May 31, 2015

Four Notes, The Pan Call

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.
Pan was 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.
Hunters asked 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.