Walking back from the shops today, I found myself listening internally to the slow movement of Mahler’s 1st Symphony. It’s a funeral march but that is not significant, I trust. My pace was not funereal, neither were my thoughts. My internal music player was skipping around a bit as I tuned in an out between thoughts and the visual stimuli in the quiet streets of Claremont. I tuned in again to find myself coming towards the end of the ‘Frere Jacques’-like D minor theme that the composer uses for his ironic sylvan cortege. Except that, as I tuned in, my internal eye saw it in C# minor and my hands ‘felt’ the shape of a C# minor piano chord. My brain had very kindly compensated for my new pitch imperfect and moved my poly-aesthetic concept of the music down a semitone!

This has happened a couple of times recently. I had had a CD of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony on in the bedroom. When, a couple of days later, I looked at the CD case some of the music started in my head: the final F major Peasant’s Hymn in the appropriate simple bucolic key, but, without ‘my’ conscious permission, my brain showed me the music in E major, a semitone below. I felt the 4 sharps of E as I internally sang the one flat of F.

My brain is ‘hearing’ a semitone lower when my internal media player starts in what it thinks is the correct key. It (the brain – in truth, parts of it) then gathers the apparatus of the new key that I have built up neurally over many years and presents it to my conscious mind.