Behind The Secret Chord David Played To Please The Lord
Leonard Cohen, who passed away Thursday, performs in Edinburg, Scotland, in 2008.
Lately we've had two main hobbies. One is predicting the end of the world; you won't believe this, but this week we found absolutely nothing in Revelation that seemed relevant. The second is tying in the simple joy of our word-a-day calendar to different songs. Last week's word was "wainwright" and to celebrate we showcased Rufus Wainwright's cover of the Leonard Cohen hit "Hallelujah."
It's a good cover, even if Wainwright's use of "you" instead of "ya" kills the rhyme scheme. You can't say that Wainwright doesn't do the tune justice, but while we were listening to it we started wondering about the lyrics for the first time.
I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
Is there a secret chord that God likes? We know that there's one that gives Satan a major stiffy, the "Devil's Interval," which has been banned in liturgy for years because hearing it invokes infernal thoughts. Metal bands use it a lot now.
We're not talking about the Morning Star's iPod, though, we're talking about the chord or key that gets Big G's toes tapping.
Well, the David is of course King David. There are more references to David later in the song, in Cohen's lyrics about seeing a woman bathing on the roof (David saw Bathsheba taking a bath).
Now David was famous as a musician. Of course, so was the antichrist Nero, so take it with a grain of Lot's wife. Still, David is credited with soothing Saul with song and starting the concept of Temple singing. He knew his chords is what we're trying to say, and there are legends of tones or notes so pleasing to God or the gods that they curry favor going back into antiquity.
In the case of "Hallelujah" at least, the chord seems to be C major, which is also the key of the song. The whole reason behind the Devil's Interval was that it was dissonant, a half-step below the perfect fifth that typically symbolized purity in music. Theoretically, whatever was the opposite of the dreaded triton would be the chord most pleasing to God.
It's also a really simple key to play in, with no sharps or flats, possibly making it the only time God was happy with the easy way. Way to go, Cohen!
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