More Minor Keys, Please

I’m currently taking a class in music theory. For fun. Yes, I elected to take a class on theory. I’m learning a lot of new things like C clefs and super tonics, and I’m developing a stronger musical language that will (hopefully) help me in my worship leading.

Last week we learned about minor keys, how they work, and what makes them different than a major key. Basically what you need to remember is that major keys sound happy and minor keys sound sad. At the end of the week, my professor passed out some sheet music to all of us saying “It’s time to put into practice what we’ve been learning.” We determined, by looking at the key signature, tonic, and accidentals that this song was in E minor. After going through the work of looking at the theory, we sang together:

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o’er His loved ones, died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth, watcheth o’er them from the throne!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best!
’Tis an ocean full of blessing, ’tis a haven giving rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, ’tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!

Our professor said “If a song about Christ’s love, shouldn’t it be happy? Why is it written in a minor key if it has a positive message?” We sat in silence, pondering what the significance was.

The answer I came up with was that sometimes, life doesn’t feel like a major key. Life is messy, and sometimes you don’t feel major; you feel minor. But, if we believe in a truly deep, unmeasured love, then this love doesn’t change based on circumstance. This love is true when you feel major and its true when you feel minor.

Maybe the church, especially contemporary church music, needs to consider the minor keys to more accurately represent our human experience. We can’t expect to feel major all the time, but we can expect that God’s love to remain steadfast and unchanging.

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