There is enough evidence to conclude that the Children of the Forest once abounded in the continent of Westeros, before the First Men arrived. These were not the magic creature’s tales would have us believe, but simple primitive people of short stature with little knowledge of metallurgy, if any. When exactly their extinction took place has been debated in depth before, so we need not to trouble ourselves with it, but it probably occurred many millennia ago. For this reason, these pages dedicated to the Children need to be seen as an attempt to reconstruct a forgotten culture that left no written records. All we have to guide our intellect are incomplete pieces of some instruments and folk songs other cultures (mainly the First Men from the North and Wildlings from Beyond the Wall) claim to be songs once sung by the Children themselves. These songs do indeed share very special features that make them stand out from the repertoire of songs and music sung by the First Men. Trying to distill the fundamentals of these remnants there are a number of surprising conclusions we can make about the music of the Children of the Forest.
The Children seem to have had an incredibly unique musical system for a number of reasons. After analyzing a number of songs, I have concluded that the scale system they must have had is not akin to the subdivision of the octave based on the harmonic overtones we humans find so very enchanting. Rather, the Children seem to have subdivided the octave into three symmetrical parts of three major thirds (fig. a), six parts of six major seconds (fig. b) and twelve parts of twelve minor seconds (fig. c).
There is no other system like this in any other part of Westeros nor Essos, lending some credence to the myth that these were not merely short primitive people but an entirely different race whose hearing might have been entirely different to our own. These subdivisions of three, six and twelve intervals perfectly overlap with each other, so the notes found in the higher subdivision of three equal parts are found in the subdivision of six and twelve parts. The tuning resulting in such a system where there are 12 equally distant notes that don’t follow the overtone series can sound strange to our modern ears, but it is easy to get accustomed to after a few weeks of exposure.
To back all this theory up we will look at some of the melodies associated with the Children of the Forest found in the North. An interesting finding is that this feature seems to be more and more pronounced the further north one ventures. The most extreme example of this peculiar musical scale is a melody I heard an old Freefolk crone (although some called her a witch) sing for me near Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. We will refer to this song as the “Wildling Crone Song” (fig. d).
She claimed this melody to be and age-old song whose lyrics have been lost in time, as they were originally sung in the tongue of the Children, that we humans can’t render. The commander of the Night’s Watch warned me this was nothing but a wildling ruse to part me of my coin but it needs to be noted that the tune makes use of all the notes found in the subdivision of 6 equal parts of the octave (fig. b). In my long journey I haven’t found any culture making use of this type of scale other than these tunes associated with the Children of the Forest.
Other tunes seem to have a more human quality on the surface and thus easily discarded as man-made, but upon closer inspection the features of Children’s music are clearly there. A tune fitting this description is one I heard in the company of the Mountain Clans of The North while accompanying lord Stark during one of his visits, a song they called the Old Song (fig. e).
This piece is not as striking as the Song of Winter, and at most it seems to be a watered-down rendition of a tune by the Children of the forest, as the third note in the melody, a fifth above the tonic appears to contradict the nature of perfectly symmetrical subdivisions of the octave we saw in the previous tune. In fact, to the untrained ear this melody might just be an odd pentatonic but let’s examine the tune more closely. The true nature of the song only arises when taking into consideration its cyclical nature, as the tune is repeated every two measures at a distance a major third down from the previous iteration. The first note of each repetition occurs at the point where the octave is subdivided into three equal parts (fig. f). After three repetitions the tune is back to the original pitch as it was heard the first time but an octave lower. This alone is a strong indicator that the song is not of First Men origin.
To claim that these songs share a common origin may seem easy, but proving it took many long nights pondering about the nature of the scales. The assumption made when looking at our first example tune (fig. b) was that it was the result of the subdivision of the octave into six parts, but this wouldn’t explain the nature of the scale of the “Freefolk Crone Song”. This was problematic, as it should be expected that songs coming from the same culture share the same scale system. It is only when the scales are seen as subdivisions of the octave in the manner described in figure a that the system reveals itself. Taking the “Freefol Crone Song” as an example, we try to arrange the notes of the first two measures (fig. g) into two groups of three notes each that subdivide the octave into three equal parts. For the first group we will take only the notes in odd beats (fig. h), and group them together in ascending order leaving out all repetitions (fig. i). We will repeat the process for the second subdivision of the octave but this time we will only take the notes in the even beats (fig. k), grouping them together also in ascending order leaving out all repeated notes (fig. l).
As we can see, the scale is in reality two trichords separated by a major second dovetailed into a single sequence that we perceive as a hexatonic scale (fig. l). Repeating this process at an interval of a fifth (fig. m), or an interval of a fourth (fig. n) result in two more unique hexatonic scales. This is not mere speculation, as applying the same analysis to “The Old Song” shows that the notes correspond to a hexatonic scale where the two trichords are separated by a fifth (fig. m). There are other pieces that make use of the two trichords separated by a fourth (fig. n) but for now I will assume this is enough evidence to clarify the scale system of the Children of the Forest.
Looking at the songs I presented before it is quite easy to imagine them as just what they are: simple tunes with simple instruments by simple people. But it strikes me as odd that this is really the way the songs would have been performed. Looking at the nature of the scales as the result of two combined trichords, and how the regularly they dovetail to create the melody, it is possible to imagine that this is not one but two melodies being played simultaneously. I have to admit that what follows is founded on mere speculation based on my intuition as a musician, but if we take yet again the “Freefolk Crone Song” as an example but this time treat the notes of each trichord as belonging to different voices we can see two independent melodies emerge (fig. p). Once the two melodies are separated we can see another pattern emerge in the long-held notes of the melodies: an alternating back-and-forth between the flutes of notes held twice as long as the rest. For this long-held notes I have created an extra part for a bass flute to reflect this underpinning of harmony, for lack of a better word. The resulting texture once discrimination based on trichord is applied is that of two melodies of equal importance coming together to create a larger more complex and rich texture that was certainly not present when the two melodies were presented collapsed into one voice. The duplication of the melody comes directly from the original, as the elder crone didn’t sing this tune once but many, many times, with slight variation of dynamics and emphasis on certain notes but not much else. In this case I have chosen to repeat the melody once one because I feel the intended nature of the piece is achieve with one repetition.
The same process can be applied to “The Old Song” to create a richer texture by discriminating the notes based on their trichord of origin (fig. r). Again, I have added an extra part in the form of a bass flute that follows the outline of the repeats that occur every two measures, as I feel these are the notes that underpin the entire melody.