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December 14, 2005

Musical self-defense
Posted by Teresa at 03:32 PM * 64 comments

In this season when Christmas carols so often turn up in irritating or inappropriate contexts, I find it cheers me to be able to piously sing this to the tune of “Good King Wenceslas”:

Meum est propositum in taberna mori
ubi vina proxima morientis ori.
Tunc cantabunt laetius angelorum chori:
Deus sit propitius isti potatori, isti potatori.

Poculis accenditur animi lucerna,
cor inbutum nectare volat ad superna.
Mihi sapit dulcius vinum de taberna,
quam quod aqua miscuit praesulis pincerna.

Jejunant et abstinent poetarum chori,
vitant rixas publicas et tumultus fori,
et, ut opus faciant, quod non possit mori,
moriuntur studio subditi labori.

Unicuique proprium dat natura donum,
ego versus faciens bibo vinum bonum
et quod habent purius dolia cauponum;
tale vinum generat copiam sermonum.

Mihi nunquam spiritus poetriae datur,
nisi prius fuerit venter bene satur.
Cum in arce cerebri Bacchus dominatur,
in me Phoebus irruit et miranda fatur.

Tales versus facio, quale vinum bibo,
nihil possum facere, nisi sumpto cibo.
Nihil valent penitus, quae jejunus scribo,
Nasonem post calicem carmine praeibo.

A translation can be found here.
Comments on Musical self-defense:
#1 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 04:29 PM:

...thus proving that it is in Golliardic meter.

Thank you for posting that; it's my favourite of the Carmina Burana.

#2 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 04:30 PM:

*slaps self*

Studied it at the same time as the CB, but it's not one of them, is it? Pfft. Sorry.

#3 ::: glinda ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 04:53 PM:


#4 ::: Teresa Nielsen Haydent ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 05:00 PM:

Still, Abi, you were close. The same guy had other stuff in the CB. Think of this one as an outtake.

#5 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 05:01 PM:

And, while we're at it, let's put our hands over our hearts and sing "To Anacreon in Heaven" at the start of the baseball game on opening day.

#6 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 05:09 PM:

Alan, I never go to a baseball game without doing that.

#7 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 05:11 PM:

Teresa, when you say CB, do you mean the Manuscript of Benedictbeuern, or the subset of it that Carl Orff set to music? The term has been used for both.

#8 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 05:20 PM:

I still feel stupid. Post in haste, repent at leisure.

For some reason, the verse:

Jejunant et abstinent poetarum chori,
vitant rixas publicas et tumultus fori,
et, ut opus faciant, quod non possit mori,
moriuntur studio subditi labori.

Always makes me think immediately of

Time, that is intolerant
of the brave and innocent,
And indifferent in a week,
To a beautiful physique,
Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honours at their feet.

In another vein entirely, if the absence of letters (vowels, to be precise) is an indicator of vice in this forum, surely the addition of a consonant to your name is a typographical halo, Teresa.

#9 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 05:32 PM:

At first I thought she was using it for particularly twisted posts. But no.

#10 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 05:32 PM:


My memory, refreshed by a web search, is that this song is not from the text of the Carmina Burana. See for instance this site, which indicates that Poem X was from a separate source.

On the other hand, it's been 15 years since I studied any of this, and I've been found, this very day, to be wrong about something I learned yesterday.

#11 ::: Arthur D. Hlavaty ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 05:51 PM:

I see that Alan Bostick has already mentioned what H.P. Lovecraft used to do when faced with a crowd singing that vulgar filk of "To Anacreon in Heav'n."

#12 ::: Lea ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 06:17 PM:


Since the tune for "Good King Wenceslas" is a 12th-century spring carol, it actually is a good fit temporally as well as metrically. Of course, said tune (Tempus adest floridum) is basically a hymn, but...this one's sort of a hymn. ;)

#13 ::: Marie Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 06:17 PM:

I also like the alternate lyrics in one of Pamela Dean's Secret Country books:

Conrad sat in yonder wood; Conrad spurned his kingdom;
Conrad thought on Chryse's blood; messengers did fear him

-- and hell, now I can't remember the second half of the verse. I think it's mostly but not exactly like the original. But it's generally entertaining for me to hear the tune and think about a king who wanted to murder a unicorn.

