This Is Me--2019 A to Z Theme

The Challenge of 2019 was the 10th! Since this was kind of a milestone year for A to Z my theme was a retrospective of sorts, looking at my 10 years as a blogger as well as ruminations about my life as it is and as I hope it yet can be. I've got places to be and people to see along the way. Hope you'll join me for this part of my journey...

Always a work in progress--welcome to my blog.

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Saturday, April 27, 2019

Xylophones Are Funny ( #AtoZChallenge )


Think about the last time you saw a cartoon with a funny dancing skeleton.  Can you remember what music was being played?  I can almost guarantee you that whatever the music, the main instrument playing it was a xylophone...


Image result for xylophone
A professional model xylophone


#AtoZChallenge 2019 Tenth Anniversary blogging from A to Z challenge letter X



           As I had mentioned in my post for the letter 'F', my father could be quite funny.  I never got tired of watching his comedy juggling act even though I'd heard the jokes and seen the funny tricks more times than I can remember.  My dad had a boldness that I have often envied.  And he could make people laugh.

          When I went on went on with my own solo career in show business, with my father's blessings I incorporated some of his gags into my own comedy juggling act.  As part of my shtick I was introduced as a serious violinist.  Well, as most anyone who has heard me play, I am not strong enough of a violinist to pull off being serious for long.  And though not a strong juggler either, at least I somewhat successfully made a living playing that role.

           There have been a number of comic violinists through the years--Jack Benny and Henny Youngman immediately come to my mind.   Not that playing a violin is inherently funny, but it acts as a humorous prop as people anticipate that they will hear some serious playing that never quite seems to come about.  A person who is not overly funny--like me for instance--will often resort to some prop as a distraction.  The audience sees a guy in a tux come out to begin a serious concert piece that devolves into nonsense--that might be funny.

          While violins are not usually thought of in terms of comedy, the sound of the xylophone is genuinely funny.  Just think about cartoon music.  Do you eventually hear a xylophone somewhere in the music?   Of course you do!  Just like slide whistles, tubas, and trombones.  Instrument sounds can be very funny.  Xylophones are indeed funny!  Hitting tuned wooden bars with a couple of mallets is a funny concept and can be quite funny to watch when performed by the right player.

          Frank Zappa--one of my favorite modern composers--used xylophones often in his music.  There is an absurdity to much of Zappa's music that lends itself well to the comic tinkling of the xylophone.  I'd like to be able to play a xylophone, but a good one can be very expensive and take up a lot of room.  Though necessity might be the mother of invention, it is a fact that I do not need a xylophone.  My wife would be very annoyed if I were to bring a xylophone into our home.  And that wouldn't be funny. 

           But the sound of a xylophone playing can bring a smile to my face as well as an occasional guffaw.  In a way xylophones are kind of ridiculous, but at the same time I find the instrument to be rife with musical possibilities. 

           Not that I'll ever play one or even be around one for much length of time--I can't say for sure right now.  However, one thing of which I have no doubt:  Xylophones are funny!

           Can you name any serious music written for xylophone?   Where can you recall hearing a xylophone used for comic effect?  Who are some of your favorite musician comics?









20 comments:

  1. Well, that comment above was interesting...
    Xylophones were used in lots of Disney or Warner Bros. cartoons both as the skeleton noise or as the instrument the skeleton played. Got to try one out when I was teaching...and of course the baby toy xylophones. Have always found them fascinating, too. Why can't you have one? Really. It is smaller than a piano. Think of the fun you could have setting it up in the front yard at Halloween - you dressed as a skeleton!

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    1. Donna, the comment was so interesting that I deleted it.

      Maybe that fact that much of my experience in hearing xylophones came from cartoons like those and other. I did see some small classroom appropriate xylophones that were colorful like the baby toy but enough range to make them a functioning instrument.

      Lee

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  2. The marimba is a lower-pitched version of the xylophone, and Starbuck's "Moonlight Feels Right" has a marimba solo in the middle. I just left a comment about it on her X post.

