Michel Godard Plays the Serpent

Michel Godard

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 for most of it. Keep your ears open. There are at least two ways to think about the group of notes that is the Phrygian mode. When in a mode like this, it can be useful to use the root and fifth, as well as the notes resolving strongly to these notes. These are where you find the interesting half steps in this mode. Here’s the Phrygian used for most of this tune (these are trumpet pitches, not concert pitch, so transpose it if you need to):

  • Easiest: It’s a scale from E to E, no sharps no flats. with the notes E-F-G-A-B-C-D-E. 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 (trumpeters this would be our F# Phrygian). It’s the same relationships of whole and half steps and is easy to see on the keyboard.
  • 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. So, E Phrygian is the easiest in some ways. It has no sharps or flats and goes from E to E. (What major scale is E Phrygian related to?) 

Play along w/the tune. If  you’re a brass player, buzz along with it, either with our without your ‘piece. It’s in a great range. Figure out the melody. It has only two main phrases, each one repeated (AABB) and E Phrygian will work for most of it. Keep your ears open for when the tonality shifts. The form goes like this: frame drum solo intro, The serpent voice states the full melody, and then is joined by the vocalist who also sings the full melody, then at 3:30, 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.

Find recordings by Michel Godard

All of the modes–including the Phrygian mode used here–are covered in Chapter 26, “Scales a la Mode” from Basic Music Theory: How to Read, Write and Understand Written Music as well as in the much shorter (and cheaper) Basic Jazz Theory, book 1

E Phrygian is related to the C major scale.

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