December 17, 2013

The Lullaby Begins

All that exists remakes creation by existing. The painter, the sculptor, the gardener, the builder all transform the universe with their tales. The rock, the flower, the ice and the air redefine the world by their existence alone. Music is no different.

Long before long ago could even exist, all of creation - all that is, all that was and all that may be - still lay wrapped tight within itself. Here, in this time that is not, all creation slept. A deep dreamless sleep where all awareness dissolves into the stuff that feeds the soul. But as always happens, when the soul is fed, dreams began. And within the dreams Creation met sensation for the first time. Through sensation, Creation learned to understand itself and all that was around it within the dream, for within the dream all is understood or if not understood then accepted as if it was well known. In this acceptance, Creation learned meaning and even language but only in the dream where logic twists itself into tangled spirals. And even now, that first learning still runs through all of creation’s understanding of itself and spins tiny knots into all reason and order.

Wild Raspberry Buds
But then, creation began to wake.
And for all its learning of dreams, creation had never experienced itself when awake. In the waking, creation found itself as lost as it had been at the start of the dream, now long forgotten. All experience was equally startling, joy and sorrow as overwhelming as a drop of water and grain of sand. All the colors exploded, smells wove together, taste drowned the horizon, sound cracked atoms and touch brought the world to an end or so it seemed. And then, slowly, creation began to notice something. It was more comforting than shade in summer, tasted more decadent than black raspberries, smelled more enticing than wine and was softer than flower petals. It was the lullaby. As creation listened, it began to realize it knew this music. It had been hearing this tune for longer than it could remember, longer even than it had been dreaming. Listening to this lullaby brought a sweeter comfort than creation could imagine or even knew how to long for and brought all of creation’s sharp, new sensations into a kind of order.

Wild Raspberries

And then, creation stretched. 
As it stretched, creation realized that each section of itself heard the music differently, a note here, a hold there, with timbres shifting and rolling against each other. Each move creation made changed how a part of creation heard the lullaby and how all of creation fit the lullaby together. And as each change added to how the music could be heard, creation discovered harmony and began to find the meaning that it thought it had left in the dream. So creation began to unfold and coil round and round itself to hear all the infinite changes, and at that moment made a decision. Dream knowledge said there was no end to the changes in the music or creation itself and that this variety of self and lullaby would bring joy in the deepest sorrow.

Snow Raspberries Echinacea
Berry Canes and Echinacea
So creation made a decision to create as many possibilities as it could find within itself so that it could always hear the lullaby anew. And still to this very day, that line of music, that infinite diversity, that touch of chaos, that bit of dream wisdom runs through all of creation as a gift of joy that is given to all that is, all that was and all that may be.

October 30, 2013

Dionysus and A Night at the Theater

Dionysus the God of wine, nature, trance, theater and music.

Apollo of course is the most famous God of music in ancient Greece, but his music was always Greek and had to follow the rules of harmony or be used to improve the listener’s character. All the passionate music, all the drunken festival music and all the music from other countries fell to Dionysus. Even the instruments associated with lands outside Greece were given to Dionysus, as if they were so dangerous they had to be handled by an animal tamer.
The aulos, a double reed instrument closer to an oboe or bagpipe than a flute, was a favorite of the mad God’s followers. Its high wailing nasal sound went well with the frenzied trances that seemed to consume everyone at Dionysus’s festivals. Those who didn’t want to run up and down mountains while playing a wind instrument played cymbals, tambourines and drums; anything that rattled and clattered was allowed. Dancing cymbals, rattles and small drums that can be carried while running were used so often they became background noise.
It is fairly well known that Hermes invented the lyre using a tortoise shell and gave it to Apollo. But that was just one kind of lyre. The kithara was the lyre that became associated with professional musicians and Apollo. But the kithara was also called the lyre of drinking parties and intoxication, Dionysus's specialties. Meanwhile a larger deeper lyre, the barbiton, was linked to women and Dionysus but then mixed up with so many different instruments it is difficult to be certain what anyone meant by the term. The various lyres have connections to harps, guitars and even violins (some by round about routes). This creates an interesting spin on the many stories of meeting a guitar or violin playing spirit or "devil" at the crossroads!
Musician at the Crossroads

