Leaves the City in Silence

by James Bambury

No one has ever heard the Seer's piano but he composes at all hours of the day and night in his tower. Whenever he finishes a composition he throws it from the window and into the city streets below. His minuets and sonatas are composed in a musical cuneiform that denotes neither the pitch nor resonance of a note, but merely states which of the keys is to be struck on the piano and denotes the duration and phrasing for the patterns and sequences of keys.

The sheet music is copied and distributed amongst the city's musicians. They copy and learn the Seer's pieces and try to determine the tuning that will best play the composer's intended melody. Each of the compositions is said to be set to a particular combination of strings, gauges and tunings for the piano. Whether or not the notes should be ascending from low to high going to the left or right of the keyboard is the subject of two diametrically opposed schools of thought.

Further variations set the intervals between the keys at either whole, half, or quarter tones, although more arcane patterns of intervals are not unheard of. Some groups I have heard of ascribe distinct intervals to both the black and white keys. For instance, the white keys ascend on a straight chromatic scale while the black keys are set in their own scale of tri-tones.

There are nearly a hundred players in the city who claim that the Seer's compositions are to be played on a piano whose strings are all tuned to the same frequency; 88 keys all playing notes of the same pitch. They state that the compositions are merely rhythmic poetry. I do not subscribe to this point of view.

Some say that finding the right notes to match his is a hopeless and fruitless task given the seemingly infinite combinations of frequencies and pitches for the strings. Others whisper that the Seer's piano has no strings. They argue and that he sits in his tower composing to the the soft sound of the felt mallets from within his piano. My parents said that he waits up in the tower listening between bouts of writing for the moment that someone in the city below discovers the one intended tuning for his work. Supposedly, when he hears his music as it is written he will come down from the tower.

Many of us were raised to solve the riddle of his music. We learned to read his musical script of the keystrokes and rhythms. We were taught the delicate art of piano tuning, coupled with the comparatively brute act of adjusting the interiors of our pianos to accept different gauges of strings.

No one has ever questioned that the Seer's music is intended for the piano. No one questions out loud his method of notation or expresses resentment at the confounding absence of pitch in his work. Sometimes, after the frustration of many hours of grating, dissonant notes without cadence or resolution I give in to my doubts.

I fear he is a trickster who scribbles nonsense on the sheets of music that fall into the city streets. He knows that with the countless variations of tunings that someone below might accidentally stumble upon a pleasant melody but he, the Seer will ultimately be credited with the piece's creation. If not that then he is a madman who knows nothing of the craft of instrument playing as we have had to learn it. He scribbles his incomplete compositions and listens with delight at the cacophony of multitudes of pianos from his tower, each of us playing a small part in his wretched orchestra. I will never speak it aloud, but I secretly long for the day when his music stops falling onto the streets and leaves the city in silence.


James Bambury used to be better at reading sheet music. He writes from Brampton, Ontario and keeps a blog about it at http://jamesbambury.blogspot.com.