Saturday, October 06, 2012

Andrew posts something on Ed Welch, counseling, and heuristics in counseling

For folks who haven't heard of a "heuristic" it can be thought of, broadly, as a mental shortcut.  With that in mind, Andrew posted some comments from a friend on Ed Welch and on how "Christian counseling" can be understood. 

Here's the snippet I want to quote and throw out for consideration to readers:

... The problem with many “Christian” approaches is that, as the Dooyeweerdians rightly note, they work with a picture of a “spiritual” man who is basically an angel in flesh, but ahistoric and simple. Thus, there is a tendency to want to reduce all psychotherapy to either a) exorcism, or b) church discipline. This is an enormously stupid mistake. [emphasis mine] In reaction, we now have Christian counseling which, although it might be fine philosophically (meaning, personalist and non-materialist), is hardly Christian at all, though in a secularist and materialist age, philosophical rectitude is already *so* different from the prevalent model that Christians can mistake it for being specifically Christian. ...

Well that doesn't sound like any Christian counseling we've ever heard about, does it? ;-)

Friday, October 05, 2012

Matt Redmond's Thursday's random thoughts this week ...

2. We have moved on from bumper sticker theology to Twitter theology.

And we can all agree that Twitter theology is vastly superior to bumper sticker theology, can't we?

love of music means having some life without it

Now if this were the only post you read you might mistakenly think that I write about Hilary Hahn more than I actually do.  In an interview she once mentioned that she does other things besides playing the violin and has other interests.  After all, if she became injured and couldn't play or got to a point where she could never play music again she'd want some kind of life not interwoven with music so that she'd have, you know, a life. 

Now I'm hardly a musician of her caliber but I see her point.  For composers of music you might think we listen to Beethoven a ton and try to find that mystical feely-touchy groove where music inspires us to make music.  Yeah ... well ... no.  I've often had my biggest moments of inspiration in a quiet room with pencil and paper scribbling out a chart in which I am seeing how many things I can do with a sequence of notes before I find one that sounds interesting.  You read that correctly.  I might start off by playing a riff on my guitar, or a few chords on the keyboard, and I might sing a melody or two to myself at first, but a lot of a composition can end up being worked out on paper. 

If you're serious about this business of creating music then thinking through musical possibilities on paper and putting those sounds together in your head can get more done than hours at a keyboard or hours on a guitar.  When I began to write what became 24 preludes and fugues for solo guitar the vast majority of the most difficult but important work I did was just with pencil and paper away from any instruments, sometimes during breaks at the day job, sometimes during unexpected and unwanted hours where I couldn't get anything done at my real day job because the server or network crashed and the IT people didn't know when it was going to get fixed but I needed to be around in case things got fixed.  Yeah, like that.  Well, it was often in those kinds of moments I might work out entirely on paper and thinking through the options, what might become a prelude and fugue in A major or something like it.

That's to tell you that even for musicians important stretches of life, even important moments in life writing music, do not involve controlled vibrations of air.

The German emigre composer Paul Hindemith complained about how American culture saturates a person with hours of unwanted music in A Composer's World back in the 1950s. His complaint was that this ubiquitous use of music would drain any power or significance from our musical experiences.  He also complained that all the American educational system seemed able to do was produce music teachers who would, in turn, produce the next generation of music teachers and that every American kid seemed to be taught music in a way tha tacitly suggested "YOU could become the next Beethoven."  But Hindemith is not the topic of this blog post. 

Instead the topic of this blog post is to piggyback on a post at Internet Monk.

J. S. Bangs on rhyme and reason, and the abjection of the past in fantasy literature

J. S. didn't exactly plan for these two to be bookends of an overarching idea but I'm presenting the links back to back because I think they do present an overarching idea, one that can be summarized by his use of Eve Tushnet's observation:

"Realism" only works for people whose worldviews are already accepted as realistic. The rest of us must make do with genre.

Everything old tends to get new again and if rhyme has become hip now it might be because after generations of poetry teachers telling you that you need to grow up and stop doing end rhyme so much a bunch of writers may have decided that that stance is silly.  A lot of tedious music, art, literature, theater, dance and film has been made in the name of "progress". 

