First Music Lessons
A Tale from Great Grandfather: The Village Mill
In Great Grandfather’s village there was a Watermill. The Village Miller was also the Village Music Master.
The Village Mill ground wheat to make bread or oats to make oatmeal for the villagers. The Mill fascinated Great Grandfather for it had many moving parts. On the outside of the Mill there was a sluice gate and a waterwheel with 24 paddles on an axel that extended through the wall into the interior of the Mill. There, the axel turned wheels with cogs connected to more wheels, all of different sizes. The meshing wheels drove the machinery that turned the stones that ground the grain.
What Great Grandfather liked most about the Village Mill was the way it sounded. All of the paddles, wheels, cogs, ratchets, pinions and other machinery made a constant noise of many different sounds. Even though they were different sounds, they came together to make a continuous and predictable rhythm.
The Master asked, “What do you hear?”
Great Grandfather responded, “I hear: Clang-clang, pop-pop-pop, bang, knock, click-click, grind – Clang-clang, pop-pop-pop, bang, knock, click-click, grind.”
The Master asked, “What shall we call this combination of sounds that make a constant machine rhythm?”
After a moment’s thought, Great Grandfather responded, “Because this combination of sounds is predictable and is the sum of all of the mechanical noises put together, we shall call it a Summation Rhythm.”
The Master continued the inquiry, “In the Mill, the machinery creates the Summation Rhythm. What makes the Summation Rhythm in music?”
Great Grandfather had to think before he grasped the answer. “An Orchestra! The Clangs, Pops, Bangs, Knocks, Clicks, and Grinds shall be instruments. They shall make their entrances and play their notes at different times. But, put all the separate entrances of each note together and they will make a Summation Rhythm.”
The Master smiled. He said, “At the end of the creative process, the listener hears all the sounds as one continuous entity. For the composer, though, the Summation Rhythm is a place of beginning. It is a foundation and tool for creating Counterpoint."
First Music Lessons
A Tale from Great Grandfather: Two Mules on a Bridge
There were two especially knowledgeable teachers that lived in Great Grandfather’s village. They each had a blessing and a curse.
They were blessed with special understanding of many useful topics. Each teacher knew something different than the other teacher knew, and they loved sharing their knowledge. When someone from the village had a difficult problem he or she would go to one or the other of the teachers; depending on what the problem was, one or the other teacher would know the answer.
It gave the two teachers great joy to educate the villagers. And they loved being respected, so much so that a hidden curse grew in their hearts.
The curse made it so they could speak or they could hear, but they could not do both at the same time. This was not a problem when a villager came to ask for help. The teachers would listen to the question quietly and then begin speaking, and they would continue sharing their knowledge until the villager learned what they needed to know and then left, after which the teachers would stop talking. For the teachers could not hear the villagers when they said they had heard enough.
Now, the reason for the curse was that each teacher wanted to be the know-it-all teacher of the village. When they saw each other they would start talking in an effort to share their particular knowledge and show that they knew more than the other teacher. Since they could not hear when they spoke, neither teacher could hear what the other said. They never learned from one another.
The villagers often witnessed the teachers meet and talk in the street. But, try as they might, the villagers could not understand a word either teacher said to the other. The villagers did not know which teacher to listen to. The teachers were both enthusiastically talking at the same time about different subjects. Their speech was so intense it sounded like they were arguing. The teachers wanted desperately to make their individual point!
One day, the teachers were crossing the village bridge together and talking so loudly and vehemently that they stopped in the middle of the bridge and all traffic across the bridge halted. This particularly cacophonous meeting between the teachers on a village bridge drew the attention of Great Grandfather and his music master.
“When two wide, cart-pulling mules meet on a narrow bridge, what happens?” asked the master.
Great Grandfather responded, “They become stuck on the bridge.”
“When two melodies are played at the same time and each wants desperately to make its musical point, what happens?” asked the master.
Great Grandfather responded, “They become stuck on the bridge and make a cacophonous noise!”
“For two beautiful melodies to sing together what must each melody have?” asked the master.
Great Grandfather responded, “They must each have their own time to be heard.”
Great Grandfather’s music master concluded the lesson: “One melody listens while the other melody speaks. The bridge of musical time is too narrow to carry everything at once to our ears. For the audience to hear two lines, the composer must distinguish the points in time when one melody sings and the other listens. This is counterpoint.”
