Deliver us from Evil

Deliver us from Evil

Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

If the question was put to a neophyte in piano artistry: can one play a tune on only the black keys of the piano (?), the answer would probably be: not likely. To such a one, the fact that there are more white keys on the piano board than black keys might suggest this, plus the fact that the white keys set lower on the keyboard than the black keys, which are raised or elevated, suggesting to the uninformed that the pianist’s nimble fingers can reach lower, white, keys more easily than the higher level, black keys.

And similarly, celtic music seems to favor the minor chords of the musical scale, more than the major chords, which seem more dominant in the musical scores to which our ears are accustomed.   The minor chords seem to feature an aura of sadness, reflectiveness, mystery, longing or desire, resulting in a kind of music that is not as conducive to our musical tastes as music favoring the major chords.

These musical phenomena correspond with a parallel mindset that has social prevalence, until recently: that right-handed people are properly oriented human types, in contrast with left-handed folk, who seem to be in the minority, and, as a result, are less well-known than their right-handed counterparts. This likely derives from the Latin word for left-handedness: “sinistra”, which bears a striking resemblance to the English word “sinister”, a term most of us would not want applied to ourselves.

All these terms—the black keys, the minor chords, left-handedness—represent minority, unfamiliar situations unappreciated by others. As a result, the white key, right-handed, major chord, folks are often caught off guard by such opposites, and are surprised at the great successes enjoyed by the other side, whether with their musical productions favorites such as “Amazing Grace” and “Danny Boy”, or their famous assassinations utilizing deft knife-play via the left-handedness of the killer surprising a victim prepared to deal with a right-handed assailant– giving rise to the observation that a crime victim was “caught off guard”.

And so the deployment of techniques utilizing surprise or the unexpected has often been the ploy of victorious generals in battle, such as Caesar’s training of his Roman Legions to employ double-time cadences in approaching placements of an enemy not expecting such a rapid mobilization of forces, or the success of some prize-fighting greats whose secret lay in their left-handedness, not their right, just as left-handed major league pitchers have enjoyed success in befuddling right-handed batters, or football coaches have used to advantage a short-sided line arrangement, often to the left. All of these are “sinister” operations.

All these examples note the advantage accruing to the unexpected or uncommon, contrasting with the standard majority point of view. While being part of the minority has its disadvantages, it can gain some surprising successes. The “black key” phenomenon refers to the actual historical contour of an earlier American slave society in which negroes were not allowed to compose piano music utilizing the white keys, or the popularity of the minor chords in celtic music owing to its resonance with the depressing social situation in which celtic groups lived and eked out a living.

The black key, the minor chord, the left-handed “get no respect”. They have tended to be overlooked and disesteemed. They had to earn it. To be under-estimated has its own advantages. Not only did Caesar’s heavily-armored legions benefit by being dismissed as a slow-moving military force, so did General Wolfe’s English troops fighting the French forces of General Montcalm during the battle of Quebec, who enjoyed the benefit of height atop a formidable cliff fronting the city of Quebec. The French underestimated the ability of their enemy to scale the cliff, which they proceeded to do. Both Generals were killed in the combat, but the English won the war. Here again there was failure to appreciate the potential often latent in a liability. While appreciative of our own capacities, we must also be aware the abilities of another.

Perhaps the Lord had this in mind in teaching us to pray: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”.

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