Humor in Music: Long Hair and Board Smiles

Tony Schemmer

Wednesdays, November 1, 8, 29 10:00 - noon; December 13 4:00 - 6:00 p.m. 4 sessions
Harvard Musical Association, 57A Chestnut Street

Underlying observations about humor apply to any human endeavor, not just music,  and certainly not just Western classical music. Humor relies on common assumptions and points of reference, then introduces the unexpected twist. 

Humor applied to classical music will be considered in two parts. In the first, humor with the music allied to the spoken or sung word, there are oceans of applications, embracing parody of the entire classical music cosmos – performers, musical genres, historical musical styles, performance etiquette, the public, comedic songs, and stage works. We will certainly linger over, but not limit ourselves to, the great parodists such as  Victor Borge, Anna Russell, and the lesser-known, later comers, Igudesman & Joo,  who also brush the hem of genius.

However, the second consideration is the expression of humor in pure music. This presents a far more intriguing question: How can music, an abstract art, in and of itself,  be funny? In many ways. 

Lest the prospective participant fear all this promises nothing but a descent into silliness, be advised that this course intends to grapple with serious aesthetic and ontological issues: How is the sonata form a metaphor for life? How is dragon’s blood like a leitmotiv? 

In addition, the group leader will supervise your independent exploration of Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung with a recommended DVD (with indispensable subtitles) and CD recording, and possibly some supplementary reading as well. As the Ring lasts up to 15 hours (depending on the conductor), prospective participants will understand  that the extent of independent preparation is fully discretionary. In the final session, a personal synopsis of the Ring, with musical illustrations and interjections, will be presented.  Obviously, the deeper the participants’ intimacy with the material, the greater their potential delight, or horror.   Musical examples are abundant and irreverent illustrations will grace the presentations. Musical literacy will be lovingly spoon-fed, and previous competence is neither expected or particularly desired.  

Teaching Style: Lecture with questions     Weekly Preparation: Optional


    Tony Schemmer

    Tony Schemmer graduated from Yale College, with honors in music composition, and subsequently studied at Berklee College of Music and New England Conservatory. His music has been performed in Europe, in many of the lower 48, and, more recently, at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, in the conservatories of Moscow and St. Petersburg, at the Gardner Museum concert series, and in Japan. He is an overseer of New England Conservatory, and a vice president of the Harvard Musical Association Board of Directors. His Medicinæ Doctor was awarded by Harvard.