Snapshot of a desk space by the window

A short story by JYB

A textbook on the lower left hand corner. 

Fairly worn, the edges of the top right corner curled upwards from use. Several bookmarks are tucked into different sections with alphanumeric codes handwritten along the top edge so they peek out just so.  

On the inside cover is a note taped onto the center: 

If found, please return to the Department of Magical Study, University of the Floating Islands – Eastern Quadrant. 

And within the first few pages:

From the authors 

We are excited to present this updated version of Kantar alongside the monumental recognition of Song as the second official magic of the South Sea Islands. We hope to see other textbooks join Kantar in presenting new ideas and different approaches to sharing the joy of learning this unique, and now official, form of magic. 

     Songmaster Kai, Songmaster Mei-lee, Grandmaster Vien

     Floating Islands Siren Association

About this textbook 

  1. Target levels: Kantar is designed for learners at the elementary and early-intermediate level who have completed approximately 150 – 200 hours of study, including the 20 melodic sequences outlined in the National Council of Magical Study’s core Song competencies.  
    • For most colleges in the Floating Islands, this is equivalent to the fall semester of the first year. 
    • We acknowledge that the study of Song is still being formalized throughout the South Sea Islands and learners may have varying levels of skill and experience with this form of magic. To help identify learners’ current level, we have also included placement testing materials, available in the major land and Siren languages. 
    • Note that study of Skript would not be considered an equivalent.  We acknowledge that a common practice for those with talent in both Song and Skript, as well as those of Siren heritage, has been to enroll in classes to study Skript. As evidenced by the recognition of Song as an official magic, Song and Skript are separate and unique forms of magic. We are hopeful for further opportunities of the study of Song as more colleges in the South Sea Islands join the Floating Islands in establishing a formal Song curriculum separate from Skript. 
  2. Goals: Through Kantar, learners will achieve the mid-intermediate level as designated by the National Council of Magical Study.  Additionally, Kantar aims for learners to advance equally in the skills outlined by the National Council of Magical Study’s Four Keys: reading, writing, listening, and speaking. 
    • The skill of singing has been categorized as part of the fourth skill, speaking. At the time of this writing, the Floating Islands Siren Association’s formal recommendation to establish singing as a fifth skill is still under review with the National Council of Magical Study (Case no. FV9.23). 
  3. Features: Kantar contains notable differences in comparison to textbooks of other magical forms. This has been a deliberate choice.  Our approach is outlined below:
    • In both language and magical study, there is generally a focus on the skills of speaking and listening at the beginner level, with further emphasis placed on the skills of reading and writing as the learner reaches more advanced levels. As the distinguishing feature of Song is its sung aspect, this requires learners to have balanced mastery in all four skills as they move from beginner to advanced levels. 
    • To facilitate this balance, Kantar focuses on the application of Song. While the study of other magical forms tend towards a curriculum of magical textual analysis, the burgeoning state of Song as a formal field of study, and the current lack of textual materials available for analysis due to the oratory nature of Song, has provided an opportunity for a more immersive approach.  Kantar incorporates practical tasks with situational context. This allows for both traditional academic advancement through formal certification and the application of learning in daily life. 
      • For example, while Kantar contains standard vocabulary and grammar practice, a distinguishing feature of Kantar from other textbooks from other magical forms of study is the use of real-life situational tasks. These have been chosen to encourage the process of developing all four skills rather than favoring a certain subset.  
    • The study of Song would not be complete without the context of Siren history and culture. To that end, each chapter is centered around a specific historical or cultural topic to complement the standard vocabulary and grammar practice. 
      • We understand that source material regarding Siren history is not yet widely available and so we have provided copies from the Floating Islands Siren Association within the teachers’ materials. These include: interviews with Siren leaders and notable persons of mixed heritage, newspaper clippings, as well as audio and visual recordings.  
      • A chapter has been dedicated to the Song legalization movement and the events leading up to the formal recognition of Song as an official magic. We acknowledge there are still entities and regions of the South Sea Islands that refuse to recognize neither Song as an official form of magic nor Sirens as a people with equal status and rights to those on land. We felt it to be our responsibility to include these events within this updated version to preserve the memory of these events and give strength to the voices who continue to take part in the Song. We predict that there will be new melodic sequences added to the core Song competencies as a result of this movement and we will joyfully update Kantar upon their establishment.
      • The Floating Islands Siren Association is open to contributions of source material both for historical memory keeping of Siren history and educational purposes such as textbooks like Kantar. Please contact your local Siren Association representative for more information if you would like to contribute to or provide further support for this effort.
    • Lastly, as the performance of Song is an essential aspect of mastery, singing tasks have been designed to focus on all four skills to aid the process of singing. This is to encourage a deeper understanding of the melodic sequences that goes beyond the typical rote memorization and recitation seen in other studies of magical forms. 

