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Teaching Ballads

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May 20, 2002


Harper Classroom

The water-smoothed stone walls of this classroom exude spartan functionality.  Windowless and undecorated save for a few student-produced works, the area seems designed to keep a student's attention on even the most dry lecture.  One large desk sits on a slightly raised platform, with a slate board to one side of it.  The area facing the desk is filled with a number of chairs; behind those sit a few long benches on rising tiers along the back wall.  Equipped for either small or large classes, this room hosts both lectures and small discussion groups. Kristiana is here.


Kristiana fidgets slightly with a stack of hides, humming softly to herself as she rearranges some pages. She looks around the room before sliding into a chair, only to stand a few seconds later at Niara's entrance. "Are you Apprentice Niara?" the woman's soft, soprano voice queries as she extends a hand. "If so, I am Kristiana... I believe we're going to work today on our teaching ballads."


Niara nervously shuffles her supplies to one hand before extending her hand likewise.  "Yes, I'm Niara. Pleased to meet you."  After a quick shake, she reclaims her hand to help in unloading her armloads onto a nearby desk.  "Is this a good place to sit?" she asks, hands resting lightly on the pile.


"As good as any," Kristiana replies with a slight chuckle. "Do you need help with any of your things?" She waits for the girl to get settled before she pushes at the hides once more, nervousness only slightly evident now. "Surely you know your teaching ballads, being around all these harpers, but today we're going to work on /why/ we have them and /how/ to teach them." She pauses for a breath. "Do you know any reasons why we teach the ballads to the young folk, Niara?"


Niara arranges her writing instruments in a neat row as she formulates an answer.  Folding her hands primly on the desk, she raises clear eyes to her tutor.  "To pass on our history and laws.  The history so that we can know our past, and the laws so that we can live together and function."


Kristiana waits patiently, smiling at the tutee as she awaits the answer. "Very good, very good." Kristiana sends Niara a bright grin before adding, "And don't forget another purpose--language. Harpers ensure that the Pernese language isn't corrupted over turns, and ballads are a good way to maintain the words. Now... think back for me... Do you remember when you learned the ballads, and do you remember /how/ the harper taught them to you?"


Niara squirms a little uncomfortably, eyes lowering and focusing on her desk, before replying, "Well...I learned a little at the Smith Hall, but didn't really have a Harper 'round till Liesana fostered me... but /she/ drilled me good on them." Niara's face flashes up, a little bit of a defensive set to her jaw. "I had to sit and repeat them after her till I didn't make any mistakes.  Then I had ta tell what they meant, and then I had to keep repeating them to her everyday for the longest time."


Kristiana wrinkles her nose slowly. "No offense to the senior journeyman, but that sounds slightly boring." She winks as she chuckles. "But it is a necessary part--the repetition. And /slow/ repetition. Don't allow students to just sing or speed through the verses. I remember one hold boy... he used to love the song 'In the cold cave, yes in the cold cave, the wherry sleeps tonight.' But he would sing, 'On the cold blade, yes on the cold blade, the wherry bleeds tonight,' which, needless to say, is disgusting." She gives a cough after her rambling. "So let us say you're with a bunch of five turn olds who have short attention spans, and you're singing to them-- 'Seas boil, mountains move, Sands heat, dragons prove, Red Star passes.' They've heard of the red star, but that's it. How could you go about explaining this part of Pernese life to these children? Because just repetition will show them nothing..."


Niara turns blank eyes to Kristiana, a rather distressed look spreading over her face as she stammers out, "Well...uh...I could explain each part.  At least what I understand... but... umm..."  Her voice grinds to a halt, obviously in need of tutoring on this point.


Kristiana smiles and nods. "See, it does get confusing--especially with some of the lyrics being so... without imagery." The tutor shrugs before continuing. "Children love stories. So perhaps you could act out a bit of the ballad. For instance, The Question Song. Have your students take on the roles of Lessa and of the Ancients, and have them reenact the lines as someone reads or sings it. Can you think of anything else along those lines that students might work well with?"


Niara scrunches her face up, searching her verses for a suitable reply.  "Well...with 'Drummer, beat, and piper, blow, Harper, strike, and soldier, go. Free the flame and sear the grasses Till the dawning Red Star passes, you could have 'em all take parts and pretend to be on the flame-thrower patrol?"  The student looks eagerly to Kristiana for approval.


Kristiana hmms for a moment before nodding quickly, grin ever-present. "That you could! There are so many options... You could even try bringing drawings to show them.. The thing is to keep them interested, so they're not going 'This isn't important to me. Why should I learn this?' Because the ballads show things that are important to all of us on Pern. Any questions?"


Niara fiddles with her quill as she thinks, starting to shake her head before quickly looking up, "Why didn't the Ancients just write this stuff down?  I mean, wouldn't a written record be more reliable than people's memories?"


"Well, some have been written. Most have been written," Kristiana replies as she picks up some hides with ballads scribed upon them. "But there are places that harpers go where men cannot read. And though a harper can teach a person to read and write, it often is quicker to teach a bunch of people a song. Make sense?"


Niara nods slowly in understanding.  "And you can teach a lot more people at once too..." she adds thoughtfully.


Kristiana raises a finger toward the tutee as she nods approvingly. "Precisely. Any more questions?"


Niara shakes her head, "I don't think so..."


Kristiana smiles and nods. "Well, in that case, I believe that's all for today. I think for your class you are supposed to prepare a small presentation for a stanza of a ballad of your choice, so have fun with it. Thanks for coming today, Niara."


Niara blinks in surprise before smiling in return and standing to her feet.  Gathering her materials quickly, she offers a grateful "Thank you very much" and half-bob before making her exit.


Logfile from Niara





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