The Lost Composer Mystery Quest

The Lost Composer is another demo of my do-it-yourself game format. The method is to release clues of decreasing difficulty so that those who do their research early in the game gain an advantage in preparing the tasks the educator has set for assessment. In the case of a ballad quest the end task might be creating a version of the song. If used in a classroom the educator might release the clues on a schedule such as one per week. Points could be given to teams for correctly identifying the song and its composer(s) and points given separately for arrangement and performance of the song. This need not be a musical. The songs chosen as demo’s in this series lend themselves to visual arts, plays, movies, poems, short stories, or non-fiction articles.

Clue #1 Background (to be read or read aloud in class or group)

The composers of many famous ballads have left no historical record. Indeed, the song may have evolved from a number of sources and there is no single person to whom we could attribute the song. It may have had many ‘co-composers’. This is common to many things in history and science. For instance it would be hard to nominate the very first reptile or the very first bird – their parents would have still been classed as amphibians or dinosaurs. At some point their family tree became reptiles and birds. The same logic applies to music composers. The ‘parent’ or ‘family tree’ of the song is typically a folk tune. At some stage a new set of words is added to the tune and gradually it becomes the familiar hit song that we know as an ‘oldie’. By that we may mean it is 40 years old. The actual tune may be far older, sometimes hundreds of years old!  So the composers of the tune are lost to history. There is no copyright, no royalty to be paid. We call it ‘public domain’, meaning we the public can all use it. But someone at some time wrote the tune and lyrics. Together those folks are ‘the Lost Composer’.

Clue #2 Visual Clue

This is a silent movie. lost-composer-clue (.wmv)

Low resolution was purposely used to make this a difficult clue.

Clue #3 Crossword of artists who have recorded the song

The second clue in This Lost Composer mystery is a list of artists who have recorded this song:

crossword matrix clues for the lost composer quest

lost composer crossword

Crossword clues across

6.     howard
7.     eric
8.     creedence
10.   johnny
12.   lonnie
13.   bobby
14.   england’s
17.   big joe
18.   mcghee
21.   huddy
22.   van

Crossword clues down
2.     little
4.     davis group
5.     cisco
9.     trio
11.   paul
14.   mischief
15.   harry dean
16.   pete
19.   mungo
20.   sweden’s
23.   burl

Clue #4  History of the song

This song is extremely popular among rock and rollers, guitarists, folk and pop musicians. It has been widely covered. It became a theme for a TV show and even had a type of gun named after it. Many famous names in the music industry have an association with this song. The song does not have a precise geographical location. However, most of the locations proposed for this song are able to glimpse the second brightest star in the sky just above the horizon in Winter. One type  of plant associated with the region is so ancient that it evolved before bees. This means its  flowers were pollinated by beetles. Some pre-mammal animal species thrive in the general area. Since human habitation the area has seen many changes of ruler. It was colonised and subsequently involved in wars seeking to throw off its rulers.    The area briefly had a shared currency and military. The song itself reflects the human history. It highlights the plight of individuals who ran afoul of the mainstream. Because the original composers are lost and each may have had a different interpretation of the words, the lyrics remain open to interpretation. There is some agreement that there is a ‘freedom’ or ‘escape’ quality to the lyrics. There are no overt religious references but the imagery is clearly in line with religious tunes of its era.

Clue #5 The meaning of the song and its role in popular culture

Locales for the song range from Texas through Mississippi to North Carolina. The central ‘character’ of the song is not a person but is thought to refer to a Gulf, Mobile and Ohio passenger train.  Its nickname is the title of the song, which first appeared in print in 1905. It gained popularity through word of mouth, and by 1923 was referred to in a pulp adventure magazine. In modern times the song has been performed enough that the nickname gets applied to any sort of night clandestine activity, for instance purchase of a common 32 caliber handgun by ‘hoods’. The song is very symbolic. Interpretations vary. They have in common a theme of escape. It can be an identification with the freedom of the train to move or even the freedom that might come from being run over by the train.


The Great American Ballad #2 The Lost Composer.pdf