If you read Alex Ross' book The Rest is Noise he wrote about the ascent of serialism and atonality in American academic music in the 1960s and 1970s.  The Cold War was raging along and in reaction, partly, to the aesthetic ideology of "socialist realism" a lot of American composers decided (with some help from government funding and foundations) that writing music that was not at all traditionally tonal was the most democratic and intellectually honest thing to do.  The champions of the European avant garde had, by and large, fled in the build-up to the Second World War and often settled in the United States. 

It was almost a patriotic duty for a serious, academic composer to eschew the popular stuff like conventional melody and harmony.  Even someone as popular as Bernstein could still have semi-nice rather than glowing things to say about Gershwin, who really came from the pop side of the pop/art divide and whose forays into concert music inspired some of the biggest names in "serious" music to be more than a little dismissive of Gershwin's work.  I hardly need do more than ask readers how many of them have heard Gershwin's "Summertime" compared to hearing a Virgil Thomson work of any sort.  I'm aware that given how I blog about music there's going to be a sample bias because anyone who comes here and recognizes the name Atanas Ourkouzounov has probably actually heard Virgil Thomson music.

But while in academia and "serious" music major and minor chords were being cast off right and left (there's a joke in there not just about the profligacy with which the high-brow cast off tonality, it's about the different ways in which different political interests contrived reasons for this) the popular culture in the West began to plug in and rock around the clock.  Sure, you could point to all the stuff in pop music and talk about how bound it was to older styles but people were listening to it.  For the advocates of atonality tonal music was about as bad as the 19th century.  Some people caught in some kind of middle-brow snobbery would look down on popular music without realizing that compared to Stockhausen or Elliot Carter pop music was at least preserving some semblance of tonality, however expanded and attenuated it might be and this, really, no further than the harmonic devices employed by Debussy.  There's not much in the heavy metal I've heard that can't be traced to folk music from Scandanaiva or central and eastern Europe, to get absurdly sweeping about that.

Neither the archetypal renegade nor reactionary is really representing the vast and fascinating continuum of the arts in any media.  Even in the Baroque we can go back and see the old style and the new style and how composers could adapt to one or the other and synthesize. 

In the 20th century the West was full of people trying to cast off the rules and break the mold.  In the 21st century as digital storage and algorythmic analysis of cumulative works becomes more practical we are getting people philosopically musing on how nothing is original and how everything derives ins ome fashion from the past.  All may be flux and Heraclitus may have been right to say you can't walk through the same river twice but let's suppose we ask another question, woudl he still have tried catching fish in that river a week after he uttered his axiom?

What Bangs has touched on thematically across two posts in two years is something I want to play with and bring into a bit more light, if possible.  On the one hand in the 20th century there was an abjection of the past.  The idea was that whatever the past was it was some benighted epoch of ignorance and stupid people doing evil things or making uninspiring this or that.  There's a whole emotional/social narrative of a Dark Ages that is something you conveniently didn't have to live in or live through.  We judge the past and consider ourselves better than it, however we define that past.  That was often how things could be perceived and conceived and told in the 20th century. 

But then at the other side there are those Baby Boomers who had kids growing up to love the Beatles and to consider it to have been a fantastic life to have grown up during the 1960s.  Baby Boomers make movies congratulating themselves on having "changed the world" or "changed everything".  There can be a praise of the past that is appealing to those who can look back and, in some way, call that past something connected to their present.  It is something we all sahre even when we don't want to admit we share this impulse, too.  There is somethign in which each of us can say with some pride and some nostalgia, "I was .... when X was ... and things aren't as good as they were back then."  Alert and longtime readers won't have to make too many guesses as to where some probably unwarranted nostalgia might nest here. 

Isn't it a bit strange to have a people that will abject the past of their ancestors while havinga  nostalgia for their own individual past?  I'm not saying it's impossible I'm just saying I don't quite get it.  Americans may have a meta-narrative of overcoming the great obstacle or failure of one's own family and upbringing through the powerful discovery of "real" "community" or "logic".  I admit to beign skeptical about that kind of stuff. 

