You’ve probably heard music written in a minor key that ends with a final major chord which lands on the ears like a ray of sunshine coming through the clouds. That kind of moment in music is known as a Picardy third – taking a minor chord and raising the middle note to create a major chord – and it certainly has a place in music-making. Sadness to cheerfulness. A happy ending.
Recently, while preparing Bach’s Fantasy and Fugue in G Minor, BWV 542 for a concert, I found myself grinning during a particularly favorite passage near the end of the fugue. I felt such joy shining through the minor key.
It’s not a big step for most of us to think about the possibility of joy coming after sadness goes away. I think we have a harder time thinking about experiencing joy IN sadness. Not so much finding that the dark clouds have moved away and the sun is back in full force, but those magical times when diffused rays of sun come through the dark clouds. Perhaps when someone we love has died and we are mourning their loss, yet feeling grateful at the same time that they were ever part of our lives. Or when someone we trust betrays us, feeling fortunate to have new insights into what true friendship looks like in contrast. Perhaps something doesn’t work out the way we hope, yet we have enough wisdom to find gladness in the possibilities of our future.
In yoga, a set of principles known as niyamas offer the prescription of santosha as a way of finding joy through contentment with what is. Not what could or should be, but an embrace of the place where we are now. Dark clouds and all.
I am no Pollyanna about finding rays of sun through the darkest clouds. It would be unrealistic, not to mention unkind, to expect victims of tragedy to find joy in their pain. Maybe, just maybe, in that case we can find ways to be the diffused light so desperately needed by others in our world. It seems like very little, yet perhaps we can simply cling to what makes us human by continuing to pursue understanding and beauty. And that brings me back to Bach’s great fugue in G minor, even ending, as it does, with a Picardy third.
Here is what this Holy Week holds for me: playing for a Maundy Thursday service at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, attending the Good Friday service at Washington National Cathedral, and for the first and perhaps only time ever, worshiping with my husband on Easter Sunday, also at Washington National Cathedral. Having experienced Holy Week in some sense already this year, I am grateful to learn that I still care about being in church and am gingerly walking my way through the Triduum.
This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of new connections between old and new.
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4 thoughts on “Joy in Sadness”
“Experiencing joy IN sadness.” Yes. I can relate. Thanks for the great imagery of light through the clouds.
Sonya, I am so glad you are writing this. Your take on music and sadness resonates with me
Thanks for this and for all your great work, Sonya. I wish you a blessed Easter!
Sonya, this reflection shows how you keep making music fuller, richer, deeper and better. You and your family enjoy a blessed Eastertide.