We’ve heard it so many times it begins to sound trite and perfunctory – “Art reflects life.” But it does. It really does. And sometimes in the most theoretical sense.
Today was the day to talk to my AP Music Theory class about harmonic function, progression and retrogression, tension and release, tendency and resolution. Don’t let the terminology intimidate you. If you are breathing, you understand every bit of this at some seminal level. You have most certainly experienced it. There are actions we take, and decisions we make in this life that move us forward on our personal journey. This forward motion is not without tension and release, and sometimes we experience a brief retrogression before making progress again. Most often, it is the tension itself that moves us forward to resolution. Harmony in music merely reflects that. It is, perhaps, why certain works of musical art move us so intensely and seem to mirror emotions we can’t quite articulate in mere words. I saw that side of the lesson with fresh eyes after moving through recent personal experiences of consonance and dissonance.
I find myself single and exploring the dating scene again. Again? It’s probably more accurate to say that my “journey” has never included an extensive “dating scene,” so at 53 I still have some new things learn. Nevertheless, I recently found myself exploring a new relationship. It didn’t pan out, but that isn’t the real story here. The real story is that consonance and beauty may be stable, but they don’t always move us forward. And tension and dissonance may prove uncomfortable, and even painful, but if we listen for those tendency tones, they are driving us actively toward resolution and progress.
The progress I made and the resolution I found in my foray into a potential new relationship was not what I expected at all. But the tension and dissonance in the progression caused me to peel away some layers of protection, look at myself and strength of personhood in a new way, and ultimately walk away from the relationship feeling like I had learned much through the pain and difficulty of navigating some new waters. And the most positive part of the process has been that I’m not trying to wrap myself back up in those layers I peeled away. The resulting new song has its own kind of stability that I am seeing impact my relationships with my closest friends, my students, and frankly, myself. Rather than regressing, I’m finding a kinder, gentler person that I like being around.
It would seem that in that process of opening myself up to another human being – vulnerable, and risking hurt – I learned far more about me than I did about dating, and perhaps that really is what harmonic progression (and the hokey pokey) is all about.