One of the first things you learn in basic music theory is that songs usually end on the tonic note. I will take a stab at explaining this while my true musician friends bang their heads against the wall at my feeble attempt. The tonic is the first and last note in a scale. Songs written in a certain key signature will usually end on the tonic in the key they are written. There are other endings, of course, V chords and a IV7 nonsense chord, but I'm not getting into that because I'm a music theory drop out. Of course, these are not hard and fast rules. Music is an art form and people love to write artsy things and break rules. I am a rule girl, though. I love rules. Rules, I get. Modern art, I don't. Songs should end on the tonic. Always.
This weird issue I have with the tonic note (or I chord for my musically nerdy friends) has spread genetically to my daughter, and we struggle with this especially in worship. I feel that anyone who truly understands the rules of music must struggle somewhat in worship because it is difficult to separate the notes from the emotions and intent of worship, and you'll either be a slave to the notes on the page or let go completely and sob. It is a struggle for me to not judge the people around me when they are clearly not reading the music. I judge. I confess. Suffice it to say, I am more comfortable in worship when I do not see the notes. I find notes distracting, and I really need to focus on the words of praise not the loud soprano singing a self-composed tenor harmony behind me. Unfortunately, now my daughter struggles with this. I feel responsible for her curse.
At the end of any worship song that takes artistic license and ends on some random unresolved chord, my daughter and I always resolve the song by quietly singing the tonic. It's like a disease. We sincerely struggle to control ourselves. But seriously, do any of these contemporary christian artists care about the poor tonic note? Do they just not know this rule? It is so much happier to end on a good note. We crave that resolution so much that we sing it ourselves out of rebellion quietly in our church pew. Death to all unresolved song endings!!
There is a life story here in this tragical ending of a potentially lovely song. Life does not always end on the tonic. Life can be quite dissonant. In fact, it always is.
No matter how much we strive to end relationships on a nice note, sometimes they end poorly.
No matter how hard we try to hide our own imperfections, they are still there.
No matter how hard we make ourselves look perfect on the outside that dissonance of past failure, current heartbreak, and fear of the future still rears its head.
Dissonance will show up in our lives even as we smile and fake our way through to the end. The beautiful aspect of an unresolved chord, if I can muster the strength to find beauty in it, is that unresolved cadences in music are like questions floating out in the air waiting for you to resolve them.
Life is a chord crying out for the tonic, and unless we attempt to resolve it, the dissonance flows out there in the air forever.I want to encourage you to attempt resolve the chords in your life that are crying out for a tonic note. Finding the tonic in your life means talking to an adversary. Apologize. Own your mistakes. Take responsibility. Forgive. Walk away from bad relationships. Talk to God. Take whatever steps you need to take to reach resolution in your life.
My daughter and I will probably continue to struggle with songs with sketchy and artful endings, but hopefully it will act as a reminder to keep us working toward the tonic as we seek resolution in our own lives.
"So I waver between the danger that lies in gratifying the senses and the benefits which, as I know from experience, can accrue from singing. Without committing myself to an irrevocable opinion, I am inclined to approve of the custom of singing in church, in order that by indulging the ears weaker spirits may be inspired with feelings of devotion. Yet when I find the singing itself more moving than the truth which it conveys, I confess that this is a grievous sin, and at those times I would prefer not to hear the singer." -Augustine Confessions, book 10, Chapter 33
-All credit to my minute amount of musical understanding in this blog is given to my dearest friend, Brianna Carroll, who tried to justify and explain irrational song endings to me with such beautiful expertise and only a bit of ridicule and frustration. Congratulations on completing grad school, friend. The world is blessed because you live and sing within it.