Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Singing the Scriptures - The Music of Jonah 1:1-3

All the books of the Bible (Old Testament that is) have musical signs. I am going to test a few for fun. We could call it reading the Bible with music.

Starting first with Jonah. This is a great story with life and death in a fish, a thinking ship, and mariners and kings outside of Israel who have more accurate faith than the chosen prophet. My earlier translation begins here but you will find a close English translation under the Hebrew below.  We'll go small piece by small piece.  I love this little book and its characters (specially the ship with the thought bubble over its head).

The music here is quite singable. Sing it at speech rhythm - quarters and eighths are for notational convenience only - I have to have something there. The first phrase is matter of fact, introducing the character - note the characteristic augmented second. We are in what I would call harmonic A-minor but with a tonic on E - so chromatic dorian if I have the terms right. The second phrase is comical - Yahweh says Rise but the music falls to a C major tonality after the ornament - the English works very well as an underlay to the music. Verse three is the beginning of the frantic Jonah as he heads Tarshish-way - as far away from the Face of Yahweh as he can get. He begins his descent by going down to Joppa. You can visit Joppa (Jaffa) these days - a little village just south of Tel Aviv on the coast, a short walk from the hotel district - about an hour by bus from Jerusalem, where I presume the 'Face'  or 'Presence' was in residence as far as Jonah was concerned. Verse 3 extends the frantic journey - and the music though going up to the C is reflecting anxiety and hurry with some accuracy as Jonah goes down from the hill country to the sea. I hope you can keep the G# in your tonal head to be able to sing the final augmented triad.