“Alyson,” Maestro called over his shoulder, “would you like to help?”
Alyson gasped and clasped her hands together. “Oh, yes, please!”
She skipped over and sat on her knees to look into the chest. Still not entirely convinced of Maestros’ trustworthiness, I joined them and peered inside as well, just to be sure.
There was nothing threatening in the chest after all–only large, black plastic numbers that seemed harmless enough.
“Choose your time signature,” said Maestro, “and the notes will have to arrange themselves inside the measures to match.”
Ahh, so those are measures on the floor! I thought triumphantly.
“Why does she get to pick the time signature?” one of the notes whined.
Maestro stiffened, and his head snapped around. “Because she is our guest! Where are your manners?”
The note crossed her arms and pouted. I turned my attention back to Alyson, who was rummaging inside the chest for the first number.
“A-hah!” she cried out. “A four! This will go on bottom.” She lifted the number high above her head.
“Very good. Do you know where to place it?” asked Maestro.
Alyson nodded vigorously. “Of course!”
She leapt to her feet and hurried over to the measures taped on the floor. Bending down, she placed the number four just inside the first barline.
“Precisely!” Maestro praised her. “Alright class, who receives one beat when the four is on bottom?”
Tiny hands shot into the air and waved excitedly, all quarter notes who chanted “Me! Me! Me!”
“Correct!” said Maestro. “And what should the top number be?” he asked Alyson, who frowned as she considered her choices.
“Hmm…How about a…” she reached into the chest and snatched out another number, “three!” She ran back to the first measure and placed the three directly above the four.
“There you have it!” called Maestro. “Your time signature is three-four! Now it’s time to create the rhythms. Each team must work together to decide how to arrange yourselves within your measure, and when you’ve finished, you should have three beats to match the time signature. Are you ready?”
“Yes!” cried the notes in unison.
All the teams huddled together and conversed in low voices. I watched with some interest as the first teams began arranging themselves within their measures, deciding who should be included and who couldn’t fit.
After a few more minutes, the teams had all settled into their measures and awaited Maestro’s verdict. He looked them up and down without saying a word. I saw his right ear twitch just before he turned to Alyson again.
“What do you think? Are they all arranged correctly?”
Alyson pointed to herself with a look of surprise. “You want me to check?”
“Certainly! I’ve heard your lessons with Mrs. Stephanie, so I know you have been taught to count.”
I felt quite proud of this complement at first, until I remembered it had just come from a unicorn, who–apart from being a mythological creature–was surely far from being an expert on musical rhythm.
Alyson took a deep breath and squared her shoulders, then turned to face the notes again, determination set on her face.
She counted them off out loud. “Quarter, quarter, quarter—good. Half, quarter—good. Half—uh-oh!” she stopped. “In measure three, there’s a half note all alone. But that’s only two beats. It needs one more beat to complete the measure.”
“Quite right,” agreed Maestro. “However, there are no quarter notes or rests on his team. What would you suggest D4 use for the third beat then?”
Alyson tapped her chin thoughtfully, then gasped. “I know! What if he was a dotted half note instead? Can they do that?”
Maestro nodded with approval. “You heard our guest! D4, you need your dot!”
D4 slapped his forehead and exclaimed, “Oops!” Then he stuck two fingers in his mouth and whistled loudly.
From the perches in the corner of the room, one of the mysterious, flying balls took to flight and landed on D4’s outstretched finger.
“There!” said D4, lifting the round ball up beside his head. “That’s better–isn’t it?”
Alyson giggled with delight and clapped her hands. “Look, Ms. Stephanie, it’s a dotted half note!”
“So it is,” I said, allowing myself a little grin.
After a careful scan of the remaining teams, Alyson announced that everything was in order.
“Indeed!” said Maestro. “Well done, everybody! Now we just have to wait for Ms. M to arrive to help with our next task.”
“Who’s Ms. M?” asked Alyson. I was very grateful she did, because I was just wondering the same thing.
“Ms. M is one of the other teachers,” explained Maestro. “Her full name is Ms. Steady Metronome, but most of the students just call her Ms. M for short.”
“Ahh, of course,” I said.
By now I had come to the conclusion that, seeing as we were stuck in this absurd place for the time being (and it seemed they didn’t plan to eat us), we might as well go along with the insanity. So I held my tongue and did not question the idea that a metronome could be a teacher.
No sooner had the conversation ended, than the door to the classroom opened again and a woman entered. She looked almost like an ordinary human being, except that she was made entirely out of wood. Under different circumstances, I might have thought her appearance strange, but at present she was the closest thing to normal I had encountered.
Her long dress was made of wood as well, and it flared out at the bottom, giving her a triangular shape. With brisk, even steps she marched straight up to Maestro without sparing so much as a glance at Alyson or me. The lady stopped, gave a curt nod to Maestro, then turned to face the class. All of her motions were done in perfect time, like clockwork.
“Good morning, Ms. Metronome,” Maestro said cheerfully. “You are right on time, as always.”
“I know,” replied the woman.
She spoke next to the notes in a voice that was measured and flat, without any pauses or inflections. In fact, she sounded as stiff as she looked. “Good day, class. Are you ready to begin your rhythm exercise?”
“Yes, ma’am,” answered the notes.
“Excellent. Teams, get set!”
Ms. M held her right arm straight out in front of her body, then bent it at the elbow so her hand pointed up. “Here is your tempo,” she said, rocking her arm left and right in a steady beat. At the same time, she counted mechanically, “One-two-three, one-two-three, go!”
The notes yelled out their beats in turn, following her tempo:
“STOP!” Ms. M cried loudly, dropping her arm to her side. “G4, you came in one beat too early. Do you know why?”
G4 put his hands on his hips. “I thought I was right. I said ‘one,’ and that comes after ‘three.'”
“That is true,” said Ms. M in her monotone voice. “Except you failed to notice that you are not in the place of beat one, but beat two. You skipped the Quarter Rest’s turn.”
“Ugh…” G4 moaned. “I always forget you, Q. You’re too quiet.”
“That’s no excuse. He is right beside you. You should pay more attention to those around you and wait your turn,” Ms. M scolded.
“Fine,” G4 sighed. “But I still don’t see the point of rests in music. They don’t do anything. No offense, Q,” he added to the quarter rest reside him, who merely shrugged in response.
“Why, silence is just as important as sound!” cried Maestro with gusto.
“Yes,” agreed Ms. M flatly. “It gives contrast to music, so sometimes the ear gets sound and sometimes it gets silence. Rests can also add drama and suspense by breaking up the sound.”
“Right!” said Maestro. “Never forget, students: Just because someone is different than you does’t mean they’re less important. Music needs silence just as much as it needs sound.”
The students exchanged glances with each other as they considered this new idea.
“Very well. Let’s try again, shall we?” said Ms. M, who counted off the tempo one more time.
The notes called out their beats again and this time made it all the way to the end without a mistake. They even remembered to include each rest.
They repeated the exercise with different time signatures, until a bell signaled the end of class. There was much pushing and stepping on toes and arguing as everyone lined up by the door.
“Quiet!” shouted Ms. M over the noise. “Order, please!”
“You heard her, class,” said Maestro. “Please line up silently and in an orderly fashion. Then, and only then, will you be free to go.”
The unicorn turned to me and explained under his breath.
“Recess is next.”
To be continued…