Music in general was used in Dionysus’s worship to induce trance states similar to drunkenness. Dionysus could drive men mad with the sound of his aulos or soothe sorrow with song. Tityroi and Satyrs, half animal nature spirits, surrounded Dionysus as he wandered from town to town, calling out his worshippers with music on aulos, shepherd pipes and tambourines. At Dionysus’s festivals, choruses dressed as Satyrs to perform Satyr-plays. They danced in circles while singing dithyrambs, hymns in honor of Dionysus.
Music and Meanads
Female followers of the vine God known as Meanads ran into the wilderness with their hair loose and streaming. They used music to dance, sing and play themselves into ecstatic trances.
The Korybantes, spirits of the countryside similar to the Kouretes and Dactyls, protected the young Dionysus by dancing around him and using their shields as cymbals to cover the infant's cries. Many different deities were said to have raised Dionysus; among them we find the Muses, the Goddesses of poetry, music and inspiration. They taught him the art of chorus singing and dancing, which was used in nearly all Greek theater. The Muses traveled with him around the world as he spread the art of wine-making. It was said they delighted his heart with song, dance and “their other talents.” As the God of intoxication, he was a God of inspiration and prophecy. He shared the Delphic oracle with Apollo and his Muses. Again like Apollo, Dionysus offered healing with his prophecies, most often in dreams, natural or wine-induced.
Dionysus was given the honor of inventing theater: both the plays and the buildings they were performed in. Many early theaters were open air stages, almost altars, with seats rising up to catch the voices of the actors and the music that went with them. Plays in Ancient Greece made heavy use of music to evoke emotional reactions from the audience and show how the story was progressing. Some called that much music decadent, some called it dangerous but it remained popular no matter what it was called. The Florentine Camerata (1600s) liked the idea of using music to tell stories and show emotion so much that they invented opera in imitation of Dionysus’s tragedies and comedies. The soundtracks of today’s movies and TV shows pay homage to this ancient use of music.

Dionysus was called Polyhymnus “the lover of all songs” or "much sung of" and Dionysus Melpomenus, “the singer” or “the minstrel of tragedy,” and Thyoneus, "inspired."
Tree God and May Pole
Dionysus Dendrites, the God of the Tree.
Singing, reed instruments, drums and cymbals mix melody and rhythm like water and wine. Every tune used to set a mood, every group that joins together in song and dance, every experimental form of music that breaks the rules calls up this God of the wild and uncontrolled. Karaoke, Kirtan, sports chants, Mardi Gras parades, rock concerts, musicals, music from other lands, songs that make us laugh and songs that let us weep all remind us of how inescapable divine inspiration truly is.

September 25, 2013

Apollo the One Man Band

August sunset
Apollo Helios
Apollo Phoebus
In Greek myth, Apollo is the God of Harmony, Music, Prophecy and Healing. When he first came to Olympus with his lyre, the Gods could think of nothing but music. The nine Muses burst out singing while the three Graces, the three Horai and Harmonia, Hebe and Aphrodite (another group of nine) danced in a circle with Artemis leading them from the center. Even Ares and Hermes dropped their spear and staff in order to leap and cavort among the dancers. Apollo was promptly declared to be the God who brings nature into harmony. He plucks the strings of his lyre with a plectrum made of sunlight.

