There is a more developed history to the origins of music than Mel Brooks’ History of the World Part I where cavemen dropped rocks on each other’s toes to create the first stone-age choir. Thus I would like to share a few of my common knowledge thoughts on the matter and also relate them to our work at The Community School.
Music has been an important tool of communication for thousands of years. The earliest instruments date back over 40,000 years and can be traced to tribes in around the world. One story of instrumental origins I was told by a professor of mine dates to an early African tribe where virgin sacrifice was a common religious practice. This practice was responsible for creating the first horned instrument by collecting the hollowed out femur bones. In fact, the horn and the flute were amongst the two earliest instruments first fashioned from human remains and were later adapted from other hollowed out animal parts. These naturally made instruments though gruesome, were literally derived from within us. The horn in particular was used as a warning signal amongst other needs to call people to attention within tribal societies. The third instrument invented, which has an equally brutal yet vivacious origin, was the drum. The drum was used as an instrument of war during tribal times. A vicious nomadic or dominant tribe would often conquer neighboring tribes. They developed the drum from stretching animal skin across fallen enemies’ skull caps. This way when they marched to the next village to conquer, they would instill a viral fear into those they came across by making sounds of the gods, like thunder, as they crossed paths. I know this may sound disgusting and quite possibly abhorring to some but I think it is important to note the ancestral role of music as an integral part to the progression of society.
Though these tribes often did not speak the same language, music was often used as a means of universal communication. Music eventually developed as being integral to early philosophy and religion in a number of ancient cultures including Egypt, India, and China. The pigmy’s of Africa built a religion based around their drum choir. The drum choir was split into five different drums each tuned to create its own unique tone. The five tones of the drums were meant to represent not only the five senses but also the five primal elements earth, wind, fire, water, and air. They named these five tones Ta (tah, like open up and say ah), Ki (as in the key to your front door) Ga (gah just the same as saying ah), Ma (mah as I mentioned before with Ta and Ga), and La (lah, also a long a such as in ah as the others). It is known as the Ta Ki Ga Ma La philosophy of the Pigmy people. This system helped to create rhythm and meter because you can use the syllables of its name to generate a multiplicity of rhythmic lines. For example Ta Ki Ga Ma La when repeated over and over, creates a rhythm in the meter of 5/4 (that’s five beats to a measure). 1,2,3,4,5. 1,2,3,4,5. And so on. It also creates emphasis on Ta Ki, which is a measure of 2/4 (1,2. 1,2. 1,2. 1,2.), and emphasis on Ga Ma La known as a triplet in modern music lingo and denoted as a measure of 3/4 (1,2,3. 1,2,3,. 1,2,3. 1,2,3, etc). If you put Ga Ma La in front of Ta Ki, it would still be counted as 5/4 but it’s make up would be different. It’s easy to hear if you say it to yourself, perhaps when no one else is around if you think it might sound silly, but ultimately that’s your decision. Try it. Ta Ki Ga Ma La vs. Ga Ma La Ta Ki. You can also mix all the syllables or you can pick a few to focus on. Here’s an example in 4/4 the most common meter in today’s music: Ta Ki Ta Ki, Ta Ki Ta Ki, Ta Ma Ta Ki, Ta Ki Ta Ki, Ga Ma La Ki, Ga Ma La Ta, Ki Ta Ki Ta. It can be a mouthful, but nevertheless this seemingly tongue twistin’ like philosophy and concept is a founding stepping stone to modern music. With this system any beat construction is possible. The five tones of the drums they used also became known as the Penta Tonic Scale (five tone or five note scale) which is a major foundation of pop, rock n roll, country, jazz, and hip hop as well as the sole creator of the blues which influenced all of those genres I just listed.
I have thus found it integral in connecting with other people to understand or at least be aware of this universal language that has been the catalyst of so many great human discoveries. In my work at TCS, I have attempted to include elements of music in role playing, improvisation, poetry, literature, spatial awareness, and temporal development in order to establish social connections with the children and alternative cognitive associations. It is incredible to me that a place even exists where innovation and imagination is praised and accepted as a means to real and meaningful educational benefit. I look forward to culminating my teaching and social skills in the TCS environment. I have seen visible evidence of the incredible benefit of having a community devoted to this and wish that it could be expanded to others who need it.
When I started in August I began teaching music in some classes but did not have many instruments to use. I remember asking Dave Nelson if there was any way we could get a keyboard to use for classes. Within one week we not only got one key board, we had two donated to the cause. I use both instruments every day and have used them to make monumental leaps in the comprehension of music within the students I have the pleasure of knowing. The enthusiasm of the students, parents, and staff is truly admirable. I understand that many of the problems that children with ASD and related challenges stem from the inability to communicate efficiently. I believe music could be instrumental (no pun intended) in strengthening that ability. It is in this way that I am enthralled to lend my knowledge of music to TCS as I have found it to be a valuable thread to rebuilding a sense of the rope bridges which spanned the schisms following the ruin of the Tower of Babel.
~Ben Davidow, TCS Staff