These tasks have been designed to encourage participation from all learners, even those who may not have Siren lineage. Unlike other forms of magic, Kantar encourages learners of all backgrounds to take part in experiencing the wonder of Song.  Through Kantar, we hope that learners can cultivate a curious mind, an open heart, and a hopeful voice, to bring all people together in peace.

***

A desktop monitor slightly left of center. 

Dull and non-descript, the monitor matches the others found around the University of the Floating Islands – Eastern Quadrant and the desks bordering this one.  A keyboard rests just underneath the monitor, its cord bundled neatly to one side.  On the screen is the last email sent: 

RE: Chapter 7 Assignment Reminder [SR101-08]

Good morning class,

Please note that acceptance for the Chapter 7 essays is now closed. All those who submitted their papers before the 11:59pm deadline will have received a confirmation email.  Grades will be conferred by our class on Monday. 

For those who did not make the deadline, a reminder that the assignment list allows for one “free pass” as they say. If you are unsure of your standing, you are welcome to make an appointment or visit during office hours this week.  I will be adding further hours to accommodate the extra credit assignment for this chapter. 

A further reminder that the extra credit assignments are open to all students regardless of standing. These assignments have been designed to deepen your understanding of not only the material for the associated chapter but also Song itself.  For example, the recitation activity for this chapter’s extra credit assignment provides an opportunity to uncover new insights about one of the four melodic sequences covered in the past month.  Deep reading and memorization allows one to hear patterns and find significance in phrases previously overlooked. Lastly, the act of performing the recitation gives an opportunity for you to “put your own spin” on the melodic sequence, thus furthering the study and enjoyment of Song for our community. 

Detailed instructions can be found within the class packet handed out at the beginning of the semester. Any questions can be directed to me as a reply to this message or during office hours this week. 

— Ongawa

*

Chapter 7 Assignment Reminder [SR101-08]

Good morning class, 

I would like to remind you all of the deadline for the Chapter 7 essays and give additional context to aid you all in this assignment. I have also attached the original instructions to this message for easy reference.

In terms of the deadline, please keep in mind that any assignments submitted after 11:59pm tonight will not be accepted. 

In terms of context, this essay assignment is an opportunity to exercise the critical thinking and investigative skills that we began to develop in the first half of the semester. This assignment is not intended, nor is it necessary, to cast judgement on the work these people have done or the life they have led.  Instead, we should simply propose some observations in relation to our curriculum. These essays may also provide inspiration for future assignments in not only for the final for this class, but also other assignments and research for classes outside of your study of Song.

Lastly, my office hours remain the same this week and welcome any and all questions during that time. 

— Ongawa

Attachment: Ch7-Supplement-Instructions-SR101

Class: SR101

Professor: Songmaster Setsuna Ongawa 

Word count: Each essay should be between 500 to 1000 words (max total 3000 words).

Instructions: 

  1. Select one of the figures listed below hailing from the Floating Islands to focus your research. Alternatively, you may choose to interview a family member or close friend from the Floating Islands.  
  2. Complete the three essay prompts to guide your research (and/or conversation if you’ve chosen a family member or close friend) and reflect on what we have learned in Chapter 7 of Kantar

Notable figures of Floating Islands:

Resources on the following people can be found on-hold in the Department of Magical Study library. You are welcome to use other resources, however, keep in mind this exercise is less a research assignment and more a reflection through the essay prompts below. 

