Imagine someone whose experience of music has been limited: they have only ever heard tunes and harmonies that are in a major key. Now suppose they come across some music in a minor key. They might, perhaps, find it difficult to like at first. They might even feel that it is not proper music, or that it is out of tune, or discordant. What attitude might such a person adopt? They will notice that other people like this other music, so they might decide that the problem is with their own hearing. Or they might decide that their own hearing is fine and the minor key is simply unmusical. It would be a pity if they concluded that, but it makes some sort of sense. But what would be oppressive, what would be objectionable, would be the claim that the quality of music in a minor key can only be properly assessed by first making a ‘correction’ of each minor chord or interval into a major counterpart.

Now suppose that some people see the world as essentially the outplay of patterns captured by mathematics and randomness; according to them, things like human fellowship and understanding are valuable, but they are essentially lucky outcomes that emerge alongside unlucky ones such as hatred. They are all parts of a flow of physical events following natural laws, and that is all the whole story.

In my analogy, people who think this way are perceiving the world in a major key. Now suppose they come across some novels, songs or sermons written by people who understand and take an interest in the science, but who also see the world as all about the gradual, painful but ultimately beautiful expression of profound realities such as universal brother- and sister-hood, forgiveness, trust and understanding. These people are not unreceptive to the major key, but they are also perceiving another key in the music of the world, and it is of a different character, like a minor key. They hear it as if the bad things are examples of moral disorder, of that which has no meaning, and the good things are not just lucky offshoots, they are the clue to where we are really ‘coming from’ and what supports us most deeply and completely, and to which we owe our allegiance.

The main purpose of my analogy is to encourage the first group of people not to try to adjust the minor chords perceived by the second group, turning them into major chords, and only then assessing the music that results. Rather, look for signs of goodness in the people who say they hear the minor key, and if you find any, then ask for some pointers on how to attune ones ear to that type of music.

See next post for some elaboration of this analogy.



Piano Player by Derrick Higgins, from