In the arts I'm not sure I could describe myself as a traditionalist or a proponent of new-(insert field here).  Like I said earlier there's an amazing continuum of possibilities and options and it is that spanning of time and space that makes the arts so fascinating now.  Anyone who would attempt to break the rules and defy conventions by now has to recognize that in the information era and the age of the internet it will be impossible to break any rules.  This does not mean that nothing new can possibly be made.  Even Arnold Schoenberg, champion of dodeccaphony, once remarked that there was still plenty of music to be written in the key of C major.  That which seems to be old and even old-fashioned does not have to be tedious and pointless because billions of people have discovered or enjoyed things before.  Put in very blunt terms none of us would have been born to be possibly reading or writing on a blog if the only things that were cosnidered worth doing were the things that haven't been done before. 

But as a friend once complained about an aspiring writer, tehre's a writer who writes as though nobody had any idea what sex was before he started writing about it.  I recall coming across a silly headline with a silly sentiment that Christopher Hitchens writing about death was finally an honest book about death.  That author may have just been unaware or forgot that Ecclesiastes did a decent job being honest about dying being miserable and the end of everything.  Since it was a book canonized into a religious text it would make sense why a Hitchens fan might have overlooked it, though.  Part of why a lot of the "modern" from the 20th century can seem played out in every art form is because it could get too precious and too self-aware but the bad kind of self-aware of proposing something that "mattered". 

Sometimes things happen that change the nature of an art form.  Not everyone wants to admit the action/adventure film is an art forum but Raiders of the Lost Ark,with that one scene where Indy shoots the swordsman, did change action cinema.  The protagonist was willing to skip to lethal force rather than fight a foe on equal footing.  The protagonist was willing to press a substantial combat advantage and skip what was at that point the expected and for that time, "inevitable" sword fight.  Or so the legend goes.  For the sake of discussing how innovation happens in the arts the legend is useful for my point, that not all innovation is necessarily done on purpose.  Innovation doesn't have to be done on purpose to be compelling.  Conversely, as a survey of the work of J. S. bach goes you might be hard-pressed to find Bach's formal and conceptual innovations as a composer and yet no one could contest the significance of his influence. 

If in the 20th century the great pioneers in the arts broke the rules, thought outside the box, and came up with things that were new the 21st century, 12 years in, may be full of an anxiety of influence stretched out on a massive canvas and painted in alternately dour or chirpy tones.  What we often forget if we don't bother to study enough history of the arts is that cycles of fragmentation and consolidation are common.  When fragmentation became the value it was important to be part of that iconoclastic, transgressive process.  It was in the late 1990s, perhaps, that Leo Brouwer said that the academics have missed the boat on fusion as a movement, wasn't it?  It was easy to dismiss jazz/rock fusion and other forms of fusion like progressive rock (and, really, it IS easy to be dismissive of a lot of progressive rock anyway).  But generations of failure were not without success.

While we are primed by an emotional/cultural narrative in which the Beethoven or the Mozart is the "real" artistic hero we are coming into a time where the Haydn or the Bach could be a hero, in the sense that consolidation, assimilation, and summation are just as fun as iconoclastically pushing the envelope and breaking hte rules.  In a global information network such as ours, I tentatively suggest, assimilation and consolidation is the more challenging task before us. 

In many cases assimilation will happen in ways that are not easily grasped without a lot of research.  For instance when anime began to trickle into the United States the big eyes got complaints.  Never mind that the big eyes were simply one of a dozen ways in which anime was indebted to the saucer-eyed characters of Walt Disney.  The British invasion in pop music was in many ways British boys repackaging the music of black American musicians in a way that made the music less exotic or intimidating to white audiences in the U.S. 