Except, the lyre hadn’t been  invented yet.
On the day Hermes was born, he found a tortoise and used its shell to make the first lyre. He then stole Apollo’s cows for a small barbeque. When he was caught, Hermes gave the lyre to Apollo and taught him to play it as payment for the 50 cows he had already eaten. Apollo was delighted and felt he had gotten the better end of the deal saying the lyre’s harmonies caused bliss, love and restful sleep. He even used the string music to make the walls of Troy dance into place (unless that was Poseidon and his Godlike masonry).
Before the lyre lessons, Apollo played the aulos, a double-reed instrument that turned breath into flying notes and made all who heard it forget their worries. He played laments, music for sacrifices and foreign dances on the wild instrument. He even played country melodies in King Admetus's herding fields, were Apollo went to atone for several different wrongs.

Except, the aulos hadn’t been invented yet.
When Medusa was killed, her sisters wailed and keened for her so beautifully that Athena stopped to listen. She picked reeds and made the first aulos to imitate the Gorgons’ singing. The aulos became the wind instrument of choice in ancient Greece and aulos players were often kept on city payrolls just in case they were needed to appease a God or fight a plague (plagues were one of Apollo's special forms of revenge). The instrument was so common, today it is mistakenly translated as flute in English in spite of being played more like an oboe. Hermes even claimed he had invented it when he created the lyre, just to get in on the action. Apollo finally asked Athena to teach him the aulos so he could play harmonies and keep time for the antiphonal Muses in his role as their choir leader.

Except, he wasn’t the leader of the Muses yet.
Artemis sang and danced with the Muses in all the earlier stories and she was considered their dance leader even after Apollo got the higher ranking title. Some say he was in love with all of Mnemosyne’s Muse daughters and decided to stay unmarried when he couldn’t figure out how to marry all nine at once. Others said he was the father of the three Muses at Delphi; Kephiso “of the river Kephiso”, Borysthenis “strength” and Apollonis, a female version of Apollo.

In all the stories of Apollo’s many conquests, there is not one mention of a possible mother for the singing poets. The Muses of Delphi may have accepted Apollo as their honorary father, but the story doesn’t seem to have been finished. Possibly this was because they weren’t the most popular Muses anyway. This left hints and gaps showing how Apollo had moved into a place already filled to the rafters with Gods. There are four stories among Apollo’s affairs and descendants that could have included the Muses fairly easily and somewhat logically, based on connections to the oracle site, music, poetry or a combination of these traits. But the Muses are not even hinted at as offspring of any of these women.
Dryope was tricked by Apollo in the shape of a tortoise, the animal whose shell was originally used to make lyres.
Phanothea and Phemonoe were priestesses of Apollo who are both credited with inventing hexameter, the poetic form the Delphi oracles traditionally used. They are sometimes considered to be the same person but only Phemonoe is listed as Apollo’s daughter.
Celaeno/Melaena and Apollo’s descendents gave their names to Delphi and the Pythian oracle. She was the daughter of the Kephiso river, the same river the Muse Kephiso is named after.
Thyia, another daughter of the river Kephiso, was the first person to sacrifice in honor of Dionysus at Delphi. Apollo and Dionysus shared custody of the Delphi oracle. She is sometimes the mother and grandmother of Delphus and Pythes instead of Celaeno/Melaeno.

When Apollo claimed the Pythian oracle, it already spoke in meters and poems, which the Muses had loved long before Apollo was born. Delphi’s three resident Muses, even had to be renamed for the low, middle and high strings on the lyre that Apollo played before Apollo was allowed to join their trio.
Speaking of lyres, there were two different kinds that were used strictly for different styles of music. Apollo only played one with his uplifting, character building music. Dionysus played the other for his drunken runs through the mountains and to pump up the emotions of his theater shows. The Muses of course loved all music, not just Apollo Approved chords. Its hardly surprising that “Apollo’s Muses” kept running off to see Dionysus’s latest plays with their toe tapping tunes. Two Muses, Thaleia and Melpomene, even claimed comedy and tragedy as their special musical areas.

