Story for the Day: The Leaf Flute -- Part 1
There are many instruments across the continents that are worth mentioning: Frewyn has its whistles and pipes, Gallei its wheelfiddles, Lucentia has its lyres and citterns, Marridon has its concert flutes and pianofortes, but there is no instrument half so interesting in all the world as the leaf flute.
“Rannig, did you find your instruments?”
|Danaco fan art by Cassandra Florence.|
Visit her FB page HERE
“Aye, boss,” said Rannig, taking a vertical flute and a clay recorder from his pocket.
“Did you get anything chromatic?” asked Bartleby. “Oh, yes, you found a soprano Sesternese recorder. They sound like birds twittering when played well. Let me see it. Oh, yes, it is very well made, and hopefully it has been properly fired and well tuned. It is clay, and though it is porous and has an excellent overall sound, the high notes will sound like wind howling against a pane if not made properly. You can play a major scale easily on this, but you shall have to use the Sesternese fingering for all the sharps and flats.”
“The maker said I can use alternative fingering for all the in between notes. He said I can keep my third finger down to play all the flats and use this small hole over here for all the sharps. See?”
“Oh. Well, that is rather ingenious of him.”
“That is the Lucentian fingering for our earth flutes and ocarinas,” said Danaco. “Interesting that he should adapt the same style to a Sesternese instrument. Our system is far easier to learn, and as the two instruments are both in the same key and are both chromatic, I daresay it is not impossible to adapt one to the other, though they are a different shape. What is that second instrument, Rannig?”
“Frewyn whistle,” said the giant, holding out a small vertical flute.
“Well, at least you are learning an instrument,” said Bartleby. “Learning musical scales is always good for you. Transposing is an excellent excerise for the brain.”
“ I don’t think I can do that with this, Bartleby.
“What key is it in?”
“D? Is it chromatic?”
“It just goes up the D scale.”
“And you cannot do sharps or flats with it, other than the two in the scale?”
Rannig inspected the whistle and scratched his head. “I don’t think so, Bartleby. It's only got six holes.”
“Six holes? And where is your F natural? And no chance of making a low C? Ha! It is no wonder that was so cheap. You are missing half the notes. The makers of this barnacle have stolen from you an octave at least. To have only one on a whole instrument--preposterous! How are all the other keys supposed to be done, or even other octaves?”
“You need separate whistles in all the keys.”
“A separate one for every key? Muggery, my boy! It is a trick, a scandal to make you buy one in every key! I take back what I said about that maker being ingenious. The only thing ingenious about him is how easily he cheats his customers.”
“But Bartleby, he didn’t make the whistle like this,” Rannig implored. “Frewyn whistles are always like this. They’re supposed to be easy to learn.”
“I should certainly think so, when there is only one key! And this is an instrument your people came up with? I am shocked to hear of it—shocked, I tell you! I did not think your people would rob music students so. There is no reason in the world-- no reason at all-- that apparatus pretending to be a functional instrument cannot be made chromatic. A few more holes and some tuning work is all it should need. There is no reason for this, simply no reason, you understand. The Lucentian earth flute is exactly the same, only it has ten holes, and it is perfectly chromatic-- and nearly the same price. Robbery, my boy, that you should be made to pay for half an instrument. You will learn nothing by playing it. You cannot transpose on it, you cannot even play something in a high range!”
“Oh, Bartleby, let the boy alone with his instrument. You see how he wants to play it. It has only one key because it is not made as a concert instrument. It is make only for folk tunes, not for grand orchastraic pieces. It is not a silver flute. This instrument predates the Marridon symphony by hundreds if not thousands of years.”
Bartleby grumbled that something of such little use which obviously belonged to history should have stayed there.
“Never mind him, my darling Rannig,” said Danaco. “Play your flute, and try to throw a few notes together. Anything that I may dance to will do.”
Rannig sat and began applying himself to the instrument. “Can you play, boss?”
“I know a few Lucentian melodies on our ocarina, and as your recorder as the same fingering as that, I might be able to teach you one, once I am better acquainted with the instrument. I know one in D, and I might show you how to play it, if I play on the recorder whilst you play on the whistle. You are missing the low C, but you are also missing the high F, which only means you have no need of using either of your small fingers. The rest should be entirely the same.”