Fast forward a few decades and the influence of Asian action films slowly worked its way into American action films so that The Matrix appeared and showed that if you assimilate enough of Yung-woo Ping's choreography into the gun-fighting people will respond to it like it was something never seen before.  In an American cinematic context it was sorta kinda new. For anyone with even some exposure to Asian cinema it was basically not much different from what you'd have seen in John Woo's Hong Kong films.  The early Beatles were not necessarily that far off from Roy Orbison but, hey, what's wrong with being influenced by Roy?

The hipster response, for want of a better way of putting it, may be to cast the net wider for stuff that's harder and harder to find.  Indie music in the 1990s was in a sense very easy to get into.  Liking stuff because you were privileged with the special intel nobody else had was easier when there was nothing like the internet or Google.  This credibility was not just about the art if, at the risk of overstating things, there was nay point to the art as art.  The credibility was also about the scene.

Back in my teens I didn't think there'd be any artistically significant thing to come out of rap or hip-hop.  I didn't enjoy the music, didn't understand the music and I'll admit I still mostly don't get the genre.  But I don't see it as not-music.  I wouldn't have anticipated liking any country and I still don't care for "new country" because it sounds like warmed over "old rock" but I have come to enjoy Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Sr., some Willie Nelson, and some Merle Haggard.  John Prine may not exactly be country but some of his stuff is okay, too.  If you'd asked 17-year old me whether I would like either rap or country and consider them viable musical styles I would have scoffed at you.  I've mellowed on that.  I've come to a point where I may never like a certain style of music too much but I can find things in a musical style that I can respect or find interesting. 

While I suppose there's something to be said for "remix" concepts of art and human thought I don't feel any obligation to commit to that or to an older Romantic idea of "genius".  It's not like authors in the Enlightenment didn't consider the topic of genius.  "Genius" may elude us and it may be in one age thought of as a capacityto put together the new, in another it may be the capacity to "steal" the old in a way that makes it seem as though it were the thief's own idea.  Perhaps a review of even some of Bach's collected work could remind us that geniuses did make use of associative memory and recursive ideas.  So often movements seem to be founded on schools articulating a fixed point and a set array of ideals. 

If rhyme comes back in "literature" it never went away in other art forms.  If I'm right, and I'll hardly make any bets about that, the 20th century's epic fragmentation may have reached an end point and the 21st century in post-industrial societies invites new possibilities for consolidation.  For musicologists and music history fans we can remind ourselves that Baroque was not what the practitioners of that musical art called their stuff.  There was the old style and the new style, wasn't there?  There were those who made use of the Renaissance stylsitic heritage and also of the newer, emerging major/minor key system.  By the dawn of the Classic era there was a big mess of ideas and styles and devices available.  The emergence of the sonata cycle as an organizing set of forms for music didn't happen all at once. 

But at this point I've run so far afield of what Bangs was blogging about I figure I'm done with this post.  Go read both posts.  They're fun.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

CNN, conflict of interest, and international coverage

It just so happens someone ran something by someone recently and someone decided to post a link to it.

Conflict of interest is a great (as in "terrible") way for the integrity of a journalistic enterprise to be compromised.  While I've heard people complain about liberal or conservative bias causing this or that disaster in the "mainstream" or "establishment" media conflict of interest would be far more dangerous.  Even a person with a significant bias may have to concede facts on the ground over against one's own bias.  But a conflict of interest can end up having the function of a bribe in which the story is in some sense bought already.  That's worse than "bias" because while a bias may blinker your vision a real conflict of interest can prompt you to lie and say that things are X when they are really Y and you know you're blowing smoke. 

It's been a few years since I studied in journalism coursework but a teacher once said that you're going to have biases.  Only a fool would think he or she has no biases.  The thing is that if you're a responsible journalist you won't let your biases get in the way of discovering what the facts are, even if the truth points to something you find objectionable or appalling.  If you're NOT willing to do that then you might as well admit that what you want to do is not journalism but marketing, advertising, or public relations.  Then it's not a conflict of interest to put the best spin on anything and everything, it's jsut a matter of whether you can go to sleep at night really believing in whatever you're selling.  That can still be honest, respectable work in a lot of cases.

