Story for the Day: Music
Being a musician who has sat through many a traditional session, I understand why there is so much dislike for the Livanese bombard, which is even louder than its real-realm cousin.
The pavilion was almost complete: the rugs had been laid, the cushions had been systematically stacked, the annex had been errcted, and the canopy was now tolerably well placed.The last of the garnishings were being festooned, a frill here and a sash there, and Danaco was directing the whole from the end of the walkway, endeavouring to have his men collect and compose themselves.
“Panza, stop fiddling with the tassels and get you out your ocarina,” the captain commanded. “We will welcome my friend with music, and with nothing commonplace. You will play the Sahadin march in C, and there will be no complaints about it.”
“AW, CAP’N! BUT I ONLY KNOW IT IN G!”
“Transpose it now. You have a few minutes. It might be done if you can remember the sharp. And practice your scales. I will hear you. Your notes were dreadful flat last time you did an air.”
“Where is that hand harp? I told the men to convey it from the ship five minutes ago. You shall have some accompaniment. Shanyi, you shall play it-- no, never mind about the belly dancing this time.”
There were a few disappointed sighs, as the men had already dressed in their shortened shirts and low pantaloons, and were preparing to welcome the chieftain with an enticing wobble.
“No crumhorn, if you please. I know everyone adores playing it for a lark, but the thing does sound like a dying peregrin. Put that Livanese bombard away. If I wanted to be deaf, I should ask Rannig to whistle instead.”
“The bombard, sir?” Damson asked.
“A sad trick of an instrument, made as a joke by a royal bard in Livanon who hated himself and the court. The legend states that when it was first played, it made ears bleed and eyes water. Have you never heard one, sir knight?”
“No, sir. I do not think so.”
“Take you one of them when we go to storm your king’s keep in a week’s time, and you shall deafen every guard within half a mile. You shall have to borrow some of Bartleby’s wax to save yourself the misery of such bombilating notes.”
“If it is so unpleasant, sir, may I ask why you have it?”
“It came with one of the men, and which one, no one has dared to tell me. It is kept on the ship as a reminder, a punishment awaiting anyone who tries to get Rannig to whistle.”
Damson watched as almost every member of the crew took up an instrument and began to quietly practice. “Do all the men play, sir?”
“There is no sense in not having a musical crew, Damson, else they should bore themselves when we are becalmed at sea. Bartleby plays a famous leaf flute when he can be asked.”
“I played it once, captain,” the old man sibilated, “one time! And one time does not denote a life of musical service.”
“A leaf flute, sir?” Damson asked the old man.
Bartleby looked as though he would rather not talk about it, but Rannig stepped in to fill in all the blanks in the captain’s story.
“When we were in Sesterna, we were tryin’ to lure a thief that took somethin’ from a merchant the boss was helpin’. The boss put a pan of coins on the street across from the tavern where the thief was sittin’ and made a distraction while I hid and waited for him in the alley. Bartleby took a laurel leaf, folded it between his lips, and started playin’ a tune while the boss started dancin’.”
“I am supreme at a gambol when I can be asked,” said the captain. “Our plan worked splendidly. The thief davered over to see our little display, and Rannig leapt out from the alley to squelch him.”
Damson thought he had heard incorrectly. “A leaf, sir?”
“Yes, a leaf, sir knight,” said the old man impatiently. “You will make me exemplify, but I won’t. I did it once, and never again.”
“Had you only heard him, Damson, you should have been in raptures. He played it as though all his musical powers had been waiting to be unleashed upon the world. He succeeded in ensorcelling a thief with just one song. My dancing did very little where Bartleby’s vendition of The Eager Purse did everything.”
A sly grin escaped Danaco here, and Bartleby snuffed and said it was nothing extroadinary.
“Indeed, sir, I do not know anyone else who can play a leaf, sir,” said Damson. “I should say it is extroadinary.”
“It is the same as playing any reed instrument,” said Bartleby. “The vibration of the reed creates a sound when you blow into it, and depending where you blow, the pitch changes. It is exactly the same. A leaf is not a real instrument, however, not a real one at all. There is no skill needed to play it, and it has a finite amount of sounds.”
“But how did you know to do it, sir?”
Bartleby looked rather embarrassed. “I did it when I was a very young child and curious about the world. When one has little, one learns to do anything with what one has.” Feeling this to be a delicate subject, the old man hemmed and turned the subject. “Anyway, I will not do it anymore, and that is the end of it. There are already too many musicians in the world, or those who think they are musicians. Having musicians anywhere near you is like invliting flies to tea: they are tolerable for ten minutes, but when they begin to hover around your dinner, one wishes they would either go home or die. They are little more than a drain on the economy’s resources.”
“But, sir, we need music,” Damson implored. “It is an important part of our culture. Is not music educational, sir?”
“Learning an instrument and understanding musical theory, yes. Learning how to barely work it for the purpose of begging for coppers, no.”