Monday, 7 December 2020

Tom Lehrer knew it all decades ago

One of the presents I gave my husband for his birthday last month was a CD of Tom Lehrer songs. It was surprisingly difficult to track down one with enough of the songs I remembered from the 60s: National Brotherhood Week; the Vatican Rag; the Masochism Tango.

We listened to it in the car on a long journey yesterday. Songs about pollution and VD seem remarkably topical. But there's a plethora of tracks about WW3 and nuclear warfare - We'll all go together when we go; So long Mom (I'm off to drop the bomb); Who's next? and Wernher von Braun - conjuring up memories of the fears I had growing up and why I joined CND as a teenager.

All this was much as expected but the second half of the disc has songs I never about, written for an educational series on PBS.

Since Tom Lehrer, still alive in his nineties, recently made all his lyrics and music copyright free for a few years, I was able to find the words on the Internet.   

Here is a song to teach the diphthong "-ou-:"

"I'm a very quiet hound. 

I don't bark or run around. 

I just lie here on the ground, 

With my head upon this mound. 

 

No one knows where I can be found. 

If they knew, then they'd be bound 

To come and take me to the pound. 

That's why I don't dare make a sound. " 

 

I may have told you before that from 1977 to 1995 I was the Reading Consultant to BBC Schools series Look and Read. Eighteen very good years. We had a little character called Wordy to sing songs written by people like Gordon Snell and occasionally myself. When I took over from Joyce Morris in 1977, recommended by her, the series concentrated largely on phonics. Words like sing and ping and looking would be clustered together solely on the grounds of sound.

When I joined, I moved the emphasis to meaning, so that the "-ing" would be taught as  a morpheme, conveying the sense that something was going on. We had a song with the cartoon character Bill the Brickie, singing : Why don't you build yourself a word?/Build yourself a word with an "-ing"/ To show it's happening.


But we did do some songs about sounds and I remember writing the -ar- song (Dog detective is chasing ar/what a wonderful thing!.) And there was the "S+T+R" song from Badger Girl and "I'm listening, I'm listening/for an -ow- inside a tower" from Dark Towers (RIP Peter Mayhew, who was our Tall Knight).

Anyway, the minute I heard the -ou- song, I realised Tom Lehrer had done it all before, about twenty years earlier!


(You can find most of the Look and Read songs on YouTube - but there is a scurrilous version of Bill the Brickie, I should warn you!)



2 comments:

Sue Bursztynski said...

I do remember some of those Tom Lehrer songs. Somehow, they are best when you hear him sing them.

Andrew Preston said...

Couple of years ago, on one of my visits to my local library, Cheddar in Somerset,I got chatting with one of the assistants. Jackie ( her name ) mentioned that in a previous life,at university, she'd done a degree in Mathematics. KIngs College, London to be precise. I was suitably impressed by this, as although I'd always done well at Maths at university, it was for engineering purposes, and thus lacked the imaginative possibilities of purer maths.

Anyway, as we shared about student life long ago, Jackie mentioned that Tom Lehrer had always been a favourite of hers. I'd never actually heard mention of Lehrer in everyday conversation, the company I keep, and promptly recounted the first Lehrer story that came into my head. There was a pause, Jackie's eyes widened, and then she shot across to the other side of the library. "Well, I've got lots of books to put on the shelves... "


----------------

"....  a renowned doctor had, in fact, started out by going to agricultural college.There, he majored in animal husbandry. He practiced this successfully for many years, until... they caught him at it one day."