Michel Godard Blows a Mean Serpent

We must combine the toughness of the serpent with the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.
~
Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Michel Godard
Image via Wikipedia

This is an excellent musical performance, and interesting to boot! The frame drum solo at the beginning drew me right in, and when Michel Godard began to play the serpent I was entranced.  The serpent is an ancient low-voiced instrument similar to the Medieval cornetto, and  it produces a mesmerizing sound in the hands of a master like Godard (see below).

Godard’s ear and lip control put him completely in tune with the singer. A haunting mix of sounds. Vocals are provided by Linda Bsiri, and the masterful tef playing is by Jarrod Cagwin . According to the comments it’s both a sephardic tune, La Rosa Enflorese and is also known as Los Biblicos, traditional. I don’t know how accurate those comments are. Facts on the Internet are like notes on a trombone: Infinite in number, but most of them are wrong.

What is most certainly a fact is that this piece uses the D Phrygian mode. There are at least two ways to think about this pattern of notes.

  • Easiest: It’s a scale from D to D, with the notes D-Eb-F-G-A-Bb-C-D. The half step comes between the 1st and 2nd degree- and 5th and 6th degree of the scale. Another easy way to get this in your ear is to play E to E using only the white keys of the piano. It’s the same relationships of whole and half steps.
  • If you know your major scales, start on the third degree of the major scale and play an octave using the key of the scale. You’ve just played a Phrygian mode. The concert Bscale from D to D works for this tune.

Play along w/the tune. Try to learn the melody. It has only two main phrases, each one repeated (AABB). The serpent voice states the full melody, and then is joined by the vocalist who also sings the full melody. Then a mad serpent solo by Michel Godard over the  rhythm pattern laid down on the tef by Jarrod Cagwin; the full form of the melody is sung again by Linda Bsiri (w/ Godard riffing in the background) and it’s over.

Masterful.

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