In a place called Barunga in the Northern Territory of Australia, there was a singer named Maralung. He took dance troupes around to traditional places. The ghost of a master song man called Balanjirri and a bird called Bunggridj-Bunggridj gave Maralung his songs. The master song man lived so long ago that nothing of his life is known. In the outback you see mysterious moving lights, will o’ the wisps, they are thought of as spirit lights called Minmin and have their own creation stories and dreaming, they are also considered to be dangerous.
One night Maralung was sleeping, watching a Minmin light. The light was blue and green and white and fell down across the sky from West to East. Balanjirri and the bird, Bunggridj-Bunggridj, appeared and set off after it. They followed the light and got a song there and then they came into the camp where Maralung was sleeping. Balanjirri said, “Get up, I have a song to teach you.” The dreamer woke up and the master taught him the song. The bird sang too. The song was in the ghost language so humans could sing it but only spirits could understand it. Maralung told the story:
“Don’t lose this song, you keep this one,” said the old song man, “I sang this song for you. It’s yours.” He spoke kindly like that.
“OK, you’ve got to remember it properly, this good song, this Minmin light of yours.”
He went back and I continued to sing after he’d left. But fucking silly bugger, I fell asleep. But don’t you worry, I’ll get it. Maybe one or two, three, four, five…if he shows me…six, seven, eight, nine, that’s it.
So the next night Maralung dreamed again and it happened the same way. Again the master and the bird came into his dream and woke him and sang for him and again he fell asleep afterwards. But this time in the morning he remembered the song.
—The PZI Miscellanous Koans, Case 41 (as told to John Tarrant by Allen Marrett)
Musicians Jordan McConnell and Jesse Cardin join Jon Joseph to share elements of music practice and their creative relatedness to koan work.