    There's a list of serious xylophone songs at the entry on Wikipedia. One I'm not sure whether is serious or not is "A Study In Brown" by Reg Kehoe and His Marimba Queens (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSP4Qwb9ZHM). Ub Iwerks has an example of a skeleton's ribcage used as a xylophone as well (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8O-caLwoTw). And don't leave out the music by some of the great vibraphone players, like Lionel Hampton and Terry Gibbs (who played with Steve Allen, who was also a pretty good player). And what of the Baja Marimba Band, a combination of serious and funny? Dub Taylor also played the xylophone.

    Musical comedians... well, you mentioned Benny and Henny (the latter I think was one of the funniest men around).

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    1. John, I heard some beautiful marimba music. That instrument sounds more mellow.

      The cartoon is a real classic use of xylophone. Saint-Saens used it for similar effect in "Danse Macabre".

      Lee

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  3. Xylophones are unique & when I see one with a band I know it's time to straighten up & take it in because it's a rare commodity in any band cuz not many knows how to play it to begin with. I'm glad they make those for babies because not only does it give them the perfect pitch, but now you have their first introduction to playing an instrument. Thanks for sharing and have a great day! hugs, Dolly

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    1. Dolly, I guess maybe they make compact models that can be toted around to gigs. It would make for an interesting novelty feature of a band.

      Lee

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  4. I've always found it sweet music... like Starbuck's Moonlight Feels Right...

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    1. CW, there have been some "sweet" uses for xylophone in music.

      Lee

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  5. All I can think of is Sesame Street. I think as children, who didn't have a xylophone? Indeed they can be an important instrument in any orchestra. Jackie's Bookbytes Letter X

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    1. Jackie, I remember my brothers and sisters have little xylophones that I liked to play with. When my kids were little I got them xylophones as well. It's a fun musical toy.

      Lee

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  6. Camille Saint-Saëns used it for his famous "Danse macabre": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyknBTm_YyM
    to represent the bone slamming of the skeleton

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    1. Frederique, he also used it in the "Fossils" part of Carnival of the Animals.

      Lee

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  7. As a child, I had a xylophone but it had metal keys, not the wooden ones of a professional instrument. I could play "My Dog Has Fleas" (all four notes) quite well. I wish I could play the ukulele (uku being a leaping flea.)
    Only Y and Z to go!

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    1. Gail, I bought a ukulele last year after my granddaughter bought one for herself. I can pluck around a bit, but I still don't know which chord is which.

      Lee

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  8. Lee,

    I think it's interesting that you used xylophone for your topic today and I'm sure you won't be the first as I also did in A2Z Little Mermaid art sketch series 'Xylophone Player'. I never thought about the instrument being funny but it is used in a lot of cartoons. I see that John mentioned 'Moonlight Feels Right' which coincidentally I featured in my post. There are other song titles I found in my research but none I remember vividly as Starbuck's 70s hit. I can hear a song in my mind of a xylophone being played in a cartoon but I haven't a clue what it's called and as for mewsicians comedy acts, my first pick would've been Jack Benny. I also thought of Steve Martin. He plays the banjo and I've seen a comedy routine involving it. What about Jimmy Fallon? He's well known for his song parodies and guitar pickin'. That's about all I can think of at this early hour. Xylophones are fun instruments and we got the kids a Fisher Price version when they were really small and then later on we bought a small nicer one for one of their birthdays which makes a really pretty sound. :) Xcellent post!

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    1. Cathy, xylophone is among the few 'x' words we have to choose from. No wonder so many use it.

      Steve Martin is another good choice. Actually he's been playing fairly serious music gigs in recent years.

      Lee

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  9. I had a xylophone as a child and even bought it for my kids too, I love the metal sounds with wooden sticks a lot. It's funny or not, but its fun for sure.

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  10. I hope my edited Blogger profile works this time. Xylophones are an instrument with potential that ranges from the ridiculous skeletons to the sublime Evelyn Glennie. I can't name any pieces but I know some of the pieces she plays are her own compositions.

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  11. Roland, yes! Thank you! Now I can go right to your blog without trying to figure it out.

    The xylophone can create some very interesting atmospheric music. But it lends itself so well to comic effects.

    Lee

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Lee