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, Ethnicity, and Tonality
Major Harmony a Birthright of All
Musical Vision of Lenny Breau
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
“Perhaps my main fault at the moment is that I have a natural feeling for the minor,’ Coltrane apologized in 1965. ‘I’d like to do more things in the major.”
“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
“As long as we remain among the whites, the Negro will believe that the devil is black and that he (the Negro) favors the devil, and that God is white and that he (the Negro) bears no resemblance to Him, and the effects of such a sentiment is contemptuous and degrading.” Bishop Henry M. Turner: “God is a Negro”, 1898
“Consciousness of the [major] chord of nature is a distinguishing feature of the people of the West.” Felix-Eberhard von Cube
There is evidence of ethnic strife among musicians that should be recognized and surmounted. 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, and Donny Hathaway tastefully throws in some blue notes in his version.
I assert that concord is a birthright of every human being. It is time to realize the dream of Martin Luther King “to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood,” not to mention sisterhood. It is interesting to note that the melody of many national anthems outlines the notes of the major triad in the opening notes. Star Spangled Banner begins with 5, 3, 1, 3. 5, and 8, over the words ‘O say can you see?’. O Canada begins with 3, 5, 5, 1, over the words ‘O Canada’ and ‘God keep our land,’ in the first and second verses, respectively. The French anthem, ‘La Marsellaise,’ begins with 5, 5, 1, 1, 3, 3, 5, 3, 1. The Australian anthem, begins with 5, 1, 5, 3, 5, 1, 1, 1, over the words ‘Australians let us all rejoice.’ Similarly, the gospel song Amazing Grace begins with 5, 1, 3, 2, 1, 3. John Coltane’s song, Welcome, begins 5, 5, 5, 5, 3, 1. I think this song expresses Coltrane’s desire to feel welcome in America and its churches, such as the one that he practiced in as a child. In the film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, extraterrestrials communicate a melody to mankind that outlines the notes of a triad: 1, 5, 2, 3, 1; this melody seems to derive from a phrase in Coltrane’s song, Love.
Al Einstein: “There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.” 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 is 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
The harmonic triad of a major chord 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 do–re–mi, but do–mi–sol – 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?
Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin agrees in the following passage: “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.” To this description of the triad, Saint-Martin adds the observation that, “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.” 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.”
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.
Major Harmony a Birthright of All
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 major 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.
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.
Musical Vision of Lenny Breau
I got the idea for a performance theme called Racial Harmony by exploring the musical vision of Breau. He saw himself as a musical painter and so I was looking at the songs and motifs he covered from Afro-American music and it all seemed to be dark and discordant. His music left me with a negative stereotype of colored music in general. When he covered songs of his black jazz heroes he invariably covered blues songs or songs in a minor key. Examples are Coltrane’s Impressions and Mister Night, McCoy Tyner’s Ebony Queen and Vision, and Miles Davis’ All Blues, Milestones, and Nardis. He mixed the Afro-American purple haze chord to the cathedral bells in Five O’Clock Bells, and he mixed major tonality in every version of his arrangements of McCoy Tyner’s Vision (except one) and Ebony Queen that I’ve heard; Tyner’s original versions are void of major tonality.
The colors that Breau got from colored music are dark: ebony, purple, and blue. The brighter side that he ignored is evident, for examples, in the major tonality of Coltrane’s After the Rain and Dear Lord, Davis’ In a Silent Way, and Hendrix’ Wind Cries Mary. Breau’s music seems to associate Caucasian subjects with consonant major tonality and colored subjects with discordant or minor tonality. Songs about colored people are often colored with dark tonality and songs about white subjects are often colored with bright tonality, such as his song Amy (Sinde). When he played a peice inspired by Indian raga it was always in a minor mode. When he played flamenco he always played the discordant cante jondo form of soleares or the tragic taranta, and never alegrias, sevillanas, or other happy major key forms.
Breau’s favorite book was Don Quixote, so I think he may have regarded himself as a quixotic hero brightening the world of colored people with his musical collages. Certainly I am a fan of Breau’s music, but I am also critical of his musical vision. My idea for Racial Harmony is to show how colored people have bright souls expressed through concordant harmony just as light skinned people do. The major chord is the fundamental tonal entity derived from nature, the aural manifestation of the triune deity, and an ideal energy pattern of attunement for human souls. In both Racial Harmony and Global Psalms it is my intention to represent colored music with bright and harmonious sonorities in order to offer positive musical representations of colored people, for the concordant harmony of a major chord is a birthright of all.