September 19, 2014 | 11:37 am

Finding Tonic

Our topics for last week and this week are about finding purpose and direction in life, both personally and communally. Last week had to do with honoring our past and recognizing where we’ve been, and this week Michael will talk about where we are now and where we’re going. 

I was thinking about all this during a bar mitzvah at the temple where I play. When a youngster has a bar/bat mitzvah, he/she is expected to lead the congregation in the prayers, most of which are sung. Lots of preparation goes into this: months of one-on-one sessions with the cantor, and practice, practice, practice. The whole thing culminates in the service, and, of course, the big party that follows! 

Singing is a BIG part of this, and some of these kids can really sing! But there are some who can’t seem to stay with the key, and they wander all over the place. They barrel through the prayers as fast as they can, with no clue as to where tonal home base is. Maybe it’s the pressure to perform, maybe having their other 13-year-old friends staring at them is freaking them out, maybe they just want to get it over with and head to the party - whatever the reason, they just can’t find tonic. 

In Western music, tonic is the first note of the scale that a piece is written in. It is synonymous with the “key”. It is “Do” (think, “Do Re Mi”). It is the note to which all other notes reference themselves, and tonic permeates a piece. Tonic is the tonal center, the musical home, and all other tones are pulled and directed toward it. 

I’m positing that finding tonic is a metaphor for finding direction in life. We need to know where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re headed. I suspect that finding tonic has less to do with singing ability and more to do with the ability to connect with oneself and the cosmos, to slow down and listen. 

Looking for direction in life? Can’t find tonic? Slow down, quiet your mind and listen.