Humor in music

I’ve had songs going through my head yesterday and today, but I don’t mind at all, because they’re fun songs. Today’s is one that my sister Margaret will recognize, and maybe Karen O., if her family used to listen to Bob Steele’s radio program on WTIC.

This morning the question on worldmagblog’s Whirled Views was “Did you read/watch/listen to the news growing up?” I didn’t, for the most part, but my father always listened to Bob Steele in the morning. In a small house, that meant that we all heard his program, which I mostly ignored – except when he played the buffalo song.

Trying to find the correct name of the song to identify it in my post, I googled Bob Steele and buffalo. I quickly found a thread where someone was wondering who else remembered the song. Evidently quite a number of us who grew up in Connecticut do. Fortunately someone provided the full lyrics for us (scroll down a ways), which I immediately copied and printed out. I sang it for Al this evening, and he laughed so hard I knew it wasn’t just childhood nostalgia that made me still love that song.

Yesterday it was Mary Had a Little Lamb. Yes, the children’s song, but arranged by Eric Lane Barnes. Each verse of the song is set in the style of a different period from music history. The first is Gregorian chant – we sing in Latin (Maria agnellum habuit) and a capella. The second is even better, in the style of Handel (it bears a definite resemblance to a very famous choral piece by the composer). That’s the one that was going through my head yesterday, because we had been practicing it in Civic Chorale Tuesday evening.

I’m less familiar with Schubert or Verdi, but the third and fourth verses are just as fun to sing. If you’d like to hear the whole thing, check out this youtube video. Or, if you happen to live anywhere near Muscatine, Iowa, you can come hear our concert on April Fools Day. (I don’t know if the concert date was picked first or the music, but it’s a great fit, not just Barnes’ Lambscapes but the whole concert.)

Lambscapes reminds me of a couple of my favorite audio CDs, Bibbidi Bobbidi Bach and Heigh-Ho! Mozart. I got them when our son Zach was young, and we were amazed how quickly he could identify the Disney songs, even transformed by arrangement in the styles of classical composers. We would be trying identify that somewhat familiar melody, and Zach could not only name the song, he knew exactly where it appeared in whatever movie it was from.

I found myself wondering whether music is especially well suited to combining with humor. Danny Kaye and Victor Borge did wonderful things with music and humor, as has P.D.Q. Bach (aka Peter Schickele) more recently. I tried doing a google search, and didn’t find any profound thoughts on the subject, but I did find this great page of music humor.

One Response to Humor in music

  1. modestypress says:

    Two to add, one fairly old and one more recent:

    Spike Jones and His City Slickers
    Frank Zappa

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