Rannig tooted out a few notes in succession, finding the proper finger placement for all the tones, and Danaco went to visit one of the tailors, leaving Bartleby to listen to Rannig’s first attempts at an instrument and scowl at the caiques in the laurel, both of which were still dancing. The one key that the whistle was capable of playing was easily got after a few minutes, but after a few failed attempts at discovering the F natural and trying to make out a tolerable low C by underblowing, Bartleby was grown angry with the Frewyn whistle.
“Might as well have learned to play the bally mirliton,” he grumbled to himself. “That shameless bedknob of an instrument is more chromatic than your whistle is.” He glanced up at the laurel, where the caiques were shambling back and forth along the bough. “Oh, flummery—here, my boy,” pulling a leaf from the laurel.
Rannig stopped playing and watched Bartleby carefully fold the laurel leaf.
“Listen to me,” said Bartleby, holding the folded leaf to his lips. “I will play the scales you are missing.”
He blew on the leaf, and a slight melodic buzzing out ebbed out, beginning on a low C and moving up the scale. He moved on to D, to follow Rannig’s fingering, and then continued through all the keys available to him, illustrating all the tones and semi-tones that the laurel leaf could admit.
The sight of the old man blowing on a leaf flute was as endearing as it was amusing, and Rannig, truly captivated by Bartleby’s abilities, could not but laugh. “Wow, Bartleby,” Rannig exclaimed, when the old man had done. “Where did you learn how to play a leaf?”
“Something I took with me from my childhood,” said Bartleby, examining the leaf, which had got a tear in it. “I was a very young boy when I learned how to do this, but it was nothing extroadinary then, you understand. Every child with half a mind knew how to play one, or knew at least how to make it perform a buzzing sound. I was just beginning seminary and had limited access to books at the time. I had seen a few of the older children learning music, and I desperately wanted to understand it. I begged my parents to be allowed to learn music—it was a separate set of classes and had to be paid for, you see, which my parents were never in the habit of doing—but I was denied the indulgence. Instruments were a waste of money and a waste of time, my parents told me. Musicians were nothing but a drain on their families, and they had better die in a garret and be done with it, never mind their entertainment or powers of composition.”
“Aw…” said Rannig, a pang wracking his heart.
“I learned to be satisfied with this until I could begin a formal musical education. My parents wanted a return on their investment,” said Bartleby, in a bitter accent, “and discouraging me from entering into any of the arts was the best way to keep me from wanting to pursue them later. Artist are always poor, you see, and my parents bred me to be intelligent and to make a fortune. I disappointed them on the second point. They forgot that science, in a manner of speaking, is an art, and by the same rule requires an inordinate amount of study for little monetary return. Oh, don’t snivel over it, my boy. It is not worth your time to be so sullen about it.”
“Aye, Bartleby,” said Rannig tearfully.
“I learned musical theory and application when I was in the Academy.” Bartleby gave the leaf a fond look. “I enjoyed it enormously, though I never had any talent for it. Learning all the scales and mathematics of the tones, thirds and fifths and harmonic sevenths so on. The leaf flute is something which apparently came to us from proto-Marridonians, if you can believe all that archaeological speculation higgledypiggledy. One should never trust a backfill of geological scientists so ready to resign everything over to religious rituals.” He turned the leaf over a few times, spying it with mindful contemplation, and after a humph, he gave it over to Rannig. “There’s for your whistle, my boy. And you see? Perfectly chromatic, and this was not ten silver, or whatever you paid for that festucous article. I suppose I should be happy you did not choose the Livanese bombard. Listening to that monstrosity is like listening to a shruti through a volcano and being asked to like it against one’s will—which is also from Livanon. I will never understand how so many things pretending to be instruments come from one country. Madness to think a bellows can be an instrument as is. A man cannot simply rub two hides together and call it an instrument. There must be skill, there must be a melodious quality, you understand. Merely blowing and using wishful thinking when a man means to strike out a note is nothing! But the Livanese will make toys of instruments…”
Bartleby went on, lamenting over ill-used instruments and misapplied notions, how the Livanese would make a playing implement out of anything, that only concert instruments were really worth learning, and how playing anything percussive required very little show of ability, and Rannig listened and smiled, placating the old man with a few interested nods while his fingers were working away, memorizing the placement of the notes along the body of the whistle, his mind divided between recalling a song by rote, brooking Bartleby’s musical aspersions, and eyeing Danaco, who was standing at one of the stalls nearby.