If you took piano lessons you may have played around with the keys and pedals. As the piano keys are struck, hammers inside the piano strike appropriate strings emitting sound. The sound oscillates through the air to our ear at a particular frequency.
By silently holding down specific keys and the sostenuto, middle pedal you can press a single octave and cause sympathetic sounds that resonate with dramatic impact.
A musical friend informs me that “the same sympathetic sounds are what you hear when someone leaves on the snares on the snare drum and someone begins talking or playing or singing. You hear a buzzing noise from the drum set. The sound waves that began somewhere else are setting the snares in motion and they are buzzing against the drum-head.”
Anticipating Christmas our FM station aired a flute duet accompanied by piano of the Coventry Carol. Christmas hymns tell the story of Jesus Christ’s birth from the perspective of various witnesses, i.e., angels, shepherds, stable animals and the Israelites anticipating the coming Messiah. Two years after the heralded birth wise men from the East brace the King of Israel with news that astrology has recorded a royal birth. King Herod is terrified. After meeting Joseph, Mary and the child, the Arabs slide out of town as warned in a dream.
After the scholars were gone, God’s angel showed up again in Joseph’s dream and commanded, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt. Stay until further notice. Herod is on the hunt for this child and wants to kill him.”
Joseph obeyed. He got up, took the child and his mother under cover of darkness. They were out of town and well on their way by daylight. They lived in Egypt until Herod’s death. This Egyptian exile fulfilled what Hosea had preached: “I called my son out of Egypt.”
But Herod, when he realized that the scholars had tricked him, flew into a rage. He commanded the murder of every little boy two years old and under who lived in Bethlehem and its surrounding hills. The Message
The lullaby is only four verses long, sung by the women of Bethlehem describing Herod’s soldiers slaughtering their children.
Without vocalists the instrumentalists were not limited by verses and performed several variations of the melody before coming to the third verse.
I knew the verse they were playing was the third because of the discordant harmony between the two flutes. The words tell the story:
Herod, the king, in his raging,Charged he hath this day;
His men of might, in his own sight,All children young to slay.
The piano was silent in the first measure. On the first beat of the second measure the pianist played a bass octave. With the damper pedal held down, the harmonic effect reverberated up the piano strings. My nerves shuddered as the implication of soldiers’ boots, swords and screaming mothers rang under the flutes.
Discordant terror rose in unison reminding me that I celebrate Christmas because lasting peace can never be obtained by men alone. Peace on earth, good will to men comes from a higher power.