in my life, when I was a boy

On June 9, I watched the film Won’t You Be My Neighbor? during its early release in Pittsburgh. At the start of this documentary about Fred Rogers, he turns from the piano:

Come on over a minute, I just had some ideas that I’d been thinking about for quite a while, about modulation.

It seems to me that there are different themes in life. And one of my main jobs, it seems to me, is to help, through the mass media for children, to help children through some of the difficult modulations of life.

Because it’s easy, for instance, to go from C to F. But there are some modulations that aren’t so easy. For instance to go from F to F-sharp, you’ve got to weave through all sorts of things.

And it seems to me if you’ve got somebody to help you, as you weave… Maybe this is just too philosophical. Maybe I’m trying to combine things that can’t be combined, but it makes sense to me. 

The film indicates he spoke these gentle, insightful words in 1967. Two years earlier, John Lennon had written In My Life. Last July I transposed the song from the key of A to C to better suit my vocal range and to play on the guilele:

There are [C] places [G7] I’ll re- [Am] member [C7], all my [F] life [Fm], though [C] some have changed.

The modulation from F to F-minor occurs twice during each verse, accompanying lifegoneno one, and think of love. Until this past week, when I transcribed the words from the Mister Rogers movie, I had recollected he was referring to this type of transition, from major chord directly to minor chord — that is, from the subdominant major (IV) to the subdominant minor (iv). I’ve also encountered this chord change in the titular line of the Green Day song Wake Me Me Up When September Ends.

But no, he was referring to chords where the root is separated only by a half-step. This is a different case. With my limited repertoire and simple understanding of music theory, I have encountered this only once (and in reverse), when Jeff Lynne moves from A-flat to G in the song When I Was A Boy:

[Ab] In [G] those [C] beau- [Em] tiful [Am] days …

When I was a boy, I found comfort in the neighborly, avuncular reassurances of Fred Rogers. In my life now, he helps me to remember what it was like to be young, the vicissitudes, and therefore how to be old.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.