Well, that's easier to grant in the abstrat than the concrete because there's something that feels weird about selling a bunch of people on stuff.  How do people do that?  By sincerely believing in what they're selling?  Maybe?  Meh, that's not the aim of a post such as this. 

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

what jobs are available to apply for at Mars Hill today?

Church positions

There doesn't seem to be an executive pastor at Shoreline since both James Harleman and Chad Toulouse stepped down from that role within just a few months.  Then again, Mars Hill Tacoma is slated as "coming soon" and there might need to be an executive elder there at some point.

Central positions

Kids ministry director functions at the level of a deacon now.  There used to be a pastoral role that filled that slow but I may be mistaken in recollecting that.

Then there's senior accountant here.
This was posted September 15, 2012
This doesn't have a post-date but here's a LinkedIn profile for a previous Accounting Manager who became the Finance Manager.  This position was listed as open for a time but isn't listed as one of the options in today.  The Accounting Manager may have recently been filled.
Jarrod Job had the role of Finance Manager until November last year during what was apparently a big re-org where the financial staff changed and Munson stepped down and Sutton Turner joined.

Finance Manager

Mars Hill Church

Nonprofit; 51-200 employees; Religious Institutions industry
August 2011November 2011 (4 months)Seattle, WA

Accounting Manager

Mars Hill Church

Nonprofit; 51-200 employees; Religious Institutions industry
May 2008August 2011 (3 years 4 months)Seattle, WA
To connect the unified mission and vision of Mars Hill Church with the accounting function. Logistically building the accounting function in such a way that ultimately results in more opportunities for transformed lives for Jesus.

Creating value for the eldership [management] through process and scalability improvements to the accounting function, opening more financial and human resources for our Pastors and Deacons to transform lives for Jesus.
Ensuring accurate and relevant reporting through solving logistical and communication challenges brought forth from being a high growth, multi-site church.
Building up team-members through intentional, confidence building feedback. Immersion in a high-performing, technical environment where mistakes are made and emphasis is on the grace and educational rebound from that mistake.
Utilizing social media and bleeding edge technology to increase our training and communication methodology resulting in stronger community upstream and downstream. An example of this is the creation of an library of iPhone ready screen-casts, which reduced the number of reporting queries by 50%.
Decreasing costs and creating efficiencies that result in annual decreases in professional service fees associated with accounting guidance and the external audit.
Other details of the position include managing capital and operating budgets, treasury function, financial reporting, fixed asset management, and the income and expense function.

The current Accounting Manager at Mars Hill Church since November 2011 to the present (according to LinkedIn) is Jessica Pickett

Accounting Manager
Nonprofit; 51-200 employees; Religious Institutions industry
November 2011Present (1 year)Seattle, WA

Kerry Dodd is the Chief Financial Officer at Mars Hill since December 2011

Nonprofit; 51-200 employees; Religious Institutions industry
December 2011Present (11 months)Greater Seattle Area

Who are the officers of Mars Hill Church?
For state law purposes, Mars Hill has a president, Mark Driscoll; a vice president, Dave Bruskas; and a secretary/treasurer, Sutton Turner. Mars Hill also has a chief financial officer, Kerry Dodd; and a chief legal officer, Chris Pledger.

Chris Pledger is gone so clearly Governance had to post-date Kerry Dodd becoming Chief Financial Officer and pre-date Chris Pledger's departure from Mars Hill. 

For those who may have wondered about the governance series (if any) there "may" be some further posting about that stuff.  

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

another xkcd, this one on "friends"

It could also be relabeled as the approach of the "nice guy" in some circles.

The punchline, of course, is that the "jerk" is more respectful overall than the "friend" could be.

HT Mockingbird: America the Anxious

Cynicism is the British shtick. When happiness does come our way, it is entirely without effort, as unmeritocratic as a hereditary peerage. By contrast, in America, happiness is work. Intense, nail-biting work, slogged out in motivational seminars and therapy sessions, meditation retreats and airport bookstores. For the left there’s yoga, for the right, there’s Jesus. For no one is there respite.

a few more choice snippets.

