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Music tells a story. I accessed a website from Western Michigan University that assigned emotional states for musical keys. For example, C major has the emotional state of innocence. D major is the key of triumph, so says Dr. Rita Steblin, the author of A History of Key Characteristics in the 18th and Early 19th Centuries. Beethoven used C minor in his significant works, for example in the piano sonata Pathetique, and Beethoven used C minor in his dramatic works: he thought that C minor expressed a stormy, heroic tonality.
I’m no musician, and I am not a music scholar. But I notice things.
The theme from the movie, “The Great Escape,” is upbeat. You can hear it on You Tube. The theme is incongruous with the plot of the movie. Fifty prisoners of war in a German prison in World War II, manage to escape. The upbeat theme is pervasive during the movie, and (spoiler alert) at the end of the movie, they get captured and machine-gunned by the Germans.
Bobby Darin’s “Artificial Flowers,” was written in 1960 by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, later known as the composer and lyricist of “Fiddler.” Like the theme from “The Great Escape,” the tune is upbeat. You can watch Bobby Darin sing “Artificial Flowers” live on You Tube, but the melody and the beat are incongruous with the lyrics: the lyrics tell a story of poor, nine-year-old Annie making artificial flowers for “ladies of fashion to wear” and (spoiler alert) she freezes to death in a tenement.
That brings to Eichah, the Book of Lamentations, that we read on Tisha b’Av. The Torah is chanted in Torah trope, and the High Holy Days Torah aliyot are chanted in High Holy Day Torah trope. The haftarah is chanted in haftarah trope, and many people consider it more melodious than Torah trope. The Song of Songs, Ruth, and Ecclesiastes are chanted with the same trope, and Esther is chanted in another trope. Eichah, the Book of Lamentations, is sung to another trope, and many people consider Eichah trope the most beautiful of all.
It’s incongruous that same way as the theme from “The Great Escape” and melody of “Artificial Flowers” are. The words of Eichah describe the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 b.c.e. and the results of the Babylonian siege; mothers eating their babies. One person I talked to three years ago said the trope reminds of her of crying.
Crying is an apt description for the tune to Eichah. If you didn’t realize the tune is an imitation of crying, next time you hear, think of it that way. It is the only interpretation that makes sense.