When Great Grandfather was a child his father and his uncles would go every morning up to Rock Mountain to work. They were miners. They would bring with them horses and oxen, wheelbarrows and carts, sledgehammers and picks, and all kinds of other tools to help with their work. The work of the miners was very important to the villagers because most of the houses in the village were built with rocks carried down from Rock Mountain.
Now, the miners knew a secret. Rock Mountain was an enchanted place. When rocks were struck with a certain miner’s hammer, “the Rhythm Hammer”, the rocks would ring. When the hammer struck the largest boulders the ringing would rumble for a very long time; and when the hammer struck pebbles they would ring for only a short duration. If a boulder was broken into two equal parts, each part would rumble half as long as the whole boulder had. The Rhythm Hammer was always put away with the other tools when it was not in use on the mountain.
There were rocks partially buried in the side of Rock Mountain. To find out how large the buried rock was, the miners would use the Rhythm Hammer. If the buried rock rumbled for a long time after being struck, then they knew it was very large and it would take extra work to dig it out.
The giant boulders on Rock Mountain were very heavy and very difficult to move. So, the miners would break the boulders into smaller stones to cart them back to the village. The best-constructed houses required the strongest foundations; and the big, unbroken boulders made the best foundations. So, when a new house was needed, the miners would work together with the horses and oxen to drag a large boulder down to the village.
The houses in Great Grandfather’s village were sturdy. They were also beautiful. Atop the boulder foundations were stonewalls and atop the walls were mosaics of pebbles, which the miners made by breaking the stones into small pieces. The mosaic pebble art was placed high up in all of the village homes.
One evening after the miners had returned from their work on the mountain, Great Grandfather, being a curious child, ventured into the large barn where the horses and oxen lived and where the tools where stored. Great Grandfather started playing with the picks and hammers stacked in the loft of the barn. They were heavy tools and very cumbersome to handle, especially for a little boy, and he dropped the Rhythm Hammer. It fell from the loft to the floor of the barn and it landed on a pile of pebbles.
As it landed, Rhythm Hammer cried out, “Sing me your size!” to which the pebbles responded quickly. There was, for a brief moment, a full chorus of very short rings. The Rhythm Hammer’s command and the response of the ringing pebbles surprised and puzzled Great Grandfather, but the animals in the barn didn’t seem to even notice the ringing pebbles.
Great Grandfather spoke to his father’s horse, Aurea Aures, about what had just happened and asked Aurea Aures what lessons could be learned from the ringing pebbles. Indeed, Aurea Aures was not surprised at all. He had spent years on the mountain with the miners and knew well the sound of rumbling and ringing rocks. Stones and pebbles struck by Rhythm Hammer one after the other made mountain rhythms.
Aurea Aures said, “Boulders that ring for a long time make for a slow-changing melody. But, break the boulders into stones and the stones into pebbles, and string different size pebbles one after the other and the rhythm will reveal itself. Large boulders are like long notes - they make good foundations. Stacked stones forming walls are like stacked notes - they make harmonious rooms. Pebbles placed one after the other are like the rhythms of melody notes.”
Aurea Aures went on: “This is how melodies are made starting with long notes. Begin with the boulder. Break the boulder into stones, break the stones into pebbles, and string the pebbles. The total time will be the same. The music will be different.
“Boulders are like bass lines - they support the structure. Stones assembled into stonewalls, which resemble harmonies resting upon the bass, form the structure which supports the lighter pebbles. Pebbles, like short notes, magnify their beauty when they connect to each other and flow above the supporting structure to form moving lines.
“Place the boulder, stack the stones, string the pebbles – make the music.”
First Music Lessons
A Tale from Great Grandfather: The Songbird
When Great Grandfather was a child living in a village in the old country, he wanted to be a musician. He was born with the beat of a drum in his chest. From his first breath, he sang a love song for his mother. In the beginning, his rhythmic singing brought him much attention. He would sing his song for visiting friends and relatives. As time went by he repeated his song many times, so many times that gradually people didn’t want to hear his song any more. They wanted him to stop singing his song.