... Even basic contentment feels like failure when pitched against capital-H Happiness. The goal is so elusive and hard to define, it’s impossible to pinpoint when it’s even been achieved — a recipe for neurosis.

A few more things could be quoted but this might be the most to-the-point proposal.

Happiness should be serendipitous, a by-product of a life well lived, and pursuing it in a vacuum doesn’t really work. 

Old Life: Jihad if you do, Holy War if you Don't

Darryl Hart points out that for neo-Calvinists who criticize the lack of distinction between the secular and sacred in Islam that Christian culture warriors don't seem to differ from Muslims on that very point except on the issue of which sacred text is considered canonical.  This raises the question of how and if Christians who want their beliefs to encompass all of life are actually all that different in the political implications of their ideological approach from Muslims.  Hart, being a bit of a two-kingdom advocate, obviously has a view he believes permits for a distinction but not all Christians like the idea or implications of two-kingdom theology for reasons we'll trust you may already know about.  If not then there's nowhere like Reformed blogs to learn more than you could possibly want to know about those debates. :)

Monday, October 01, 2012

The Music of My Mind: liturgical use of music as cultural and spiritual formation?

Likewise he [Paul] does not establish Christian practice upon the renewing of the conscience, but upon that of the mind. 

Adolf Schlatter
Romans: the Righteousness of God
page 62

Romans 12:2
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.

A great deal of Christian teaching emphasizes the importance of proper action.  Without attempting to cast any question on the significance of Christian ethical teaching Schlatter proposed that to frame Paul's instruction and theology in Romans on an assumption that the conscience is actually a guide is problematic.  The conscience may excuse rather than accuse the self before God even though no one is beyond God's judgment.  Instead Christians are urged to be transformed by the renewing of the mind.

A conscience may be a thing where we wish to feel differently and have different feelings about the things we want and do, but the renewal of the mind would seem to indicate a different way of thinking.  The renewal of the mind and the transformation of the mind sure don't sound like swift Keswickian moments of sanctification as best I understand things.  How is the mind transformed?

Very slowly, through a great deal of explanation and repetition, doing the same things over and over again until one thinks naturally about how to go about or think through a thing.  We took this path in learning to ride bicycles or to draw cats or to play the guitar or to drive a car or to close a sale.  How is this done?  For Protestants with some pietist sympathies, perhaps, this might be done through "quiet time" or reading the Bible a lot.  But simply reading the Bible a lot wouldn't necessarily accomplish anything, would it?  Meditating is called for but what do we even mean by that?  That's too long a topic to attempt to discuss.  I am suggesting that a common way in which the mind is transformed and trained by dint of habit is through music.

Worship wars can be cast as battles over the music that is sung but since in theory all these songs are about God and the Christian faith the debates may not be about the music as music.  You get the same sets of major and minor keys and chords and the same notes are essentially available to all humans whether they believe in any gods or not.  Music can be seen as an "expression" of the mind or heart but  the debates about music as a way to ENGINEER a particular mind or heart goes all the way back to, for instance, Plato's Republic.  We simply don't sing about things we don't love with all or nearly all of who we are.  There are satirical songs but these satires have their power becasue they take up what could be the sincere expression of affection, loyalty, and mental devotion in another and make fun of that.

A life of music that is entirely silly and satirical will not be a musical life that becomes more than a niche market.  There is probably not going to be a time when Frank Zappa's songs actually have more longevity than Mozart symphonies because Frank Zappa rarely seemed to take the mask off long enough to have written songs about things he was sincerely for.  His widow once said that Frank never wrote songs about love.  So unlike the Beatles or Bob Dylan or the Rolling Stones or even Led Zeppelin the music of Frank Zappa doesn't appeal to a larger audience than the audience it has.  The music of Haydn and Mozart show that you can be possessed of a great deal of wit without that wit having to constitute an insuperable emotional distance between you and your intended audience.  If you use wry, sardonic humor to invite the audience into a shared experience then your music will resonate with them.  If you use wry, sardonic humor to establish a level of insulation between yourself and who you think your audience is they may still dig it.  Whether or not your fan base may be like those metalheads who watched Beavis & Butthead and didn't realize they themselves were the object of Mike Judge's satire is for some other day and other people to think about.

