The Octave and Home

I have a million things to write about. So much I am constantly learning and want to share. It’s really overwhelming, and the more I delay writing, the more is piled on in my heart and head, and my overwhelmitude grows exponentially. I am grabbing this moment to make myself write about the subject in the title.

My teachers Angelina Stanford and Kelly Cumbee have mentioned the idea of the Octave, its metaphorical meaning, and how philosophers of the past (particularly the Medievals) thought about it. Musically we recognize the octave through the diatonic scale beginning with Do and returning (in the words of Oscar Hammerstein, ‘and that brings us back to’) Do, but at a higher level. Whether or not you understand music theory, you have experienced that feeling of being left hanging if a tune does not return ‘home’ to Do.

But is it really a return home if you do not end on the original lower Do? Again, you may not know the theory, but you certainly can recognize the feeling of a solid landing home with the arrival to the lower Do, and the feeling of being at a new home when you end with the higher Do. When I messaged my musician husband about this idea, he responded: “Going to the high Do brings you ‘home’, but with more energy. It’s like putting an exclamation point at the end of the final sentence! Not just a statement of fact, but of emphaticnessity.”

Comedy, Tragedy, and Romance have come to suggest different things today from their original meaning when it comes to story structure. If you are a legitimate teacher of literature, as my teachers are, as well as 20th century writers/teachers Northrop Frye and C.S. Lewis, you know those original meanings, which are still valid today. Tragedy and Comedy in the simplest description are inversions of each other, the tragedy represented by the frown, and comedy by the smile. (You see these in the Greek theatre masks.) A Romance takes the upward motion of the ending of a Comedy even higher. There is a journey to Paradise beyond the resolution of things on Earth. I was very moved recently by listening to Kelly talk through the ending of King Lear, which has always seemed like a total tragedy to me with the deaths of just about everyone, including practically angelic Cordelia and her repentant father Lear, who have just been reconciled. Kelly showed us the Romance sub-layer of this Tragedy. Cordelia and Lear are reconciled and have moved on up to Paradise, our final home, our real home.

And so this morning as I have been contemplating the Octave — musically, metaphorically, spiritually — I am determined that it is a Romance. We do not return to our original Home. We are not brought back to Do (sorry Mr. Hammerstein), but instead are brought to a new Home, a higher Home. The 8th is Resurrection. God rested on the 7th day, and then there was the 8th day. We all are familiar with “the passion week”, Jesus’ final week leading to his crucifixion. But it wasn’t final because on the 8th day, the first day of the following week, He arose! The work was completed, and we all have a chance for a new Home. Christ is both Dos, both homes. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last.

The Creator of this cosmos is amazing. So generous with all the beauties that I’m certain he got a kick out of making, and so thrilled when humans make a connection with and get joy out of the glorious order about us. What a genius teacher He is to show us concepts of reality through all of this. What a living education is story and music and nature. And what grace is shown to people like me that it is not too late learn and love all of this.

I’m pressing on the upward way,
New heights I’m gaining every day;
Still praying as I onward bound,
“Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.”
 Lord, lift me up, and let me stand
By faith on Canaan’s tableland;
A higher plane than I have found,
  Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.
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