Macon, Ga., calls itself the "Song of the South," and with good reason. It's the birthplace of Southern Rock, Little Richard and Otis Redding. But on a recent visit to this city in the heart of Georgia we heard a different tune.

Macon has an unexpected rhythm, melody and lyric. Sometimes you have to listen carefully to hear it. Other times, you can't miss it.

The rhythm

My son, Iden, is the drummer in the family. Where we're from, that's the instrument you give kids who have too much energy.

He thinks the music of Macon has an ancient, primitive beat.

That rhythm, a relentless syncopated pounding, comes from its earliest settlers, the Woodland Villagers and Mississippians. It's still felt in the ceremonial dances of descendant tribes and echoes across the Indian mounds.

The ranger at the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park agreed. She said you can hear the sounds today when the Muscogee nation returns to celebrate their ancestors, and every day in the museum center.

The lyrics

The lyrics tell the story of the people of the south, in their own words. According to my better half, Chris, it has a Sidney Lanier-style cadence.

The Macon-born poet is well remembered across the south. He was one of the first writers to explore the connections between musical notation and meter in poetry. He used local dialects and colloquialisms to recount issues people in the south faced during reconstruction. His poems connected with the region's raw emotions, making them unforgettable.

The story of shared American experiences is also reflected in the architecture of Macon. You can see it in the gracious mansions like the Hay House, which appears to be in perpetual need of restoration. It's the seemingly constant conflict between old and new, north and south, and in some cases, good and evil.

The melody

The people and the place impart the melody of Macon. It rises and falls like the plateau the city is built upon. It flows like the Ocmulgee River, which protected the city from certain destruction by Union troops during the Civil War. It still resonates like the lilt of a southern belle.

My daughter Erysse started humming as we walked through the center of town, along College Avenue and Magnolia. She heard the melody in the wind. Every other block she alternated from fast, changing notes like busy traffic whizzing by, to the long, slow tones of the Norfolk Southern train whistle. But at the Indian mounds, she only heard the rustle of leaves.

Macon is an ever changing symphony of sound and sights well worth exploring.