#14 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 06:32 PM:

My heart when imbued with nectar flies to the upper regions

My 'heart' (really my stomach) does something like that after I've eaten raw oysters.

#15 ::: Janet McConnaughey ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 06:40 PM:

And, as long as we're talking Wenceslas, there's always Walt Kelly's abbreviated "Good King Sauerkraut," and his rather longer "Deck us all with Boston Charlie."

#16 ::: Kiwi Carlisle ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 06:58 PM:

You cheer me! I so want to get together a group of merry carolers to go about the neighborhood singing this. If anyone asks us why the words are different, we can smile and say, "Oh, those are the LATIN words"!

#17 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 07:34 PM:

There was a book I read, ages ago (in gradeschool) which had the protagonist (a Calvin sort of kid, absent Hobbes restraining behaviors) signing, "Good King Wences backed his car, on a piece of Stephen".

I don't recall there being any other lyrics.

The plot was about a bread pudding recipe winning a baking contest.


#18 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 07:46 PM:

on a piece of Stephen

Ouch! I've always had a soft spot for Wenceslaus, since it was the only Christmas song I knew which mentioned my given name.

#19 ::: Janet McConnaughey ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 09:05 PM:

Linkmeister -

You need to go farther afield for Christmas songs about your saint, whose name-day is celebrated in England as Boxing Day. I know bits of a Swedish carol but can't find it on the Web; here's an English carol:

Saint Stephen was a clerk

The Swedish one, as translated by the Trapps or their arranger, opens

St. Stephen was riding and he traveled afair,
Watch with us this Christmas night
When over the Orient he saw a blazing star.
Watch with us and pray for us all.

I don't remember the intervening verses, but it also gets to the story of King Herod and the Cock, with

The rooster was roasted and in gravy he lay,
Watch with us this Christmas night
He rose up and crowed as it were the break of day.
Watch with us and pray for us all.

#20 ::: Nomie ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 09:19 PM:

I'm personally fond of the PDQ Bach take, "Good King Kong."

Good King Kong looked out on his feet
And he saw that they were large...

#21 ::: Carl ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 09:20 PM:

It made me think of PDQ Bach first, and his re-wording of Ben Jonson's "Song to Celia":

"Eye me only with thy drink,
and I will pledge with this;
Or leave some wine but in the cup,
and I'll not look to kiss.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise
doth ask a drink divine;
but if Jove's nectar I can't sip
some ale will do just fine.

I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
not so much honoring thee
as giving it a hope that there
it would not withered be.
But thou thereon did'st only breathe,
and sent'st it back to me;
since when it smells, I kid thee not
of pretzels and chablis."

#22 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 09:33 PM:

Now I'm, trying to figure out if that's the same hymn to food that a friend of mine sings to the tune of the Palestiniad (Becuase there's nothing like grim sad music about how happiness if to be found in food and wine)

#23 ::: James J Murray ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 11:19 PM:

Alan and Xopher, when the 7th inning stretch comes around, much fun can be had with the fact that when you cross Harry Carey and Iron Butterfly, "In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida" scans to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

#24 ::: James J Murray ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 11:21 PM:

Harry Caray, that is. . .

#25 ::: Janet McConnaughey ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2005, 11:50 PM:

James -

In a Gadda da Ballgame is almost as good as my all-time cross-tuning: Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening to Hernando's Hideaway.

#26 ::: Janet McConnaughey ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 12:03 AM:

Aargh. That should be "cross-tuning favorite".

#27 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 12:40 AM:

Janet, thank you. I've never heard either of those. Maybe I should start a movement (pace, Arlo!). ;)

#28 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 09:09 AM:

Is it Emily Dickens whose poems can be sung to "The Yellow Rose of Texas"?

Because I would not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me...

