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.