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The Strings are False

'The strings, my Lord, are false'. How's your Shakespeare? Excellent, I am sure. But just in case it's a while since you spent much time with Julius Caesar we are in Act IV, Scene III: a wonderful scene where the ghost of the murdered Caesar comes to give Brutus something of a fright.  I love this line, spoken by young Lucius as Brutus wakes him as the ghost leaves. 'The strings, my Lord, are false'. Lucius is half-dreaming of an instrument that is out of tune. But the instrument, of course, is Brutus, whose own out-of-tune-ness is key to the plot. In a few words, the whole story is summed up in a striking analogy.

Nearly a decade ago now, I was ill with a very unusual and rare condition, diagnosed by a Harley Street specialist (I wasn't paying) as binaural diplacusis. The first definition I came to online says that this

  • refers to a perceptual anomaly, whereby the same tone is perceived as having a different pitch depending on whether it is presented in the left ear or the right ear of the same listener.

In other words, if you played one note on the piano, I heard two notes, not one. And they were clashing. Play a triad (three-note chord) and I heard six notes, all at different pitches. It was excruciating. It lasted for months. I wore a special ear plug in one ear so that we could still have hymns at church when I was taking the service. But perhaps worse of all was the absence of music at home. No recordings, no piano, no radio, no singing. It was awful.

The condition disappeared as quickly as it came, without notice. And back came music. You would have thought, wouldn't you, that it was like Easter morning after a long Good Friday?

Not quite. It was overwhelming. Every piece of music made me cry, sometimes my weeping was uncontrollable. I have found ever since that my emotional response to music can be acute, and I can be quickly taken off guard. If you come to Great St Mary's, you'll probably know that I often weep during music in church. It touches my very soul. It is essential.

Right now I'm having to ration music at home. When the lockdown started, I thought - naïvely - that I would enjoy the opportunity to spend more time listening and playing. But it's proving to be too much at a time when my heart is raw. It turns out that my strings are false. Perhaps yours are too.

Whatever, wherever, whoever we are, we are likely to be out of tune with our world right now, in small ways or big ways. The trick, I think, is not to be astonished, but accepting. To trust - remembering that our word 'trust' has its roots in the word 'truth'. The Truth will set us free. He himself said so. And not Truth only, but Way, and Life. 

Let us listen for His voice, His song - it is the Enduring Melody.


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