  • Dr. Teru Maeda – Hailing from the Southern Quadrant of the Floating Islands, Dr. Maeda was a renowned martial artist who trained with the early Siren militia to develop a unique underwater combat system that employs both hand-to-hand fighting techniques and Song.  Although not of Siren lineage, he was awarded the Orb of Peace award in honor of his research and contributions to the Siren community. 
  • Fukami Suzuki – The first poet of Siren lineage to win the Pearl Dragon Poetry Prize, one of the most prestigious poetry awards that recognizes one poet of excellence in all of the South Seas every year.  Suzuki was selected to serve on the Floating Islands regional council for two consecutive terms and currently heads “Aloud | Allowed,” a non-profit organization in the Eastern Quadrant of the Floating Islands that promotes the use and performance of poetry that incorporates both Song and Skript.
  • Makoto Ando – CEO of the Ando Group, an architectural firm that has received multiple awards for innovations in environmental safety, protection and balance. Ando also founded the Northern Quadrant Architectural Group to promote the use of Song in modern architectural practices and was a consultant for the renovation of the University of the Floating Islands – Eastern Quadrant’s Magical Study wing. 
  • Chitose Rao –  The first conductor at the National Opera of the South Seas to hail from the Floating Islands and the first conductor of Siren lineage.  Rao has created numerous ballets, musicals, and other musical works that incorporate the use of traditional Siren arts and Song. Notably, the musical “At Dawn,” set in Rao’s home in the Eastern Quadrant, won a record-breaking 7 awards at the SSMT Annual Festival upon its debut. 
  • Dr. Jen Takeno – A biologist who received a National Wreath of Excellence for her work advancing the treatment of heat sickness, an illness that commonly occurs in those of Siren lineage. Dr. Takeno has given numerous speeches and written several books about her research to bring awareness and understanding amongst both the medical community and general population. She is a part-time lecturer at the University of the Floating Islands – Western Quadrant. 

(Note: If you are interviewing a family member or close friend, please include a brief description of the person preceding the essay prompts. It will not be counted toward your word count.)

Essay prompts: 

  • Discuss how the person you selected approached Song in their field of work. Frame this discussion through the historical lens as presented in Chapter 7 of Kantar.
  • Compare and contrast the public contributions made by the person you selected with Tea Master Miyo Yu from Chapter 7, paying particular attention to social class and geopolitics.  
  • Compare and contrast the public reception of the public contributions made by the person you selected with Tea Master Miyo Yu from Chapter 7. Discuss the possible effects the Song legalization movement may have had on each. 

***

A stack of papers in the center. 

Nearly a knuckle high, the papers are stacked with edges neatly aligned. At the top of the stack, handwritten: 

Class: SR101-08

Assignment: Chapter 7 supplement 

Student ID 801495 

Dear Yui, 

As a whole, this assignment shows great progress over the course of the last several chapters.  There are still further opportunities for improvement, mainly structuring our arguments around the prompt at hand. In several of your essays, the structure was lost due to straying away from the key concepts discussed during class (see specific areas within the comments attached).  

I noted that many of these concepts were covered during classes you were unable to attend due to your situation.  I am happy to share recordings of these lectures for your reference.  Additionally, I’ve attached instructions for an extra credit activity where you can earn up to 5% points to be added to your total score for this class. This can be combined with the recitation activity as well.

Lastly, my office hours remain the same this week.  If you would like me to hold the usual time for you, simply confirm with me by 10:00pm this evening.

— Ongawa

***

A folder organizer on the top right corner. 

Folders of varying shapes, sizes, and colors are tucked into each of the slots of the wire organizer.  Each of the slots have a square piece of paper taped to the bottom edge, each with an alphanumeric code handwritten.  

There is one exception. The paper taped to the edge of the bottom-most slot features a circle with two dots above an upward curving line. There are but a handful of loose-leaf papers here.  The first is a form filled out in blue ink: 

End of semester survey

Instructions: The completion of this survey is optional but highly encouraged.  The staff of University of the Floating Islands – Eastern Quadrant will use the information shared in these surveys to improve the quality of classes provided at the university. We appreciate your support in furthering our mission to provide the best learning experience to all students in the Floating Islands.

Class: SR101-08

Teacher: Professor Setsuna Ongawa

About your teacher

How consistently did your teacher start class on time? Please circle: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 (9) 10 

(1 – Class rarely started on time; 10 – Class always started on time) 

Comments:

Only because there was a fire that one morning

What was the level of quality of your teacher’s instructions with regards to the assignments for this class? Please circle: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 (10)

(1 – Low quality, presented an obstacle to completing the assignment successfully; 10 – High quality, provided inspiration to going above and beyond) 

Comments:

Don’t tell my other teachers but this was the only class I actually *wanted* to do the assignments

How would you rate your teacher’s communication of deadlines for assignments and dates for quizzes and exams? Please circle: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 (10) 

(1 – No communication; 10 – Appropriately communicative) 

Comments:

Prof would always go through all the upcoming deadlines at the beginning of the month and remind us as they got closer. It was super helpful that she reminded us through different channels too! 

How would you rate your teacher’s ability to explain concepts during class? Please circle: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 (10) 

(1 – Low quality, presented an obstacle to fully understanding concepts presented in class; 10 – High quality, with appropriate depth and inspiration for further learning)

Comments:

Honestly Professor Ongawa should get a 100 – rather a 1000 for this! I don’t know how she does it. She explained the Umino consonance almost 5 different times using different analogies and examples and never lost her cool. By the end of class, everyone was cheering (sorry Professor Ikeda for disrupting your class next door).  

