F - G - C - Eb
The musical call to the God Pan is said to be made up of four notes; F G C and
E-flat. These notes invoke Pan. Or soothe him to sleep. Or
please him enough to send him dancing peacefully on his way. Since the Greeks
used very different musical scales and notation systems than we do, it is
likely these are not the notes an ancient would have used to call Pan. But they
have a special magic all their own. These notes can fit into a minor scale, the
Dorian mode or the Mixolydian mode easily enough. They can be played alone or
other notes can be tucked in around them. They can outline chords or become
stepping stones in a melody or harmony line. They can move one to the next
quickly or linger as drones. They can dance, skip, march, process, grieve or
hum a lullaby. All this from just four notes.
Goat-legged Pan is the God of the
wilderness and the realms beyond human homes. He is shown playing a syrinx or
panpipes so often it would make sense for him to be the God of music. But he
wasn’t exactly. His music was the music of the wilds and the country folk.
Music that anyone could make and enjoy. He was often shown with Dionysus who
also loved untamed music. Some say Pan was the God of theatrical criticism
(intriguing since Dionysus was the God of theater).
The panpipes were
considered a country or shepherds’ instrument because they weren’t difficult to
make. Though learning to play them well was another story. Most Gods didn’t bother
with them. But Pan claimed them as his special skill. He invented the panpipes
when one lovely nymph transformed herself into a patch of reeds while he was
chasing her. The breezes made the reeds hum and sing so beautifully, Pan was
inspired to create an instrument named for the nymph who had rejected him,
Syrinx. Hermes sometimes is credited with inventing the panpipes but others say
he simply learned to make and play them from the master music maker.
never civilized enough for the more formal gatherings of the Gods where Apollo
and the Muses ruled the stage. Yet Apollo took lessons from Pan, both in music
and prophecies. Once, Pan and Apollo even had a musical contest. Midas was one of the
listeners and preferred Pan’s pipe-music to Apollo’s lyre-playing. He also
questioned how fair the contest had been to begin with, since the judges were
followers of Apollo. Apollo gave Midas donkey’s ears in revenge for his criticisms.
Pan to lure animals to them with his music. He coaxed Psyche out of her
suicidal depression and helped her figure out how to get back her husband,
Cupid, all with music. He fell in love with Echo, the nymph who could only
repeat what others had said, a mythic call-and-response duo. Pan likes
to sleep at noon and pipe his tunes at dawn or dusk. Waking Pan from his midday
nap is an especially dangerous activity. His voice alone can panic the Titans
into running away. He uses his music to lure young girls and boys into the
woods and plays for the dancing nymphs under the stars. He can put a person to
sleep or drive them mad with just a tune.
Perhaps we will wander into the woods
this spring when the green shoots and early flowers are growing beside the
thawing creeks and streams. And perhaps we will play four notes that ring and
echo into the distance. If we dare.