In a majority of cases music is discussed as though it comes from the heart and goes to the heart.  Sure ... but music begins in the mind and is worked out through the mind.  A great deal of debate about what the role of music ought to be and how it works has strolled along as though the cognitive processes of even recognizing music are somehow a given.  They aren't.  It seems obvious to me that debates about music are debates about how music should be employed to condition the mind as well as the heart.  Perceiving music and listening to music involves the brain at a level where more than just the "emotional" parts of the brain have to do a great deal of work for music to have its affect.  When music  "speaks" to us in a language we understand we may all be able to understand that music is a language but Stevie Wonder may have been too optimistic when he sang that music is a world unto itself with a langauge we ALL understand. I may love Duke Ellington almost as much as Wonder does but when I have sent links of "Les Bergers" by Messiaen I've gotten some respectfully bewildered reactions from some friends who just didn't understand what I found so engaging and fascinating about the music.

Since Internet Monk has kicked off a Christian Music Month I don't plan to write a book or anything about some of this stuff.  I'm a layman at every level whether in theology or music but I would suggest, having played quite a bit of music, that we may want to reconsider "where" music really exists.  Stevie Wonder's album title Music of My Mind is on target. The music that sticks around longest seems to be music in which the efforts of what we might call the "heart" are also balanced in some synergistic fashion with what we might call the "mind".

i-IV, a dorian chord change for rockers who wonder

Now if you've played guitar for any length of time you may have come across those signs in guitar shops that explained that you would be politely required to not play some songs.  For instance, it'd be common enough to get the friendly prohibition against Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven".  In the Pacific Northwest an additional prohibition was leveled at "Smells Like Teen Spirit".  It stuck with me a long time when someone explained that the Nirvana hit could be construed as Boston's "More Than a Feeling" in a minor key.

Well, anyway, "Stairway to Heaven" has been annoying guitarists in guitar shops for decades now and it makes me wonder whether we couldn't discuss a few elements about the song.  That punning reference to Plant's line "and it makes me wonder" is an excuse to discuss what I'll call a i-IV alternating progression.  If you're in A minor then this would come across as an A minor chord moving to a D major chord.  In "Stairway" we could describe this as an A minor 7th chord going to a D major chord with a few decorative flourishes.

What's happening here?  Melodically and textually Robert Plant is just doing his thing.  Harmonically what we have is a chord progression that is just shifting back and forth between what can be called i and IV in the dorian mode.

So what is the dorian mode?

Well, famously, if you take all the white keys of the piano and play from D to the next D you get the dorian mode.


The distances between the tones are in whole (W) steps and half (H) steps as follows
D  E  F  G  A  B  C  D
 W  H  W  W    H  W

Now what you should be able to spot (if formatting doesn't betray me) is that there are half steps between E and F and B and C.  The third scale degree is minor and the sixth scale degree is major while the seventh scale degree is minor.  This can't be construed as a major or minor scale in common practice terms because there is no leading tone (as there is in harmonic minor).  The reason this is significant in this case is that what we get is a symmetrical mode.  The whole-tone scale is a symmetrical mode and the dorian mode is also a symmetrical mode, the intervals are the same whether we're going up or down through the length of the scale.

The dorian mode naturally creates a harmonically static and airless mood because of the symmetrical nature of the scale/mode.  If you want an example of a stereotypically dorian mode solo the Doors song "Light My Fire" would be as stereotypically dorian as possible.  For "Stairway to Heaven" that floating and weightless vibe fits as a backdrop over which Robert Plant can moan, "aawwwww and it makes me won-deeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr" because the i-IV chord change brings in the dorian mode long enough to make a person feel like they're floating on some pot and LSD-induced magical cloud of wondering magicalness (or gearing up for more of Robert Plant's screeching by the end of the song).

You can hate the song all you want and it's not a personal favorite but as an explanation of why thee i-IV is so steady in rock thanks to the dorian implications of the harmony it's hard to find a better example.

