Introducing the guest blogger, my brother

This blog is subtitled “the blog of Veith.”  It doesn’t say which Veith.  So I feel no qualms about letting my brother Jimmy do some guest blogging.  He has started reading this blog and you may recall some of his comments, some of which I have turned into regular posts.  So I think he will be a good blogger.

In many ways, we are polar opposites:   I am conservative; he is  liberal.  I am Lutheran; he is Baptist.  I am a professor; he is a lawyer.  I am a writer; he is a musician.  How much more different can anyone be?

And yet, we are also very similar:  We look exactly alike.  We have the same tastes.  We have identical senses of humor.  I would say we have the same sensibility.

So let’s see how he does.  Please welcome him.  You can argue with him, like I do, but don’t be insulting or snide or generally mean.  Part of the vocation of being a big brother is defending the little brother from people who pick on him.   The big brother can pick on him, but no one else can.  So I’ll zap comments that might hurt his feelings.  He is doing me a favor in these busy times, which I appreciate.   I hope you do too.

The Devil’s interval

by Jimmy Veith

Have you ever been freaked out by a piece of music that sounded evil? Have you heard combinations of notes that were so dissonant that it made you tense and restless, but yet was strangely alluring? Well, you may have been placed under the spell of the Devil’s interval, known in music theory as the augmented 4th or flatted 5th.

Let me explain. Remember when Maria, the good Nun from “The Sound of Music”, taught the children how to sing, with the Do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do song? That was the major scale on which most Western music is based. In the key of C, it would be all the white keys on the piano; ie, C, D, E, F, G, A B and C. Each note of the scale is assigned a number. In the key of C, C is 1, D is 2, E is 3, F is 4, G is 5, A is 6 and B is 7.

For some mysterious reason, the major scale is not symmetrical in its intervals. There are whole steps between C, D, and E, but a half step from E to F. There are whole steps between F, G, A and B, but a half step from B to C. Now, let’s create a more sinister sounding scale by eliminating the half steps and playing only whole steps. If you start with middle C, you would play C, D, E, F# (G flat), G# (A flat), A# (B flat), then C again. You have just played a scale based on the tri-tones, which is a scale of six different notes in equal intervals as opposed to seven notes found in the major scale.

Now this is where it gets freaky. Play the C and F# (or G flat) together. This is the interval known as the augmented 4th or flatted 5th. Play this over and over again. How does it make you feel? Now play C and G flat in alternating order, over and over again, one second apart. Do you recognize the opening guitar riff in Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze”? Play it some more. Have you summoned the devil yet? Ok, that’s enough, Quit Now! Quit Now! Quit Now I say, before it’s too late!

OK. I may be exaggerating. However, this interval has been used by composers when they want to create an atmosphere of evil or dread. It is used extensively by heavy metal groups such as Black Sabbath, and classical compositions such as Wagner’s Gotterdammerung, Beethoven’s Fidelio. Also, it is found in modern compositions such as West Side Story, and the theme song of the Simpson’s.

It has been said that this interval was banned in the middle ages by the clergy. This may be more mythology than fact. Are there any musicologists out there who could shed some light on this issue?

I don’t mean to suggest that artists that use this interval are by any means evil. Great music involves interplay between tension and release, and the use of this interval is one of many tools that a skillful composer can and should use to create tension.

Now here is something for you Lutherans. Consider the great hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” by Martin Luther himself. The third line of the first verse reads: “For still our ancient foe, doth seek to work us woe.” The third line of the third verse reads: “The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him. ” The two lines where Luther refers to the Devil in the text of the hymn, also happens to be when the “devil’s interval” is found in the melody line. Just a coincidence? Or genius?

Big Brother Butts In:  I would add one more thing that Jimmy pointed out to me when he was explaining all of this over the piano.  I had always wondered why it is that musical scales have to have those half-steps.  Wouldn’t it be easier and more consistent and more orderly for a scale to have all whole steps? It would, but now I know that a scale with all whole steps is actually discordant.  Not only that, it has the Devil’s Interval!   Which teaches us that perfect regularity is neither beautiful nor good.   True beauty–whether of music or art or literature or a person–needs its quirks, its inconsistencies, its surprises, even its flaws. Philosophies and ideologies that demand utterly consistent regularity–think of Marxism–become inhuman, tyrannical, and demonic.  As do people when they try to fit their neighbors into some regular pattern of whole notes.  And God, who Himself is unutterably complex and confounding to human reason, designed things this way.  (And if you think such connection between music and other kinds of cosmic order is just made up, the old music theorists, such as Bach–anyone know if he used the Devil’s Interval?–thought and made music in these terms.

Compromise

by Jimmy Veith

For many, the word “compromise” has negative connotations.  People who “compromise” are viewed as people who lack moral courage to live up to high ethical standards.  We admire most those individuals who stand up against the system and do the right thing regardless of what others think.  When “Mr. Smith” went toWashington, his filibuster in the Senate was not obstructionism.  It was a heroic act.      John Wayne never compromised.   Our aversion to compromise, is probably a reflection of our individualism, which is a dominate personality trait of Americans.

There are cultures, primarily in the East, that seem to place a greater emphasis on getting along with others.  The middle way or the “golden mean” is a dominant theme in their religions and philosophies, which place a greater emphasis on living in harmony with others.   We are more defined by our Judeo-Christian heritage which places a greater emphasis on absolute truths.

The Bible is full of warning and admonitions against compromise.  Yet, there are passages in the Bible that describe circumstances in which compromise is considered to be a good thing.  Consider Acts 15, which describes what is know as the Jerusalem conference, where Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem to meet with Peter and the other Apostles to discus whether or not Gentiles who converted to Christianity had to become Jews first, and thus be circumcised according to the Law of Moses.  The view of Paul and Barnabas prevailed and the conference concluded that converts did not have to be circumcised.  (Yea!)  But even then, the Gentiles were instructed to comply with Jewish dietary laws.  (See Acts15: 20)   Was this an example of a compromise?    Are there other or better examples in the Bible where compromise is considered to be a good thing?