What was the level of quality of your teacher’s classroom management? (ex. Answering in-class questions, pacing of lectures) Please circle: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 (9) 10 

(1 – Class often went off-topic, I did not feel heard, etc.; 10 – Each class was on topic, had an appropriate balance of lecture and live interaction)

Comments:

The seals were great though

How would you rate your teacher’s availability outside of class? Please circle: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 (10) 

(1 – There were no opportunities to confer with the teacher outside of class; 10 – Office hours were regularly communicated and available)

Comments:

Prof is also incredibly responsive through messaging too – I don’t know how she does it! 

About the class 

How well did the class match your expectations? Please circle: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 (10) 

(1 – The class did not match the expectations as described in course guidebook; 10 – The class fully matched the expectations as described in the course guidebook) 

Comments:

By far the best course I’ve taken so far at UFI East. 

How would you rate the textbook(s) for this class? Please circle: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 (10)

(1 – Underutilized, expensive, ineffective, etc.; 10 – Consistently referenced, appropriately priced, relevant to the course) 

Comments:

I don’t care how much I’d get if I sold it back, I’m keeping Kantar forever

How appropriate were the assignments for this class? Please circle: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 (10) 

(1 – Impractical and irrelevant; 10 – Practical application deepened understanding of relevant concepts)

Comments: 

Every activity has been practical. Heck I even do melodic sequence #4 every morning now.  

Overall thoughts about class and teacher:

Honestly, I didn’t have high expectations for this class since it’s not really related to my major. But I realized if I’d never taken this class, I never would have discovered my passion for Siren rights.  I thought I knew what Song was – Professor Ongawa didn’t just show me how wrong I was (and between you and me, I need that sometimes), she showed me just how deep this can go, if you let it. 

Thank you, Professor Ongawa.  

p.s. Menya Yamashiro is still the best.

The following details are optional: 

Major: Law 

Name and ID number (if you are willing to have a university staff member contact you for follow up, otherwise leave blank): Shouji Tanaka, ID: 63148 

***

A frame placed between the monitor and folder organizer. 

The frame is made of a dark wood, varnished to nearly black.  Underneath the class is a paper with printed text, save for a handwritten note at the very bottom. A heavy crease has been smoothed in the middle.  

Things to remember: 

  1. Universities are about money and luck.
  2. Research relies heavily on chance and access.
  3. Always be respectful of the keyholders.
  4. Aka librarians.
  5. Students remember most what they’re made to think about.
  6. What they’re made to work on.
  7. What they’re made to teach others.
  8. How to use the in-class projector.
  9. And the in-class recording device.
  10. Magi-tech is a tool to be used “in addition to”, not “in place of”.
  11. Class doesn’t always have to be conducted inside the classroom.
  12. Hold class outside on a sunny day at least once a semester.
  13. On a rainy day.
  14. Over coffee.
  15. One cup of water per one cup of coffee.
  16. Same for alcohol.
  17. You were in their seats before. 
  18. Ramen is the best cure for a broken heart.
  19. Second best are midterms.
  20. Always have an extra cup and snacks in your office.
  21. And extra pens.
  22. Listen. 
  23. Without judgement.
  24. Without trying to help. 
  25. Give advice only if asked. 
  26. How Law G-528 nearly got passed.
  27. Advice is merely the result of personal experience.
  28. “A guitar that dreamt it was” by Fukami Suzuki
  29. The signs of heat sickness.
  30. The Song legalization movement.
  31. Melodic sequence #18 by Grandmaster Vien.
  32. The effects of Typhoon Zan on the Floating Islands.
  33. On the Kawanouchi Siren family.
  34. On the current generation.
  35. The legend of the ruby-tipped coral from Star Island.
  36. The revival of the Gold Moon Festival.
  37. Your first class as a teacher. 
  38. The cliffs of Crystal Island.
  39. How Song sounds at dawn.
  40. How Song sounds at dusk. 
  41. Everyone has the capacity to sing. 
  42. Even those without Song. 
  43. Always get at least a dozen manapua from Uncle Haruto’s store. 
  44. The way to students’ hearts is through their stomachs.
  45. The way past a school of Cerberus sharks is through their ears.
  46. Hold class at the beach. 
  47. Before they disappear. 
  48. Every student’s name.
  49. You’ll know you’ve done your job when they no longer need your advice.
  50. Third best is Song.

The best teachers are the best students. – Professor Takamasa 

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