Zeppelin wasn't the only band to exploit the floating dorian i-IV chord change, it's the magical floating chord change that opens up Pinkfloyd's masterful art-pop touchstone Dark Side of the Moon. If you're curious about how the dorian implications of i-IV can be heard as a structuring device in Dark Side of the Moon as a kind of musical triptych (but more in its current CD-era form than in its original LP playing form) .... .

If nothing else perhaps it'll just make you wonder how many songs use an alternation of a minor tonic and a major subdominant chord, that old A minor to D major switcharound.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

I V vi IV Chords for heroes, whether winning or losing

I-V-vi-IV has gotten a bit of deserved internet attention thanks to the Axis of Awesome.  They even do us the favor of putting the Roman numerals up front and in sequence at the start of this video.

We're discussing this set of chords today not just because Axis of Awesome did such a great parody of how many top 40 hits have used these four chords in some way.  We have to talk about this set of chords because they form, in a few variations, the bulk of the most famous tracks on U2's The Joshua Tree.  With a few shufflings and rearrangements these chords become the basis not merely for "With or Without You" but also "Where the Streets Have No Name".  Pay attention to the bass line here.

I IV I IV vi V VII (2x)

I IV vi V I

Hear it?  It's basically the same four chords rotated into a different sequence.  It's still effective and arguably much more effective than in the more obvious and predictable sequence precisely because it's NOT exactly what we'd be expecting. The more famous sequence of the chords, in the usually expected order comes a few tracks later on The Joshua Tree in "With or Without You".

I V vi and IV by themselves are obvious enough.  Don't stop believing even though I can't live with or without you and I was born this way.  These can be considered the chords for the anthems of heroes and the triumph of the human spirit.  In fact these chords show up so predictably in this sort of musical/textual moment, whether it's "Don't Stop Believing" or "Let it Be" that the chords can stand as a kind of musical shorthand or shortcut to telegraph all that is beautiful and triumphant about the human spirit.

But you see, dear reader, there's an equally potent derivative of this set of chords which can be spelled out as vi IV I and V (if we don't reconceive the chords into another key).  If vi becomes i (our new tonic) then yet another variation presents itself i VI III and VII.  The chords as chords won't change at all but by building the harmonic axis point around a minor triad we've got a brand new take on an old set of chords. The major key version of this rotation of chords is "Don't Stop Believing" and the triumph of the hero.  The relative minor derivative can be summarily described as the hero falls and we're going to use these chords like a diamond-tipped drill that will dig into your tear ducts and unleash a sea of sentimental misty eyes.

Don't believe me?  I've got some words for you, "Fall of Gandalf".

And Frodo squeals "No!" just in case you didn't get the idea in advance what the musical cue was going to be.  This is a classic example not only of the use of the heroic chords for the very literal fall of a hero but also for the time-honored Hollywood tradition of going on with instrumental music for an hour or so and strategically introducing the human voice at just that right moment calculated to make ya cry.  But, hey, even I got misty-eyed the first time I saw the scene and I knew every second that it was brazenly strong-arming me with every musical and directorial and story-telling cliche in the book.  But it was cleverly set up.  Pacing and detail are important.

Shore was no dummy in saving this signature chord change until after Gandalf falls in a battle with the Balrog.  This set of chord changes and the soaring treble voice are SO cliche that it's positively dangerous to even think of using this musical cue anywhere, except for the loss of a character that anyone who would pay money to see this movie would have been rooting for.  Even though Boromir's death was more memorable Boromir was not that character and we're used to Sean Bean dying anyway (when I heard Sean Bean was cast in Game of Thrones I assumed his character would die by the end of season 1 and ... ).  Since Ian McKellen absolutely brought his A-game to Gandalf and the pacing was solid and it's based on a fantasy classic then when the four chords of the fallen hero finally show up intoned by a chorus with a treble soloist wordlessly commemorating the fall of Gandalf you've been primed to cry like Pavlov's dog was primed to salivate at the sound of a bell.  Curious how both dogs and humans can be manipulated to respond to musical cues, huh?