#29 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 09:12 AM:

Agh! Dickenson! Of course I meant Dickenson.

#30 ::: Chuck Divine ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 09:47 AM:

I run (literally) with the Hash House Harriers. We go for a run and then have a beer. Some groups stop in the middle of the run for a beer. Yes, really. We also engage in singing obscene songs some of the time. What kinds of people do this? Believe it or not, most of us are serious runners. We're also skewed to the rather bright. At one run of about 75 to 100 people, there were five people with at least one physics degree.

Anyway, around the holiday season, we've been known to sing "Walking Around in Women's Underwear". Imagine this, if you will. You're walking through a back alley in Washington, DC. You come upon a bunch of people dressed in running. Everyone is holding a beer. They'e all laughing and joking. Soon everyone breaks into singing "Walking Around." Yes, it's a bit surreal.

#31 ::: John Peacock ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 09:49 AM:

Is it Emily Dickens whose poems can be sung to "The Yellow Rose of Texas"?

Most famously (perhaps) used as a plot point in the Neil Gaiman script for Babylon5, Day of the Dead, which also featured Penn and Teller as Rebo and Zooty (Zoot Zoot).

It really isn't that hard to fit most of her poetry to a number of tunes of similar meter. To make this "on topic" I also note that you can use the melodies from What Child is This and It Came Upon a Midnight Clear...


#32 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 10:56 AM:

Or even "Dickinson".

Obligatory mention of "One song to the tune of another", which is played thus:

The teams have in front of them the words but not the music of a song which is different to another song of which they have neither the music nor the words. The tune of this second song, which is quite unlike the first song both in words and music, will be played but without the words to which the teams will substitute the other words they have from the first song which obviously will have no tune because thatís made way for the tune from the other song without its words.

Or to put it another way:

A music round where each of you will start by vocalising the lyrics normally in tune with a popular song of my choosing. However, the refrain usually associated with what we call the first song will be dispensed with, and instead weíll take another tune, or second song, from which the vocal part has been removed leaving just the melody line of the second song (thatís the one without the words) and accompany the first song (thatís the one without a tune but with lyrics).

So - and here comes the clever part - what youíre literally doing is singing one song to the tune of another.

#33 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 11:16 AM:

James, I like to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" displaced by three syllables. Use the standard tune, but sing

To the ballgame, take me out
To the park; buy me some
Peanuts and Crackerjacks I don't care
If I never get back for it's root, root,
Root for the hometeam if they don't
Win it's a shame for it's one,
Two, Three strikes! you're!
Out at the old ballgame--take me out!

There's also a one-syllable displacement, but it's more difficult to sing. And it ends by just stopping after 'ballgame' - you never sing the last note or the word 'take'. Very disconcerting.

#34 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 11:18 AM:

The melody of the Ode to Joy section of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony works with "Mack the Knife" and the Marine Corps Hymn ("From the halls of Montezuma...").

My favorite has to be singing "House of the Rising Sun" to the tune of "Amazing Grace." And vice versa, which is creepy.

#35 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 11:19 AM:

Xopher - that is just. plain. cool. Thanks!

#36 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 11:20 AM:

Speaking of Emily Dickinson, one of her poems muddles well with an old rock hit as follows:

A narrow fellow in the grass
occasionally glides
You may have seen him, did you not?
his notice sudden is.
I don't like ol' Sneaky Snake
He laughs too much you see
When he goes wriggling through the grass it tickles his underneath.

#37 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 11:24 AM:

Something's wrong with that lyric post for TMOTTBG. I'm not sure what. It works when I sing it.

#38 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 11:35 AM:

I think that, some time around 1987, a CD was released that contained nothing but traditional Xmas songs but sung by rock and pop stars. Most of it left me cold because people kept trying to add their own little trademarked extra to it. But there were some like Annie Lennox who played it straight. Those were my favorites.

