Sunday, April 21, 2013

Goofus and Gallant join the youth choir

A few months ago, I became the very lucky inheritor of two big boxes of organ music when a friend helped her mom (a retired organist) downsize. I've enjoyed using many of the scores since then, but it wasn't until this morning that I got around to looking through a file folder of loose-leaf materials. I'm positively giddy about a wonderful find therein: four Goofus and Gallant-style illustrations, dating from about 1963, that use trite, pedantic musical snippets to instruct pimply, reluctant teens in in the proper decorum for Church Youth Choir. The pictures are numbered 1, 2, 4, and 8, so I'm clearly missing at least numbers 3, 5, 6, and 7, which, as we shall see, is a shame.

We begin with pedagogical illustration #1:

For those of you who do not read music, the hand-written tune at the top uses the same melody as "Here we go 'round the mulberry bush." All together now, children: "Which is the way to start the year?" Certainly not like poor Goofus on the left. He has a ripped shirt, and patched trousers that are too long for him and thus rolled up too much at the ankles. That's no way to dress for choir! Also, he can't read his music because he left his folder on the floor at the end of choir season last spring. His attitude problem is evidenced by a frown (although if we want to give him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he's justifiably ticked off that the illustrator has put a downward stem on the wrong side of the C in the second measure of the annoying song). Young Gallant, in contrast, is smiling and enthusiastic. He is holding his music slightly off to the side, so he can read the score and simultaneously watch the well-prepared cheerful choir director. His pants fit (and what a fine, ironed crease they have!) as does his clean button-down shirt with the pocket protector. His belt is cinched tightly, helping him hang onto his youthful soprano tessitura just long enough to sing the solo opening verse of "Once In Royal David's City" one last Christmas Eve.

Here's pedagogical sketch #2:

Everyone together now: "Which is the way to learn our songs?" On the bright side, both Goofus and Gallant have become crew-cut blonds, increasing their trustworthiness, but oh dear!--now Goofus is slouching. His cuffs are still too big, he's ignoring the choir director, and he's frowning sullenly at his music (although perhaps that pouty lower lip expresses consternation that the pedantic illustrator forgot to include the correct key signature in the cutesy ditty). He's also going to tip his chair over backward in a minute. (Because the rest of the choir is filled with Gallants, that calamity will be met with polite but awkward silence, rather than loud guffaws). Brown-nosing Gallant, meanwhile, sits at attention in his uncomfortable folding chair. He looks anxious because he is working so diligently to sightread well, lest he disappoint his kind and musically meticulous choir director.

Pedagogical picture #4:

What is in Goofus's mouth? Is that a hymnal? Goofus is going to lose some of his teeth doing that, but even damaged teeth won't get him out of choir. "Which is the way to be on time?," we attempt to sing in unison. Goofus probably would have been on time had the illustrator not trashed the meter in the first measure: 7-8 time is OK for Bernstein, but has no place in 1963 Youth Choir! Gallant, meanwhile, remains blissfully oblivious, not even noticing the key signature is wrong. What key signature has just an A flat? None of the standard Western keys, that's for sure. What kind of music is this choir singing?

Last but not least, pedagogical ditty #8:

"Which one is making the director mad?" Things have gone downhill fast (what did we miss in pictures 5 through 7?). Both Goofus and Gallant are shocked--shocked!--that they have to fit ten syllables into eight notes, and that whoever set the text put an unstressed syllable on a downbeat. For Heaven's sake, it's di-REC-tor, not DI-rec-tor. Goofus, in his disbelief, has let his score fall to his side, and even Gallant (who has let his hair return to its natural dark brown) is covering his book with his arm and refusing to sing.

My choir, of course, is filled with normal human beings rather than archetypes. When I showed them these treasures this morning, they didn't quite understand why I found them so uproariously funny, but I will post them on the music room door anyway for everyone's edification.

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