Melodies of Power

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They say that one may gain control over the Powers that influence and shape our lives by knowing their True Names. As many other things that They say, this one is not true. As many other things that They say, this one has a seed of truth deep in its core.

The first part that is not true is that one may actually control the Powers, just as the Powers never control our lives either. The Powers might make reaching some goals harder for some people, some goals easier for other people. They may conspire to make it almost impossible for anyone to reach certain goals. But they can never control our lives. And in return, we can never control them. We can make it harder for them to touch us, or we can invite them to help us, we might bargain with them, threaten them, plead with them, but we can never control them. That is the ancient and unbreakable pact that we humans made with the Powers, that none of us may ever control the other. We all have free will.

The second part that is not true is that they have True Names. Many of the Powers are older than words, and thus, older than names. And without names they also have no True Names that bind and control them. But even though they are older than words, there is something even more ancient than them: Melody.

And so, when the Powers were young, melodies formed memories in them, and until this day, many, many centuries later, the same melodies still might soothe them, make them happy, make them sad, or even might hold them at bay, if sung perfectly. And even if we forgot about the Powers, and only our stories and legends sometimes remember them, the Powers never forgot about us, cannot forget about us, nor about the melodies. And sometimes, very rarely, we humans not only discover these melodies, humming them mindlessly, or playing random notes, but we also notice that these melodies are melodies of Powers. Maybe ‘notice’ is too strong a word, but yet, we know it to be true, we simply know, deep within, if we listen, carefully. But we hardly ever do.

Some of these melodies have been woven into ceremonies old a millennium or two, and that is why catholic masses all around the world are sung with the same melodies, no matter what language they use. Some of these melodies have only been discovered recently, and that is why football stadiums all around the world thunder the bass riff of Seven Nation Army.

One of these melodies, as banal as it is, the most famous of them maybe, although not the oldest, is the melody some of us sing to the words ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, little star…’. C-C-G-G-A-A-G. These lyrics were written down in the early 19th century, but the melody was much older. And indeed, more than a hundred years earlier, the lyrics to ‘Baa, baa, black sheep’ were written down, to the very same melody, and both songs are still sung today. And not only these two lyrics, also the alphabet song uses the same melody, and the millenia old oh so arbitrary, oh so meaningful order of the letters of the alphabet song follow the very same melody, C-C-G-G-A-A-G.

But the melody is even older than ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’ or ‘Baa, baa, black sheep’, in fact, it was written down by no one other than that young musical genius, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (and catalogued by Köchel with variations under the numbers 265 and 300), and was also used by Haydn, Liszt, and Bach (although not the famous one, but rather his fifth son). But Mozart did not invent it, but rather, while travelling through France, he heard it sung, as it was there already known for a long time, as a children’s song, ‘Ah! Vous dirai-je, maman’.

Who knows where the parents of 18th century France heard the melody before. Maybe it was from the same people who sang it to the neighbouring Germans, singing ‘Morgen kommt der Weihnachtsmann’ to the melody, with words from Hoffmann von Fallersleben, the same one who wrote the words for the German anthem. Maybe the same people the Dutch heard it from, to sing ‘Altijd is Kortjakje ziek’. To the other side, in Spain it is sung to ‘Campanita de Lugar’, and further to the east, in Hungary, to ‘Hull a pelyhes fehér hó’. Maybe it was already sung in the Roman empire, ‘Mica, mica, parva stella’, or maybe that was invented much later.

Or is it even older, much older? Because we can also hear the Arab people singing it to ‘Lailiaa, lailiaa ya Nishmesh’, maybe the Turks brought it to Europe and the Arabs, singing ‘Daha Dün Annemizin’, and maybe the Turks picked it up from the Chinese, singing ‘Yi shan, yi shan, liang jing jing’. But how did it make it to the Philippines, ‘Ning Ning nang munting butuin’? Maybe the song only spread in modern times, with those lyrics, but maybe it was already there, since the dawn of history and before.

Did the first nations of the Americas sing that song to their children? Protect them from the Powers, with words that neither matter nor are known anymore, as long as the melody is sung? Did people south of the Sahara, in the cradle of humanity, sing the melody the first time, tens of thousands of years ago? We cannot know. History does not care about the melodies sung by mothers to their children.

Whoever it was who discovered this melody, wherever this happened, at what time, long past, we have to be thankful. The Power that is kept at bay by this melody was a terrible one. We punished it with forgetting. We do not know anymore what Power it was. And maybe, if all goes well, we will never know it again. As long as parents sing to their children the melodies they heard themselves, as long as this circle remains unbroken and newly maid, from generation to generation. C-C-G-G-A-A-G.

First published on Medium.

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