About Tritone Life

by Matthew Raley
Tritone: a interval of three whole tones.

A tritone is dissonant, a sound that needs resolution (audio).

The sound is so dissonant that it used to be called Diabolus in musica (Latin for “the Devil in music”), as if stress or tension are inherently satanic.

Tritone Life is dedicated to the paradox that it is not the Devil who lives in dissonance, but Christ.

As a profession, I follow the calling of pastor — the calling to teach the Bible, to persuade others to follow Christ, to pray, and above all to exhibit what being a disciple of Christ means. I find that this calling mostly involves encouraging people to persevere in tension.

But I have other callings. I follow the callings of violinist, writer, and citizen, to say nothing of husband and father. Each of these disciplines makes claims on my time and devotion, and their claims create dissonance. They cause stress and tension in my daily life that I wish could be resolved. But the dissonance is normal, and Christ uses it to teach me balance in time and priorities.

There are other dissonances in my life.

As a pastor, I am deeply rooted in the culture of American evangelicalism. But I find some things in that culture to be narrow, utilitarian, and inauthentic. As a violinist, I am rooted in artistic culture. But I find problems with that culture too, if different ones. The sensuality of the arts can create an impression of authenticity that is false. The arts today lack an intellectual raison d’etre.

This dissonance between my cultures tests my ability to be the same person no matter where I am.

I feel a dissonance, further, between the way I think and the way many people communicate today. I notice discourteous informality, frequent generalizing, and a lack of care for the meanings of words. My selfish preference would be to live in my own world.

But I’m convinced that a mind cut off from fellowship will become sick. I need to share what I value in terms that will be meaningful to others. The theology of the Bible, the beauty of the arts, the power of words will all become my poison rather than my food if I don’t interact.

This dissonance tests my ability to transfer valuable things without changing them.

And then there is the dissonance between spiritual and sensual desires. I want to be surrounded by marvelous sounds, tactile pleasures, moving sights — all of the beauties to which artists dedicate themselves. But I also want to be motivated by this invisible, odorless, as yet insubstantial reality, the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

My culture of evangelicalism, in its gnosticism, tells me that sensual pleasures are filled with temptations. My mind answers, “So are churches.” And my senses protest, “Our Creator commands that we praise Him.”

This dissonance tests my belief that the Word became flesh.

All these dissonances are spurs toward integrity, toward wholeness in living.

So here is a blog about the sounds, sights, thoughts, and perhaps even smells and tastes that pass through my experience. It will become a real-time sampling of how I push against what is grim, an itemization of the spiritual value not merely of thought but of pleasure. I hope you will be able to see something of what Christ has done in me and continues to do through all the tension.

Here is a piece that has been a favorite since childhood, the Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, 2nd movement, by J. S. Bach. It features a sequence of tritones, but only at the point of maximum tension in the piece’s development (beginning about 2:45). The movement ends, like the world at the commencement of the Kingdom, with a picardy third.

My header on this blog is a detail of Stradivari’s “Antonius” (1711), from the instrument collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


7 thoughts on “About Tritone Life

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  1. Thanks! I’m impressed! If you get the chance, check out the recording of the Brandenburgs by the Musica Antiqua Koln, or a version by Il Giardino Armonico. Both are great period instrument groups–although Music Antiqua has recently disbanded.

  2. “Brilliant Classics” also has released an entire collection of Bach’s works–everything; for $100. I’ve been very impressed with the performances on the CDs–they are mainly early instrument performances. His church cantatas in the collection are worth the price alone.

  3. Ah that was so beautiful! and so serendipitous. I wandered into this island of beauty, eloquence and logic from a link on the “Why Not Train A Child” blog.

    You would have appreciated the serendipity of another experience I had recently when I made my first visit to New York, and I wandered into Trinity Chapel, a gloriously stained-glass old relic preserved from colonial days–where Alexander Hamilton is buried, and I heard a Baroque Ensemble rehearsing Bach’s “St. John’s Passion.” Over and over again, I heard the haunting passage where the singer says “It is finished…” It was unbearably tense, I was moved to tears. There must have been a tritone somewhere there. I was only going to stay for a few minutes, I stayed for over an hour. It was a gift.
    I am not a musician, I just love music, especially Bach, and these concertos. Thank you for the tutorial, and a lovely introduction to this blog.

    I am a writer as well. I write amateur poetry, and essays and parables, and a running series of satires called “The Shrewshape E-mails” that chiefly address the aberrant doctrines of charismania, where the formative years of my Christian experiences have been. But my last essay dealt with the Lydia Schatz tragedy. It broke my heart. I write in between homeschooling my six remaining children at home, and praying for the two prodigals that are out in the world. So I understand the tension, in a very vivid way, that you describe with the metaphor of the Tritone Life. I know I will be enjoying reading further into your blog, and not just the posts decrying the Pearls.

    I spent an entire day at the Met; it was not enough. I had to perform triage on the galleries remaining that I had not seen. I ended up with Cezanne and Van Gogh, and practically cried on the way out. (Sigh) I am glad there will be time enough in heaven for all the beauty that is there.

    So thank you again, for the edifying introduction to your blog! Mine is at http://thenface2face.wordpress.com/

  4. Thanks so much for the encouragement, Karen! Your experience of hearing the St. John passion is marvelous! I’m going to check out your blog.

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