#39 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 12:20 PM:

Growing up in Ithaca, I couldn't help but notice that The Council of Elrond's

"seek for the sword that was broken,
in Imladris it dwells"

scans to "Give My Regards to Broadway", better known to us as the Cornell fight song played after every touchdown. I can't read the chapter now without imagining the Big Red brass section accompanying Boromir.

#40 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 12:52 PM:

There's also a one-syllable displacement, but it's more difficult to sing.

     [pickups] Oh take me ||
||: Out / to | the ball game | take / / | me / / |
| Out / to | the park buy | me / / | -. |
| Some pea-nuts | and crack-er | jacks / I | don't / /|
| Care / if | I ev-er | get back for | its root, root ||
|| Root / for | the home team | if / / | they / / |
| Don't / win | it's a shame | for / / | / It's one |
| Two / / | three / / | strikes you're out | at the old |
| Ball / / | game / / | -. | (Oh take me) :||

(Hopefully, that hybrid music notation is readable:

|| = double bar
| = single bar
/ = quarter rest
-. = dotted-half rest)

#41 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 12:57 PM:

Credit where it's due: I learned that version at the feet of these guys.

#42 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 01:20 PM:

I figured it out. The two middle lines should read

If I never get back for it's root, root, root,
For the hometeam if they don't
And the rest as shown.

#43 ::: LeeAnn ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 02:23 PM:

Xopher - I believe it is The Blind Boys of Alabama that have a recording of Amazing Grace a la House of the Rising Sun. I saw them perform it recently on TV - on Trio, possibly. I think I held my breath for the entire song. Yes, it's creepy, but it's amazing.

#44 ::: coffeedryad ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 02:34 PM:

Personally, my favourite is swapping tunes and lyrics between "Ghost Riders in the Sky" and "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner" Alas, they don't match on choruses, but one verse is usually enough to induce severe confusion in people who know both songs - the first few notes are the same, and then something goes subtly wrong...

#45 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 02:56 PM:

You gotta check out "Full Frontal Nerdity" today. Hint: "eight dorks-a-filking"

#46 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 02:57 PM:

LeeAnn - I heard it about 15 years ago, in a vaguely fannish context. Any guesses how long the Blind Boys have been doing it?

#47 ::: LeeAnn ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 03:15 PM:

Xopher - The Blind Boys have been together 60-plus years, so who knows. The song is on "Spirit of the Century" which came out in 2000, but I heard the song years ago, too.

#48 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 03:21 PM:

Oh, I wasn't under the delusion that the Blind Boys were upstart punks! Just trying to figure out whether they came up with the idea first, got it from the same netplay (as opposed to network) I did, or simply invented it independently.

I'll probably never know.

#49 ::: Rich Magahiz ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 04:18 PM:

I have that redoubtable BB of AL recording too, and it set me to thinking about the inverse: the lyrics to House of the Rising Sun sung to the tune of Amazing Grace.

I don't believe I'll take the chance on this next time that that hymn is scheduled to be sung by the church choir I'm in.

#50 ::: Ariella ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 04:34 PM:

The Trinity College song from the University of Toronto contains the following verse, sung to the tune of "O Christmas Tree":

Nimium cervisi
Ebriat tirones
Non opportet fieri
Vappas nebulones

(Too much beer makes freshmen drunk. It is not seemly to become useless wretches.)

#51 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 05:29 PM:

Ariella's verse reminds me of the time I was forced to sing Gaudeamus Igitur at St Andrews. Like everyone singing it that day, I was badly hung over, dressed in a silly costume (in my case, as the Statue of Liberty), and en route to a shaving foam fight. I had already been paraded through Woolworth's and most of the town.

I should have gone to Trinity in Toronto instead, where they clearly don't subscribe to the Sqeers principle of sobriety training.

#52 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 05:57 PM:

I try to sing "Amazing Grace" to the tune of "House of the Rising Sun," and it keeps turning into "John Barleycorn Must Die" by the second line. Hmmm.

I really shouldn't be reading this thread at all; I'm singing "Gaudete" on Saturday and all I need is for it to turn into "Bache, bene venies" halfway through.