The United States Constitution is full of compromises.  The greatest conflict among the delegates to the Constitutional Convention was between the big states and the little states.  The big states wanted proportional representation based on population.  The little states wanted equal representation so they would not be dominated by the big states.  This conflict threatened to tear the convention apart, until they decided on the so-called “Connecticut Compromise” which gave proportional representation to the House of Representatives and equal representation in the Senate.

Today, we are engaged in a national debate over what should be done to address our national debt crises.  The far right refuses to raise taxes.  The far left refuses to reduce Social Security and Medicare benefits.   Isn’t this a situation where a compromise which does some of both, is the moral and ethical thing to do?

What are the moral and ethical dimensions of compromise?   Isn’t the attitude of “My way or the Highway!” repugnant in a Democracy?     Is it possible that in some circumstances, our willingness to compromise is an expression of Christian humility?

Where are the Lutherans, revisited

Reformed baptist Kevin DeYoung raise a question on his blog asking where are the  Lutherans in the contemporary evangelical scene.  It provoked quite a conversation, both on his blog and here.  As a follow-up, Kevin interviewed Paul McCain of Concordia Publishing House.  Paul did a superb job of communication.  You’ve got to read his the entire interview:   Those Dern Lutherans: An Interview with Paul T. McCain – Kevin DeYoung.  I especially liked his concluding remarks:

9. Anything else you think the world needs to know about Lutherans?

I would say this: I think Evangelicals often find themselves searching for something they feel might be a bit “missing” in their Christian walk, and think that Rome or Eastern Orthodoxy may fit the bill, while all the while Lutheranism is there, right around the corner. Often when they find a traditional Lutheran Church they are surprised to find a robust, rich worship life, rooted in the Scripture (which is what the liturgy is, in its entirety). They find a rich focus on Christ and the Gospel–Lutherans are adamant that Christ is the heart and center of everything, and they also find a tangible experience with God, not based simply on feelings or emotions, but on a concrete and objective experience with God’s grace through the sacraments. And all this is wrapped up in such a vibrant passionate love for Jesus. We Lutherans combine the best of what is Evangelical, with the best of what is truly catholic about the Church, with the rich heritage of the Lutheran Reformation. I think it is a winning combination, but of course, I’m kind of biased.

Which raises another issue:   Many evangelicals yearn for sacraments and liturgy and historic Christianity.  They seem to first become Anglicans and then migrate to Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy.   To be sure, some find Lutheranism, where sacramentalism and liturgical worship go hand in hand with a theologically rigorous commitment to the Bible and to the Gospel.  And yet many ex-evangelicals do not even consider Lutheranism but go right to other traditions even at the expense of giving up  the Gospel of justification by Christ alone (in favor of Rome’s  justification by faith plus works, or Constantinople’s theosis).  I mean, I can understand someone ceasing to believe in the evangelical view of justification–and many “evangelicals” are now disbelieving in it, which is a major reason to leave their churches–but I don’t see the Lutheran alternative even being considered by many of these folks.

Why is that?  Is it that they don’t know about it, or that if they go to a Lutheran church they find one trying to be like the one they want to leave?  In which case, this is the fault of Lutherans, and our lack of contact with other Christians, which is what DeYoung first complained about, has to be a factor.  Or are these ex-evangelicals running towards elements of Catholicism or Orthodoxy that are already inherent in their own theologies, namely, a preference for moralism (as opposed to the Lutheran freedom in the Gospel) and absolute authority (the pope or tradition as a more certain authority than how they formerly used the Bible, as opposed to the Lutheran view that sees the Bible as an authority that gives us mysteries, not rationalistic clarity, and that functions primarily as a means of grace in which God’s Word addresses us personally)?

Bishop tells gay priests they have to get married

Now that New York state has legalized gay marriage, the Right Reverend Lawrence C. Provenzano, Bishop of Long Island in the Episcopalian church, is requiring homosexual priests to either get married or stop living together out of wedlock.  From his official pronouncement:

For the gay and lesbian clergy of this Diocese who are living in domestic partnerships or civil unions, I hereby grant a grace period of nine months from the effective date of the New York State Law permitting same-gender marriages for those relationships to be regularized either by the exchange of vows in marriage or the living apart of said couples.  I deem it to be honest and fair, and I do so direct and require, now that it is legal, that only married couples may live together, either in rectories or elsewhere as a clergy couple living in the midst of our faith community.

via Episcopal Diocese of Long Island.

I know this sudden concern for sexual morality is being derided by many conservatives.  But it will be telling to see if homosexuals who now have the right to get married will now take marriage seriously by opposing extra-marital sex.

The Twenty-seven Club

Rock chanteuse Amy Winehouse died at the age of 27.   That’s the same age that Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison died.  Also Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones.  Also Pigpen McKernan of the Grateful dead.  Also blues legend Robert Johnson.  And less famous rockers Chris Bell (of Big Star) and D. Boon (of the Minutemen).

Perhaps 27 is the age that the human body pays the toll for the untrammeled rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, especially when it involves hard drugs like heroin, used by a good number of the “27 club.”  There are, of course, geriatric rockers like Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler, but the death toll should be sobering.  Dying young from a dissolute lifestyle is not limited, of course, to rock stars.  Hank Williams was 29.  And the “in memoriam” tributes at the typical high school reunion will list those who never were famous at all.

At any rate, if you are older than 27, you have survived your youth.

via Amy Winehouse’s death at 27 highlights a troubled, young talent – The Washington Post.


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