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.”