This is not a joke. The study of music theory strengthens my faith. The way in which a series of vibrations has overtones and harmonics that form ratios that make up the foundation of our tonal harmony is a miraculous event--that could only have been created by an all knowing, all loving, all scientific, all beautiful creator. Our God. This could never have been an accident or coincidence.
If you take it to the next step and listen to the way those scientific vibrations get put together for example by a deaf composer to form the Ode to Joy theme in Beethoven's 9th symphony--could there be an atheist left in the room? From Mozart to Bach to my two children singing Jesus Loves Me This I Know in harmony in the car after getting pizza--tonal harmony strengthens my faith.
But still there are students of all ages--who have had unchristian thoughts while studying tonal harmony in the form of music theory. (That is a joke.) While I have a passion for the nuances of German augmented sixth chords and Neapolitans and their resolutions--it seems most of my students have lost their music theory workbooks somewhere in the depths of the piano bench or behind the sofa. Hmmm.
The way the circle of fifths works and the way key structures and patterns are formed is a work of art. As is our system of rhythmic notation. Starting out memorizing EVERY GOOD BOY DESERVES FUDGE and FAT CATS GO DOWN ALLIES EATING BAGELS seems almost a sacrilege. It can be very difficult to capture the depth and profoundness of the human spirit translated into ink on paper staves when you are trying to get children to just put the stems up if the note is on or below the middle line.
Seriously, the point of studying music theory is to gain insight into the reasons the music makes us feel the way it does. At the end of every Garth Brooks song you feel the little pang of heart ache because the guitar player goes to the vi chord instead of the I chord. (Probably if you are reading this you are not a Garth Brooks fan but, nonetheless, you get my point.) Theorists call this a deceptive cadence. Country musicians just play it. The bass player in my Austin country music cover band couldn't even tell you the name of the note--he would just point to it on his bass. Come to think of it he got by just fine without any study of music theory. I don't know.
But, I do know, if music is going to be our language, then eventually we have to understand the nuts and bolts of it and God willing relate it back to the emotion and beauty of the compositions we analyze. So the first graders need to be putting the notes on the staves of their "Just the Facts" theory books. We have to start somewhere. I make Calvin do one theory question a day and week after week we make progress through the workbook. Slow and steady wins the race. I haven't seen some of my student's theory books in a year. Some of them don't even have a book yet. I'm gonna do better this Fall. I am going to order those books!
I am sure many of my college theory and analysis teachers saw music as a religion. I'm not gonna bring theology up at lessons any time soon, but at the very least, I want to be able to show the student why it is that we love a certain spot. Doris Harrel always says, "Don't you love that spot?" Yes, and this is why--it was a deceptive cadence or one of those pesky augmented sixth chords.
The way in which Mozart arranged those vibrations and harmonies--those I, IV, V and vi chords--those scientific ratios--somehow touches our souls in unimaginable ways. And. . when I am wondering if there could possibly be a God out there who knows us by name and cares about the fall of the sparrow--I think about Bach, and Mozart and Beethoven--and I feel more confident that the answer is yes. Someone cared enough to align the planets and create tonal harmony and make pine trees that only release their seeds in terrible fires--and that someone cares about me.