It is told that the Seldarine gave to the elves two priceless gifts. The first of these was the very long elven life span, and the second of these was music. Many say the second gift is indeed the greater, and that all the music played by other races is but a pale imitation of the music of the elves. It is true that elven music has great power and beauty, so much so that musicians of other races can despair at their own meagre skills. For this reason, many elven bards do not travel nor do they share their music with other races. For one thing, they don't want to destroy the enjoyment humans find in their own music. For another, they know humans would never leave the elf cities alone if they knew of the sublime beauty elves are capable of producing with music.
Song and dance play an important part in everyday elven life. They find that music provides an outlet for their centuries of experience, pain, and joy. The elf that does not have at least some experience with an instrument or some proficiency in dancing is a rare being, and one might suspect that he or she is somehow emotionally stunted.
Elven music is an incredibly complex and beautifully crafted art, although it is not often played around non-elves. Elves have learned that their tunes haunt anyone who has an ear for music, for it leaves these people with a vague, unsatisfied yearning that can never be filled with anything but elven music.
Those who have been fortunate enough to hear elven music claim that humans learned music from the elves. Although human music is but a poor imitation, the humans continually strive toward the ultimate musical experience that the elves provide. The best human and half-elf bards are those who have learned from elf masters, yet even they can only echo the elves. This is the reason, some sages surmise, that so many wonderful musicians remain dissatisfied with their work.
Elven songs of grief are often acappella wordless melodies. Those listening to such songs who are non-elves will find themselves in tears before the elves are halfway through, for the anguish expressed in the lilting voices of the elves transcends the human experience of heartfelt pain. Those who hear the elven mourning rituals are never quite the same, returning to the present sadder and somehow wiser. The sorrow that the songs express often haunts the listeners for the rest of their lives.
Music plays a pivotal role in the ritual, religion and magic of elves. It is important in the worship of all the Seldarine, but most especially in the worship of Correllon. The first of the Seldarine is not only a warrior god but a patron of all arts including music. Priest of Correllon are expected to encourage and foster music, and are often musicians themselves.
Much elven magic is bound up with music. The high mages often use song to aid them in forming there powerful circles, both as a way of focusing and of linking. Music is also an integral part of Bladesinging, which weaves magic, song and combat into a deadly mix. Some songs are magical in their own right. Spellsong is a form of magic that was originally uniquely elven, but of late it has been found that bards from other races can use Spellsong as well.
Music is also a form of historical record for the elves. The full version of a ballad may follow a storyline across the centuries and can be tens of hours long. The words are only part of the information the melody and the accompaniment can convey a wealth of mood and imagery. Keeping the old songs unchanged is more than just preserving a tradition; it is a way of preserving the memories and stories of a race.
However, understanding all of this falls far short of understanding how important music and dance is to an elf. It is something that is as much a part of them as their blood and bone, and without it they will wither away. To dance under a starlit sky is something almost sacred to an elf. An elf without music is not truly an elf.
The History of Elven Music
Though the ancient history of the elves is very unclear, it is certain that at least some of the elves came to this world from other planes of existance. They would have almost certainly brought musical traditions with them. In most races, even those with remarkable life spans, the passing of tens of thousands of years would have altered their music beyond all recognition. However elves have a very special relationship with their gods, and there is a two way flow of music between them. This means some of the styles and themes common to other worlds have been preserved here. These have mingled with the music of those elves already on this world to create a style of music that is unique.
There is a distinct possibility that the at least some of the ancient elven pictographic languages are a form of musical notation. The records may not have been meant to be spoken, they may have been meant to be sung or played. However attempts by humans to decipher and understand these languages have never been successful. Those scholars who have asked elven bards all received the same reply. They were told to study the ballads still sung by elves before even thinking of studying those of long ago.
Elves have a remarkable ability to remember melody, lyrics and arrangement in exact detail for centuries. The network of magical gates ensured that elven bards moved freely between the various centres, and this meant no one region developed a distinctive style. Elves also recognised the importance of keeping the old ballads unchanged. These factors all meant the style; mood and techniques of music remained essentially unchanged for many millennia.
Instruments Used by the Elves