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March 11, 2012

Earlie Musickelele

11-3-12 Earlie Musickelele

We were delighted to entertain Prof. Reed last week, the ukuluthier responsible for the better ukuleles in our collection. We’ve always brought them home from his Suffolk workshop with the promise that he has open-ended visiting rights to his creations and finally we’ve made good on the deal.
One advantage of the arrangement is that you get a chance to hear the instruments played well and how different they sound from the audience-side. It’s surprising how much you can’t hear from the playing-side.
Prof. Reed’s repertoire of jaunty vintage risqué songs, saucy in the seaside postcard sense, is dotted with tricky triple-strums and melody runs for added comic value. It’s difficult to convey how this works but these music hall bon-bons gain comic momentum from a clockwork train-on-the track tempo and these carefully placed flourishes to highlight the lyrical double-entendres (given their vintage, these are often discreet entendre-et-demis) and give you a moment to appreciate them.
I haven’t so far discovered any research papers on the neuro-psychological precursors of comic effect (possibly more correctly ‘affects’) engendered by torrents of rhyming syllables – is it possible to compose comic blank verse? There definitely seems to be a metronomic correlate to the optimum humorous effect. Taking time to insert musical punctuation is less intrusive than the snare-drum and cymbal ‘trrrr- tash!’, maybe closer to a subliminal flash of the Variety comic’s ‘no, give over, missus, what are you like?’.
Naturally I went in search of early examples and discovered that one of the very earliest, played at Court upon the lutekinelle, or in the Courtlie Parlance of the time the ‘bien-jolie’, uccurs in Chaucer’s The Pane-Fettler’s Tale. Sadly the tablature no longer survives, though we may surmise from the preface to the troubadour’s baudie-lay that the inclusion of a customary benison was an early convention  – ‘with many a gladsome beck and nod he pluck’d his plaisantrie/ and saith to all the companye/ ‘Lo, Providence hath cast her fairest face upon us once again.’
Though this fragmentary example appears inconsistent with the Pane-Fettler’s canon text, there is evidence to suggest that it may originally have occurred as a lullay in The Miller’s Tale.

Nellie ye Oliphaunt packéd her traunche
Bade th’circus adieu to thee
Thence did she sallie with triumph of trumphs
Trumph, ‘non a trumph: trumphets three

The Thane of all Oliphaunts fanfarana’d
Manie a good league away
Then made they a tryst neath the Moones glist
En pilgrimage to Mandalay

Nellie, she-Oliphaunt, curtsied ful well
And to Hindoostan traundléd she
Thence did she sallie with triumph of trumphs
Trumph, ‘non a trumph: trumphets three.

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For a more complete version of this family of traditional tales concerning the Elephant’s reputation for superior intelligence, see:-

http://www.kristinhall.org/songbook/ClassicKids/NellieTheElephant.html