dlugoszenski conceives of it with a breadth which allows for the inclusion of a vital role for music: “The sweeping universality of Logos could give musical expression a new dimension in contemporary history – not some whimsical partial application, which seems to me the direct antithesis of Logos.  But what this comprehensive application will be is still difficult to understand, and lies in the future” (4). Dlugoszenski’s hopeful conception of the comprehensive application of music in the context of a universal Logos seems to me a healthy counter trend to the narrow views of the past few centuries, including the views of Bloom, Thomas, and McClary, in which music is excluded from the Logos.

The intrinsic rationality of music accounts for its central role in ancient education, in accordance with Plato’s claim that “education in music is most sovereign, because more than anything else rhythm and harmony find their way to the inmost soul” (Republic, 3.401d).  In accepting such a claim Bloom seems to contradict his earlier statement that music is alogon, for he states that “music is at the center of education…The centrality of such education was recognized by all the ancient educators.  It is hardly noticed today that in Aristotle’s Politics the most important passages about the best regime concern musical education” (72).  This centrality is also suggested by Cicero in the preface to his Tusculan Disputations, in which he states: “’Everybody learned music, and anyone ignorant of it was thought educationally deficient.’” (from Strohm, Appendix, 14, 398).  Bloom’s comments take on greater significance within the context of a previous statement in which he identifies education with civilization and art: “Civilization or, to say the same thing, education is the taming or domestication of the soul’s raw passions…as art” (71).  Music is not alogon.  Rather it epitomizes the Logos, lying as it does at the center of art, education, and civilization, due to its provision of a model for the psyche.

The scale derives from the harmonic series, which Leonard Bernstein describes in universal terms: “All music – whether folk, pop, symphonic, modal, tonal, atonal, polytonal, microtonal, well-tempered or ill-tempered, music from the distant past or the immediate future – all of it has a common origin in the universal phenomenon of the harmonic series” (33).  

Stuart Isacoff limits the harmonic overtones forming the basis of music to three in his reference to the recognition of French Classical music theorist Jean Philippe Rameau that “all music stems from the natural action of a vibrating body which, by natural law, emits, in its first few overtones (the octave, third, and fifth), the ‘perfect chord.’” (220).  In terms of the ‘natural’ laws of physics, then, the first three different notes just happen to be, not doremi, but domisol – the first, third, and fifth notes of a musical scale.  Concerning these three notes, Isacoff comments that “they whisper their support for those theorists who for centuries had declared these to be the purest, most natural, and most perfect harmonies of all” (179).  One such theorist is Rameau, who regards these harmonies emanating from the harmonic series as a first principle: “What fecundity there is in this phenomenon!  Can one refuse to consider a phenomenon which is so unique, so abundant, so rational, if I may use this term, as a common principle of all the arts in general, or at least of all the fine arts?  Is it not reasonable, in fact, to believe that Nature, simple as she is in her general laws, might have only a single principle for all things which seem to be related to one another in that they excite the same sensations in us, such as the arts destined to give us the feeling of beauty?” (from Harmonies, 107-108).

The triadic tones exist in nature as a single entity.  Physicist Juan Roederer notes that “one single tone of frequency…will give rise to additional pitch sensations when it is very loud.  These additional tones, called aural harmonics, correspond to frequencies that are integer multiples of the original frequency” (36).  Although Thomas Christensen observes that eighteenth century theorist Joseph Sauveur “made the incredible claim that if one listened attentively, one could hear up to the 128th partial” (137), Christensen adds: “Sauveur nonetheless emphasized – as would Rameau – that the third and fifth partials were the most conspicuous” (note 14, 137).  Indeed, Christensen recognizes that Rameau limited the aural harmonics to three: “The corps sonore…generates directly only the major triad through the harmonic series….The terms that exceeded the sixth partial – the term Rameau unwaveringly held as the audible limit of the corps sonore – were not acoustically perceptible partials but rather derivative terms occasioned by the corps sonore” (299).  Nineteenth century Franciscan theorist Peter Singer also indicates a correspondence between aural harmonics and the triad when claiming that the three tones of the triad, “although quite different from one another, sound like a single and perfect tone, completely at rest in itself” (from Harmony, 364).

Singer offers proof for this statement in the following comments:

Beside the evidence of the musical ear, large organs likewise give proof of this, where every tone sounds accompanied by its whole triad, both in each pipe and with the [mixtures of the] full organ, without the unity of any tone being thereby disturbed or destroyed.  Indeed, if the three tones did not appear as a unity, the full organ would be quite unusable, for the actual playing of a triad would be unbearable to the ear, since it would hear in these three components the most jarring dissonances.  For example, with the triad CEG sound CEG, EG#B, and GBD; yet for all that, the ear hears only the tones CEG, evident proof that the complete, perfectly tuned triad sounds like a single perfect tone (note 2, 471).

