Sharps and flats are the tiny symbols that musicians refer to as the key signature. The key signature is a critical component of the music’s framework, setting the tonality and the mood of the work, as well as providing an overall harmonic and melodic structure. When multiple instruments play together, they need this framework: the key signature acts as a shorthand, helping musicians create and/or improvise in a harmonious way. The key signature is a visual image that creates an aural soundscape.
A lot has been written about how key signatures can create a “feel,” or convey a particular mood. The key of C major, for example, is sometimes referred to as a key of “child-like innocence or purity.” Bob Dylan claimed this key to be “the key of strength, but also the key of regret.” Listen to this week’s playlist and decide for yourself.
Sometimes the key of a work is so recognizable, that singing or playing that work in a different key sounds wrong. A few summers ago I attended a circle-singing workshop with Bobby McFerrin. There were many great experiences during this week of singing and sharing. In addition to amazing group singing, we were divided into smaller groups for vocal workshops. One of the workshops included an opportunity for each of us to sing something and be coached. There was no preparation and no accompanist. The only song I could think of on the spur of the moment was Over The Rainbow. I waited for my turn, and as others sang fragments of wonderful songs, I prayed that no one else would choose my song and sing it first! I sang, and received some great feedback. But as I sat down, the colleague beside me, who was an amazing musician and well-known to have perfect pitch whispered, “Great job. You sang it in Judy’s key!” I beamed! I had sung it in Judy’s key … out of the blue, without trying. What a compliment.
The fact that I sang it in “Judy’s key” should really not be a surprise. Over the Rainbow is a ubiquitous song, and many musicians sing it in C major. But the fact that I pulled it out of the air points to an interesting metaphor: repetition creates resonance. The more you hear a song in a particular key, the stronger become the associations with that song in that key, and the more deeply that ‘sound’ becomes rooted in your consciousness.
It’s the same with Jesus. I’ve argued here that all of creation is sound/music. Jesus has a “key,” a sound signature that can become embedded in our bodies and resonate out through us to others. What is the “Jesus key?” Here are a few suggestions: #beauty, #love, #justice, #joy, #perseverance … what would you add to the list? Even though each of us sings the song with our own unique improvisation, the key signature matters. Let’s sing together in the “Jesus key.”
This week’s playlist includes three versions of the Oscar-winning song by Arlen & Harburg: Over the Rainbow. The three versions could not be more different, but Katherine McPhee and Pink both honor the “Judy key” in their interpretations, and they are all beautiful.
This reminds me of a sermon you delivered at UTS that was about the loss of harmony in favor of just the melody. A different key might sound nice, but it doesn’t beckon the heart’s source.