Tuesday, March 6, 2012


mel•o•dy  noun
1. musical sounds in agreeable succession or arrangement.
2. Music .
   a.the succession of single tones in musical compositions,as distinguished from harmony       and rhythm.
   b.the principal part in a harmonic composition; the air.
   c.a rhythmical succession of single tones producing adistinct musical phrase or idea.
3.a poem suitable for singing.
4.intonation, as of a segment of connected speech.

I remember my first piano lesson. I was about four and a half years old, and everyone knows it was that half year that separated me from the four-year-olds and lifted me up towards the fivers. The piano teacher was an ancient lady, with thin cotton candy-like hair that held the memory of once being red. She smelled really good, and rolled her r's in the back of her throat. This made her exclamations of "Ja, bra! (Yes, good!) sound like spells that wrapped around my fingers and helped me remember the tunes.

I remember learning to read music, learning that a quarter note placed here made a D and if you moved it up here it became a G. Learning how this squiggly thing meant pause, and so did that dot over there, but one was longer and one was shorter. No matter how much you spelled out C A B B A G E PAUSE F A C E it did not make cabbage face, but a short melody.

I remember coming home from a piano lesson and noticing how tiny melodies were hidden in the way people talked, and how a whole new set of melodies opened up when I started to learn English. Even more when I started listening to French, German and Italian.

These days I'm reading Chaucer, and lines like these make me repeat them over and over, to listen to the wonderful melody it creates:

So aungellyk was hir natyf beautee
That lyk a thing inmortal semed she,
As doth an hevenish partfit creature
That doun were sent in scorning of nature.

The other night, I practiced reading the Lord's Prayer in Gothic. (For a presentation, not just for fun).  I listened to a recording, tried to connect the sounds with the spelling, figuring out what sort of tune each sound was supposed to make. I tried to turn this unfamiliar spelling into a new kind of sheet music, reading it out over and over, noticing the pauses and dynamics. After reading through the whole thing for the last time that evening, stopping at the last note, I smelled a faint whiff of a long forgotten perfume, and I swear I heard the room around me whisper "Ja, bra!"

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