 While accepting the perfection of the triad, Zuckerkandl distinguishes it from an individual tone:

The triad is what no individual tone can be: demand and fulfillment, striving and consummation in one.  For this reason it is self-contained, perfect.  Separation and union, initial conflict and final reconciliation, are here embodied in one sound, which may be said to symbolize, to contain in germ, everything that art music offers in fully developed form.  As a symbol, the triad is situated outside time, yet not in space – at least not in the usual sense of the totality of loci where all things are situated – but in a form of supertime, which ancient and modern mystics call ‘the moment of eternal duration.’  Reversing the Platonic saying that time is the moving image of immobile eternity, one might call the triad the eternally immobile image of moving time (Musician, 124).

Accepting the respective views of Rameau and Zuckerkandl that the harmonic triad is the universal principle of nature and the image of moving time, one would expect that it is also the image of a metaphysical principle.  Christensen indicates that Rameau satisfied such an expectation, for he states that “the corps sonore [major triad] permeates nature; the world surrounding us is full of continually vibrating, pulsating matter resonating the proportions of the corps sonore….From the corps sonore and its divisions into a seemingly endless series of aliquot divisions and aliquant multiples, we receive the idea of infinity.  It is the ‘first cause’ of the other arts and sciences in exactly the same way God is the first cause of the universe: (297).

A century after Rameau, English Romantic poet and philosopher Coleridge described a more lucid metaphysical principle when proposing that the Christian Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the “the Idea itself – that Idea Idearum [Idea of Ideas], the one substrative truth which is the form, manner and involvement of all truths”; “The Trinity is indeed the primary Idea, out of which all other Ideas are evolved…in which are hidden all the Treasures of Knowledge” (Remains, 227; Notebooks, 5294).  The following statements indicate that Coleridge regarded music as the ultimate symbol of the Trinity: “An IDEA, in the highest sense of that word, cannot be conveyed but by a symbol; and, except in geometry, all symbols of necessity involve an apparent contradiction” (Biographia, 156); the exception of geometry evidently extended to music, for Coleridge describes it as “the best symbol” (Lectures, I, 196).  This description may be justified by considering that the musical triad is an exception to what Christensen calls “the famous conundrum first proposed by Parmenides and the Eleatics, ‘one’ (unity) cannot simultaneously be the source of ‘many’ (diversity) without contradicting its nature” (76).

Robert Barth attests to the orthodoxy of the doctrine of the Trinity when stating that, “In both eastern and western theology, the Trinity has been conceived in terms of a “triad”: the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit eternally co-existing, and co-existing as well in the order of conception – the Father eternally begetting the Son, the Spirit eternally proceeding from both.  The conception is at the same time dynamic and scrupulously faithful to belief in the equality and eternity of the three Persons.  This triad is, however, also a “monad.”  Hence it is possible to conceive of it as “a Trinity in Unity and a Unity in Trinity” (92-3).  Gunton describes the Idea of the Trinity more specifically as “a dynamic dialectic between the oneness and the threeness of God of such a kind that the two are both given equal weight in the processes of thought.  Thinking about God denies [the] mind rest in either unity or plurality” (150).  Following from this last statement, Gunton recognizes that the Trinity is characterized by both perichoresis, as “the three divine persons are all bound up with each other, so that one is not one without the other two”, and particularity, “which in trinitarian theology is a way of pointing to the distinctness of the persons” (153).

Twentieth century theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar regards the interpenetration of unity and multiplicity within all being as “a trace, an image, of eternal, triune Being” (Theo-Drama, III, 525).   Late Baroque theorist Andreas Werckmeister, Jan Chiapusso notes, “presents the idea that music is a metaphysical being, a living reality, like a creature of God, which has its existence in the mind of the Creator.  Through it, he says, we get a foretaste of heavenly harmony.  The German term for this veritable being, ein ordentliches Wesen, is pregnant with philosophical implications, ordentlich referring to the unequivocal and positive reality of its spiritual existence, as well as to its inherent well-regulated nature….By responding in our hearts to this metaphysical being, music, we experience a promise of future complete wisdom: ‘By means of music we receive a mental presentation of God’s wisdom.’” (135, 136).  

An analogical relation between music and metaphysics is evident in German Baroque music theorist Johannes Lippius’ perception of the musical triad as an image of the metaphysical Trinity: “The triad is the image of that great mystery, the divine and solely adorable Unitrinity (I cannot think of a semblance more lucid).  All the more, therefore, should theologians and philosophers direct their attention to it” (from German, 233).  History confirms that Lippius’ advice was heeded by succeeding generations of philosophers, if not by theologians.  This theological neglect of music accounts for Faulkner’s statement that churches in the nineteenth century were unable to produce “a broad-based, comprehensive, coherent theological explanation of the significance and function of music in relation to the church.  Music (for that matter all the arts) had become a theological orphan.  In fact, no important theological movement, either in the nineteenth or twentieth century, has concerned itself in any profound way with the significance of harmony, order, or beauty” (190).