“Do you know anything about the overtone series?” My sister asks.
I shrug. “You were the music major! This is some obscure part of music theory, isn’t it? Okay, tell me about it. In English.”
My sister laughs. She touches the piano lightly, and the note rings out, pure, like water. I am sure, from her rapt expression, that she hears nuances in the note that I cannot hear.
“Hear this note? Middle C?”
“Well, a long time ago, music theorists realized that each pitch, called a fundamental, is actually made up of a complex series of notes. These ‘overtones’ sound above the actual pitch. Usually, we perceive only one pitch, but the pitch actually contains shades of sound from many other pitches. Every pitch is produced by the pattern of ‘partials’ that make up the ‘overtone series.’”
She pauses, expectant. I stare back. “Okay, you lost me.”
She turns back to the piano. “See this score for the overtone series of C2?”
She flexes her nimble fingers. “Watch this.”
Sixteen different notes ascend the piano. Some make sense with the key of C, like G and E, but others—B flat and F sharp—jangle my senses. With the pedal depressed, the notes hang in the air like broken light. It is a migraine of sound. I hate it. I decide the ancient theorists are plain wrong.
And then I sense something new—the coalescing of the pitches. They shrink together like shards of microscopic ice fusing into a single snowflake. I dare not breathe. Just as the notes fade into silence, I hear it. A single, pure note. The pitch of C.
And I begin to understand.
In the symphony of our lives, we often hear a jumble of pleasant pitches (our blessings and fortunes), mixed with the jarring quality of unexpected and seemingly discordant pitches (our troubles and misfortunes). Many of us listen to the overtone series of our lives and wonder why God has allowed such cacophony. But if we wait—and listen—we may hear something rise out of the chaos of sound.
We may hear a single, perfect pitch, the creation of a Master Musician.
I'm 28 and single. I have a chronic illness. I just came out of a difficult home situation.