The guard doesn’t speak. She leads you down a deserted path to a row of small huts behind Edrevol’s castle. She stops at the threshold of the last hut and turns to address you. She speaks in straightforward tones, but you detect a hint of an accent and something else...sympathy?
“Here are your new quarters. Inside, you will find several instruments that were left behind by our former court bard. Make use of them. The king is expecting a visitor tomorrow at noontide, and you must be prepared to entertain them with a song. My name is Shella, and I will be coming to collect you when the sun is at its highest peak.”
She departs, leaving you to wonder what happened to the former court bard...
The inside of the hut is surprisingly homey. There is a fireplace, a small table and chair, a bookshelf, a sleeping pallet, and several ornately carved stringed instruments and flutes hanging on the walls.
You take down a small harp with five strings, and begin to compose a song using a row. In music, a row is a group of tones that are always used in the same order. Tones may be repeated and/or used in other octaves.
Here is your chosen row:
Using only these two rhythms, create a tune for your impending noontide performance!
Luckily for you, King Edrevol likes your first performance so much that he decides to spare your life and declares to the revelers at the feast, “we have a new court bard!” The Lorac burst into a communal uproar, hooting and banging their tankards on the long wooden tables. A chant begins from the back of the feast hall and is taken up by the entire congregation – “One more song! One more song!” It seems you have no choice. You take a deep breath, and begin.
You discover that by controlling the amount and speed of your breath, you can vary the octave of the four tones of the Imperial Flute, and you decide to use only the following two rhythms:
A melodic cell is a small group of notes that can be played in any order, in any octave.
When you finish your song, a chorus of throaty cheers and stamping boots erupt from the onlookers. You are shocked to see Edrevol wipe a tear from his hairy cheek. The king brandishes a lacey kerchief and dismisses you with a hardy nose-blow. The audience returns their attention to their vittles, and you are unsure of what to do until one of the king’s guards beckons for you to follow. She leads you away from the smoke and hubbub of the feast and out into the fresh night air.
The Imperial Flute
In the hopes of capturing the imaginations of my students and keeping them engaged as we work through our Composing Music textbook, I will spin a Scheherazade-esque tale that requires the students to create/perform new compositions that will get them out of tight scrapes.
Author William Russo provides the seed for our story in the very first paragraph of Chapter 1:
You have been captured by the Lorac, a bloodthirsty clan ruled by the notorious King Edrevol. Unless you are able to impress the king with your Imperial Flute skills, you are told in no uncertain terms that you will become cat food for the court lion!
The Imperial Flute can only play four tones, and Edrevol is partial to songs in 5/4. Therefor, you must create/perform a song at the feast tonight that is limited to the following tones and rhythm:
Pitch limitation and rhythmic limitation are useful compositional tools! By limiting your choices, you can focus on one thing at a time and prevent feelings of overwhelm that can sometimes arise when you’re looking at a blank page or trying to decide how to proceed with a composition.
My private teaching practice has taught me that kids (and most grown-ups!) are usually much more willing to attempt song-writing if I give them bite-sized writing prompts and game-ify the process instead of giving them free reign right off the bat. The initial boundaries help them feel safe to experiment and explore without fear of failure, and they also love to test those same boundaries when they get tired of their limited choices!
I have tasked myself with staying one step ahead of my students as we work our way through William Russo's book, Composing Music:
"Aimed at those who have some knowledge of music but not formal training in composition, this concise introduction to composing starts right in with a brief composition exercise, then proceeds step by step through a series of increasingly complex and challenging problems, gradually expanding the student's musical grammar."
Yes, please! Let's go!