#53 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 06:02 PM:

Dan, as long as you realize that in the HOTRS version the line "That saved a wretch like me" becomes a belt line, you should be OK.

And Gaudete also has a tendency to become "Ave, Color Vini Clari."

#54 ::: Ayse Sercan ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2005, 06:08 PM:

Gaudeamus Igitur is the school song for my alma mater, Smith College. I don't know how many other students came in to the college knowing some Latin already, but I have to admit that I was a bit surprised during opening convocation when they handed the lyric sheets out. It's not totally inappropriate, but there are a few bits that raise an eyebrow.

#55 ::: Janet McConnaughey ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 12:13 AM:

Getting back to O Tannenbaum, my high-school band had a not-very organization called the FMA, or Future Morticians of America. Its song, which we then found at least mildly amusing, was

We live for you, we die for you,
National Embalming School.
And when you're dead, we dig a hole,
and put you in to turn to mold.
(repeat first two lines)

There's a bit more, but it bounces around among tunes, so would probably be more trouble to read than it'd be worth.

#56 ::: Mac ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 03:34 AM:

"Amazing Grace" goes well to the tune of "Ghost Riders in the Sky" for at least the first verse...but it's remarkably hard to sing more than three lines before you're laughing too hard to sing.

#57 ::: Lea ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 12:22 PM:

The classic example of this sort of thing, of course, is that the tune for the Major-General's recitative that begins "Tormented with the anguished dread of falsehood unatoned" is very easy to confuse with "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" (more Christmas carols!)

Also, I find that "Men of Harlech" and "Ar hyd y nos" have an alarming and brain-screwing tendency to turn into one another.

#58 ::: JohnD ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 01:28 PM:

My father liked to sing these words to "Miyasama Miyasama" from the Mikado:

I like pizza, you like pizza
Everyone likes pizza here.
Why don't we get us a pizza
And a case of beer.

#59 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2005, 08:12 PM:

To the tune of "O Christmas Tree"

The Working Class
Can kiss my ass
I've got the foreman's job at last.

(From my great-grandfather, a labor union activist)

#60 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 01:21 PM:

Eric's grandfather doubtless knew that he was parodying 'The Red Flag', which is generally sung to the tune of 'Tannenbaum'. I prefer the Billy Bragg/Dick Gaughan rendition of the song to the original tune 'The White Cockade'.

#61 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 09:50 PM:

I'm happy to note that "A Little Belgian Orphan" still seems to be under copyright so I can't cut a copy off the web and saddle you with it. Written by Amanda McKittrick Ros (and released under the psuedonym Monica Moyland, Larne, Irelande), an author and poet who makes one long for William McGonagall, it's a WWI vintage account of fictional German atrocities against a Belgian family so you'll get fired up to fight the Hun.

It's horrible. And, I discovered a year ago, fits so well to "Bell-Bottomed Trousers" that I couldn't get free of it untill Our Hostess supplied the information that "Excelsior" could be sung to the "Underdog" theme.

#62 ::: Mikael Johansson ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2005, 06:31 AM:

The Gaudeamus Igitur is one of my absolute favourites when it comes to student culture songs. However, I've landed way too much experience with latin to be able to sit straight-faced when the pronunciations get mangled to what obviously is american english rendering of whatever happens to stand on the sheet. The same goes for my fiancee.

Imagine our distress when in one episode of West Wing, our up till then hero Sam Seaborn stands up and starts singin Gaudeamus Igitur loudly - in the most atrocious american pronunciation I've ever heard of those words.

For those who may have stumbled across the swedish drinking-and-singing-culture, this little translation by the two of us may hold amusement:

Salvete gnomici nunc pullamus verras gavisi
Salvete gnomici nunc pullamus verras gavisi
Tempullum nunc viveamus nec otiosi nec quieti
Salvete gnomici nunc pullamus verras gavisi

#63 ::: Nova Saldibar ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2020, 01:53 PM:

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#64 ::: P J Evans sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: November 17, 2020, 02:34 PM:

Obvious spam is obvious. And boring.

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