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Michael Wm. Kaluta © 2001

MARTIAN MUSIC

David Bruce Bozarth

Edgar Rice Burroughs presented an in-depth and highly evolved world in his famous Barsoomian novels, including commentary regarding this alien culture's interest in music--from low to high society, to military bands, as well as time honored dances and music of antiquity.

In Thuvia, Maid of Mars we find this aside:

Strains of inspiring music broke pleasantly from open windows, for the Martians have solved the problem of attuning the nerves pleasantly to the sudden transition from sleep to waking that proves so difficult a thing for most Earth folk.

Beginning the day with music--an alarm clock, so to speak. The Barsoomians obviously embraced music in some form in their daily lives; however, the Martian music described is not OUR music, yet serves the same function of personal enjoyment and cultural significance. Later, we are advised that:

Martians dislike harsh, discordant clamour. The only loud noises they can abide are the martial sounds of war, the clash of arms, the collision of two mighty dreadnoughts of the air. To them there is no sweeter music than this.

Music appears to be an integral part of Barsoomian society, even in war. The various tales of Barsoom written by Edgar Rice Burroughs indicates that music is a large aspect of Barsoomian psychology. In what many ERB fans and scholars consider to be on of the more "lightweight" Mars stories (A Fighting Man of Mars) Burroughs takes time to expound on the musicality of the Martian races. It is revealed that even in the court of Tul Axtar, a minor despotic dictator embarked on world domination, music plays a significant role:

Here it was that Tul Axtar occasionally held unique court, surrounded solely by his women. Here they danced for him; here they disported themselves in the limpid waters of the pool for his diversion; here banquets were spread and to the strains of music high revelry persisted long into the night.

Yet as we read on through the tales of Barsoom we discover that music on Barsoom is bears little resemblance to the tonalities and rhythms of Earth. Burroughs offers this observation:

Mars is a world of vast silences where even voiced creatures are muted as though by the consciousness of impending death, for Mars is a dying world. We abhor noise; and so our voices, like our music, are soft and low; and we are a people of few words. John Carter has told me of the din of Earthly cities and of the brasses and the drums and the cymbals of Earthly music, of the constant, senseless chatter of millions of voices saying nothing. I believe that such as these would drive Martians insane.

Vor Daj makes this comment in Synthetic Men of Mars:

The morning after Gantun Gur's visit, I was awakened by the beating of drums and the mournful notes of wind instruments producing music that sounded very much like a dirge.

Not all of the music of Barsoom is joyous or uplifting as the strains that Tara hummed, tunes which bemused Ghek of the Kaldanes in Chessmen of Mars:

She even caught herself humming a gay little tune that was then popular in Helium. The creature at her side turned its expressionless eyes upon her.

"What is that noise that you are making?" it (Ghek) asked.

"I was but humming an air," she replied.

The happy and popular tunes of Tara sang are juxtaposed by the drear melodies that Vor Daj heard while imprisoned. He asks the question:

"What has happened, Orm-O?" I asked him. "Why the music?"

"Do you mean that you have not heard?" he asked. "Vanuma is dead. One of her slaves told me that there was no doubt but that she had been poisoned; and Jal Had is suspected."

John Carter ponders in Gods of Mars:

During the fighting in the chamber I had not even a single chance to so much as steal a glance at her where she stood behind me beside the throne of the dead ruler. I wondered why she no longer urged me on with the strains of the martial hymn of Helium; but I did not need more than the knowledge that I was battling for her to bring out the best that is in me.

Music, subdued in tone, non-cacaphonous except in war, yet there is the Dance of Barsoom. (Tangor's midi composition "Dance of Barsoom" should be playing as you view this page, if not, download the appropriate plug-in or click on the link) The Dance of Barsoom...

...bears a relation similar to the more formal dancing functions of Mars that The Grand March does to ours, though it is infinitely more intricate and more beautiful. Before a Martian youth of either sex may attend an important social function where there is dancing, he must have become proficient in at least three dances--The Dance of Barsoom, his national dance, and the dance of his city. In these three dances the dancers furnish their own music, which never varies; nor do the steps or figures vary, having been handed down from time immemorial. All Barsoomian dances are stately and beautiful, but The Dance of Barsoom is a wondrous epic of motion and harmony--there is no grotesque posturing, no vulgar or suggestive movements. It has been described as the interpretation of the highest ideals of a world that aspired to grace and beauty and chastity in woman, and strength and dignity and loyalty in man.

Tangor's Score

Apologies tendered, did not convert well from composing program.

3/8 time at 54 mm, tenuto pizzacato utilized, string voice; best playback with Yamaha GS SYNTH midi map, or General Midi Orchestral Harp (Acoustic Guitar Nylon also works).

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What makes the Dance of Barsoom so important in all of the aspects above? What cultural aspects specify the determination, education, willing adherence of form to the dancers participating in this national and cultural dance? The Dance of Barsoom serves as a common tie of culture and belief even among combatants or antagonistic nations of the Red Martian race. This common music and dance is as intergral to the Red culture as the lack of humor marks the Green, religious zealotry describes the White, centuries of misdirection and concealment define the Black, or the dome cities of the Yellow.

Burroughs does not go into great detail describing the musical instruments of Barsoom, indicating reeds, flutes, strings, horns and drums, with one exception. The instrument used by the dancers performing the Dance of Barsoom each wear and play a stringed instrument:

Slaves were passing among the guests, distributing small musical instruments of a single string. Upon each instrument were characters which indicated the pitch and length of its tone. The instruments were of skeel, the string of gut, and were shaped to fit the left forearm of the dancer, to which it was strapped. There was also a ring wound with gut which was worn between the first and second joints of the index finger of the right hand and which, when passed over the string of the instrument, elicited the single note required of the dancer.

Like the Virginia Reel or the Fox Trot there is no doubt that the Dance of Barsoom is something certain and known among the inhabitants of Barsoom. A generic and general dance with common musics-- and by this Ed Burroughs illustrates a subset of Barsoomian culture which mirrors the world we know.

Image by Michael Wm. Kaluta. Visit his web site at http://www.kaluta.com/. Kaluta is a long time fan of ERB's stories and illustrator of same in comic book venues. This original image was doodled on the back of a napkin and forwarded via snail mail correspondence to the author.