Opening the Secret Door: The Story, “When Two And Two Are Five” (1993)


You might have had something like this fantasy in your childhood home: heading toward your bedroom, you happen to notice for the first time a faint vertical seam between your door and the bathroom door. It occurs to you to press on it with your fingers to see what happens, and lo! a secret door cracks open and then you’re through it and into a corridor and rooms never seen though dreamily suspected.

The second word of The Story’s “When Two And Two Are Five,” “two,” is on a note that has always been lurking hidden in between two oft-used melody notes, the fourth and fifth—it’s the sharped fourth, an E in the key of B-flat.[1] Sweetly, invitingly sung, it turns out to be your portal to a charmed space.

“When Two And Two Are Five” start

You get a sense of wandering around freely in this song. The oblique persona of Jonatha Brooke has a lot to do with this, but another reason is that when the B-flat major chord that starts the song comes back as a companion to E-flat minor in the second section of the melody, you can’t tell if it’s major or minor—both signals seem to be sent—which puts a subtle question mark beside the song’s key. (And then the E-flat minor comes back as major, and then goes back again to minor.) Despite this indeterminacy, you will soon find yourself in a special place where a great event occurs, an unleashing of the strong melodic ascent and magnificent bravado of “I’ll be the nothing that will BE!” It’s Jonatha Brooke’s reworking of Exodus 3:14, the Story version of the Holy of Holies.

“When Two And Two Are Five” whole melody

When you make it back to the regular world, you’ll surely want to tell people what happened. Unfortunately, in this type of story, no one believes you.

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[1] In music analysis, the first thing you say about a note that’s not one of a song’s normal scale notes is that it’s “dissonant” and its melodic and harmonic purpose is to create a tension that will speedily be resolved by sliding down or up to a more comfortably expected note and chord. This indeed happens as the E slides up to F. But the second thing to consider, and what’s more important here, is polytonality—that is, the interesting note belongs to a second key being superimposed on the first, in this case the key of C major (in which E is the major third) on the key of B-flat major. C major goes great on top of B-flat major, like cherries on cheesecake. We have to think of the E this way to appreciate its sweetness.

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About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
This entry was posted in Rock Aesthetics, Ways of Starting and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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