The Contests: Reeds vs. Strings
One day, after Apollo gave up the aulos for the lyre, Marsyas, a goat-footed satyr, found Athena’s first set of aulos reeds which almost played themselves thanks to the Goddess’s breath having touched them. He naturally challenged Apollo to a contest, satyrs having very little sense. They met and played in Phyrgia near a lake full of reeds perfect for making aulos mouth pieces. Some say Marsyas won and Apollo was so furious, he skinned Marsyas and used the goatskin as a wineskin. Some say Apollo won and skinned Marsyas for losing but the little country Gods turned Marsyas into a stream. Some say Marsyas won the first round but then Apollo turned his lyre upside down and played again or he sang while playing, both tricks a wind player can’t do. In other words, Apollo the God of natural rules and order, cheated. In most versions, the Muses were the judges, making it seem even less likely to have been a fair contest. Some people have claimed this story was meant to show that the civilized lyre was a better instrument than the bawdy aulos which was used in the worship of various foreign Gods. Although how the versions with Apollo losing show that, I’m not quite sure. The tag to the story, that Marsyas’s aulos was dedicated to Apollo after the contest, raises even more questions. One or two versions even have Apollo feeling sorry for how he treats his competition and tearing the strings from his lyre in atonement. Finally, Satyrs may have been the mythical version of shaman-priests wearing animal skins. To “skin” one would be nothing more than taking off a heavy robe and returning the priest to his everyday life.

Pan playing double aulos
Pan playing the double aulos
Pan, the half-goat half-God famous for his syrinx/panpipes, also got into a contest with Apollo and his new lyre. This time Tmolus, the God of a mountain were Dionysus was worshipped, was the judge. Unless it was King Midas, a follower of Pan’s. Or perhaps the Muses listened in again or maybe all of them together formed a panel. But in any case, Midas alone declared that Pan should win. Apollo gave Midas donkey’s ears for ruling against him since he couldn’t really take it out on Pan, who was another God after all. (Perhaps Apollo should have waited till he had a little more practice on his new instrument before entering all these contests.)

Cinyras/Kyknos was a king of Cyprus, a priest of Aphrodite and sometimes a son of Apollo. He got into a lyre contest with Apollo, too, but this time, both seem to have played the same instrument. The challenge suddenly became much more personal. Cinyras lost, we’re told, and threw himself into the sea or was turned into a swan (sacred to both Apollo and Aphrodite). His 50 daughters also turned into birds, out of sorrow it was said. Though on a side note, the Muses, who were known to turn into birds themselves, had once or twice changed other musical contestants into birds.

Paean, The Music Therapist
In early Greece, many healers used paeans as musical charms that both praised and asked a God for help. They were performed as a prayer, for good luck, to avert evil, to ask for healing, before battles and after victories. The early formal paean had a solo leader and a choral response while later versions were mostly antiphonal chorus, both very like the description of the Muses singing. They were usually accompanied by the kithara (Apollo’s lyre), but on the battlefield they were accompanied by both aulos and kithara, the instruments from Apollo’s contests. Paean is also the name of the God who healed both Ares and Hades with herbs and music when no one else could. Eventually, Paean became one of Apollo’s more famous titles, though other Gods with links to healing used that title too.

Apollo Musagetes “of the Muses”
Apollo Kitharodos/Chithaeroedus “the lyre singer”
Apollo Nomius “of the meadow/pasture” who plays shepherd pipes/aulos
Apollo Pythius of oracles, meters and poems
Apollo Paean “healer” and song
Apollo may have gotten top billing, but he always ended up sharing music and roles with others. He learned music and song from anyone he could, civilized or not. He organized music, defined harmony and made music into the finest, most soothing balm. Apollo is the dabbler who learns new music for fun and the student driven by ambition. He is the patron of all the divas who are justly proud of their skills and all the musicians who can’t wait to learn a new instrument. He is the first music theorist and orchestrator, the conductor and the promoter. He dragged society round by the ears to honor musical accomplishments and made music something all people could share. He shows how to use music to bring peace and healing to the soul.