As he grew into boyhood, he longed to be heard. He would perform for travelers on the street, shoppers in the Village Square and hunters in the forest. But, the travelers, shoppers and hunters would grow tired of his song, too, and continue on their way.
One day a songbird, which had flown into the forest from a far off land, sang; and everyone who heard her song thought it was especially beautiful. They would stop whatever they were doing just to listen to the beautiful tones of the songbird. They wanted her to continue singing. Day after day she would sing and her songs seemed to change with the day. Her singing was familiar but unfamiliar at the same time. Her songs were mysterious but still somehow well known.
Great Grandfather, who was jealous of the songbird’s popularity, asked her how she learned to sing so beautifully. She responded that she had learned her secrets by flying to many lands. Then she took off and flew toward Northland.
As he watched the songbird disappear, he thought, "I must travel to Northland and learn the secrets to beautiful songs." So, without packing anything or telling anyone, Great Grandfather, alone and still very young, traveled to Northland.
In Northland the wind howled, the snow fell, and the rivers and lakes were frozen over. Great Grandfather was very cold. All the people of Northland built their homes out of ice because there was nothing else to use for building materials. Great Grandfather would have frozen, if the people had not shown him how to work with ice to build an igloo for protection from the cold weather. This knowledge saved his life.
Great Grandfather stayed with the kind inhabitants of Northland until springtime. During his visit, they often sang. Their music was very strange to his ears, nothing at all like he had heard in his village. He thought their songs were so different because the weather was so cold and harsh.
He asked if the people of Northland had heard the songbird. They were very familiar with the songbird’s beautiful songs. Many years prior, when the songbird was very young, the Northland people taught her how to build an igloo, too. After she had sung her song of gratitude, she had flown to the Great Plains. So, Great Grandfather continued his travels in search of the secrets of the songbird.
After many days of travel the boy came to the Great Plains, where he saw herds of large beasts and a vast blue sky with an intense, harsh sun beating down upon him. The sun was so hot and bright that he would have fainted from sunstroke, if the people of the plains had not shown him how to use the materials found on the Plains to build a teepee for protection from the sun and dry wind.
Great Grandfather stayed with the kind inhabitants of the Plains until autumn. During his visit, they often sang. Their music was very strange to his ears, nothing at all like he had heard in his village or in Northland. He thought their songs were so different because the weather was so hot and dry.
He asked the people of the Great Plains if they had heard the songbird. They knew the songbird very well. They had taught her how to survive using the materials of their land. Recently, she had sung her song of gratitude for them and then flown on to the Jungle. So, Great Grandfather continued his travels in search of the secrets of the songbird.
When the boy arrived in the Jungle he saw vast numbers of strange plants and hungry wild animals in search of their next meal. He was frightened and did not know how to use the materials of the Jungle to protect himself from the animals. The people of the Jungle adopted Great Grandfather. They taught him which plants were safe to eat and which plants were poisonous. They taught him how to use the materials of the Jungle to build a hut. They taught him how to protect himself from being eaten by wild animals and survive in the Jungle.
Great Grandfather stayed with the kind inhabitants of the Jungle until the end of summer. During his visit, they often sang. Their music was very strange to his ears, nothing at all like he had heard in his village or in Northland or on the Great Plains. He thought their songs were so different because it was so dangerous in the Jungle.
He asked the people of the Jungle if they had heard the songbird. They, too, knew the songbird very well. They had taught her how to survive using the materials of their land. Recently, she had sung her song of gratitude for them and then flown on to they knew not where. So, discouraged at not learning the secrets of beautiful songs, Great Grandfather returned to his village home.
When Great Grandfather arrived home his parents felt great joy. The songbird had watched Great Grandfather from on high and flew back and forth to report his progress to his parents and the rest of the village inhabitants. Great Grandfather had learned many things but he did not understand the secret of beautiful songs.
Now, the songbird told Great Grandfather, "As the Northland people live in igloos built of ice, and the Plains people live in teepees built of animal skins, and the people of the Jungle live in huts built of mud, I live in my songs, and my songs are built from the materials of music. Scales are the building blocks of my beautiful songs. Just as Northland scales, Plains scales and Jungle scales are the building blocks of their music."
And with his new understanding, Great Grandfather began to build many strangely beautiful but somehow familiar songs for everyone to live in.