This I Believe

Mark - Everett, Washington
Entered on July 5, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65

I believe in the flat five substitution.

Back in the late 70’s when entered college my original plan was to get a bachelors degree in sociology and the continue on to the Baptist seminary in Louisville to get my masters in theology and then find some nice country church to settle begin my career in the ministry. Even though I’d started out in the Presbyterian church of my Mother, later in my teens I had drifted to my Fathers 1st Baptist church.

But another, eventually more important interest I had inherited from Dad was a passion for jazz. A love for jazz was something Dad had picked up in London during WWII where he spent the war as a gun tech on B24 bombers. When I as growing up in Western Kentucky back in the 60’s and 70’s I can safety say we were the only family in Calvert City listening to Jimmy Smith, Oscar Peterson, or Miles Davis (even the electric Miles).

When I arrived at Murray State in my newfound fundamentalist fervor, I still found times to play piano in the schools small and big band jazz groups. So while I was studying New Testament Greek, I was also studying jazz theory. One the more basic tenets of jazz harmony is the 2 to 5 to 1 chord progression. A typical example would be a D minor to G dominant 7, to C major. Don’t worry if that sounds like new testament Greek to you but it is a very basic chord sequence used by everyone from Bach to Beck. The theory of the flat five substitution say that any time you have a dominant 7 chord you can substitute another dominant 7 chord with a route note a flated fifth away from the original way, in this example D minor to D flat dominant 7 to C major. This is only one of the many ideas that add tension and richness to jazz chord voicing.

This is a trivial detail in music theory, but the notion that there are no definitively right or wrong chords, (it all depends on the context), started to open up cracks in the young wanna be minister. I began to question a lot of biblical teachings that made no sense, such as rules for treatment of slaves, that never mentioned just setting them free. Up to that point I had managed to gloss over such problems, assuming enlightenment would finally arrive. Eventually I decided that most people’s choice of religion was mainly a matter of geography and maybe my chosen religion and career path required major reexamination.

Now my story is not unique. Every young person leaving home for college confronts a multitude of new ideas that challenges what was up to that point a much narrower point of view. But for me the start was the flat five substitution. I am no longer a Christian but I still love to use that flat five substitution every chance I get.