Saturday, May 15, 2010

Beethoven, Bugs, and the Terminator

If you've ever been to college, you have undoubtedly been forced to take courses that you had absolutely no interest in. They were required either as part of the general education core or as part of your major, so you signed up and gutted it out. I'm sure you noticed, as did I, that a startling number of these required classes are taught by professors who are: boring, long-winded, psychotic, foreign-born and have a difficult-to-understand accent, demanding, intolerant, sadistic, and/or hygienically-challenged.

Situations such as this are personality conflicts waiting to happen. The student needs the credits but doesn't want to be there. The professor is committed to teaching the material, yet frustrated by students who don't share this obsession, er, commitment. Do I have a particular example of this, you ask?

Indeed I do.

Welcome to Music 370 (History of Music in Western Civilization) and Dr. Helga von Terminbach. Dr. von Terminbach aka "The Terminator", was the Wicked Witch of the West minus the charm and compassion. She stood about 5'5", and weighed in at 73 pounds (give or take), the majority of which was accounted for by her nose. Most likely coming from a family lineage that included a few rabid wolverines and a Nazi torture expert, Dr. von Terminbach had a passion for music history that bordered on the unhealthy and possessed no patience whatsoever for students who did not genuflect before the musical masters such as Beethoven and Mozart.

And in the blue corner, a tuned-out jazz studies major who wasn't the least Francking bit interested in classical music . . . me.

Two factors contributed to the "irresistable force/immovable object" relationship between me and the good doctor. One was that she took everything very seriously and had absolutely no sense of humor, the other was that I can't stand being bored out of my mind. So, when she was pontificating about the works of Haydn, I was listening to a Coltrane tape on my Walkman (iPod? What's an iPod?). She'd elaborate on the Satanic implications of the diminished fifth, I'd catch up on my sleep. Helga would play excerpts from Wagner's "Ring of the Nibelung", my buddy Eric and I would try to determine the gender of the hairy opera student in the front row.

Let me tell you a little bit about Eric. He was my best friend and carpool partner, looked like a young Bill Cosby, and was extremely quiet. He did, however, possess a quick wit and perfect comic timing combined with the ability to maintain his ever-stoic expression in the process. These qualities got me into trouble (which HE of course always managed to avoid) on more than one occasion. With that in mind, we'll move on to Larry the string bass player.

Larry was a nice guy, with one distinguishing vocal quirk. He preceded every sentence with an "aaaaaaaaahhh".

"Vill sahm-body name zee composer of zee Jupiter Symphony? Larry?" asked The Terminator.

"Aaaaaaaahhh, that would be Mozart."

"Zehr gut. Und how many zymphonies did Mozart compose, Larry?"

"Aaaaaaahhh, 41, Dr. von Terminbach."

"Ya, das ist korrekt."

One day, Eric beat Larry to the punch.

"Vas is zee name of zee last movement of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique? Larry, do you know?"

Sotto voce, Eric let out an, "Aaaahhhhhh..." to the amusement of the back row.

And then came Larry's "Aaaaaaahhhh . . ." We cracked up.

The doctor shot me a glare.  "Ist sahm-zink fah-nee in zee back row?"

"No, nothing at all, Dr. von Terminbach," I said, battling a chuckle.

"I vould appreciate it if you vould concentrate on zee lesson at hand und stop vit zee foolishness, ya?"

"Ya, I mean, of course, Dr. von Terminbach. I apologize."

Thankfully, she let it go that time. We weren't always so fortunate.

Every few weeks, we would have a "listening exam". Basically, this was "Name That Tune" from hell. Did we get tunes like "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree"? Oh, no, not us. In eight bars or less, we'd have to identify such toe-tappers as Bela Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra or Debussy's Prelude to Afternoon of a Faun. Studying for a test like this was an exercise in futility. We'd stay up into the wee hours, playing album after album and trying to lock in to key themes or phrases. Our efforts were enhanced (or, in retrospect, perhaps impeded) by the consumption of large amounts of alcohol, which had the additional effect of leaving us groggy on exam day.Well, on one particular listening test, the Terminator dropped the record needle on Rossini's Largo al Factotum from The Barber of Seville.

You know the piece. The tenor busts out with, "Largo al factotum della cit TA - LAR GO. Fa la la, fa la la, fa la la LA" and culminates with the resounding "FEEEE-garo".

So about three measures in, Eric and I looked at each other and stifled a giggle. Have you ever been in a situation where something is funny, you know you can't laugh, and that makes you want to laugh even more? Of course, we all have. I tried desperately to hold it in, but the more the music played, the clearer the picture in my mind of Giovanni Jones, Bugs Bunny's targeted tenor in the classic "Long-Haired Hare" turning red, blue, purple, plaid, tuxedo coming undone, et cetera, et cetera. By the time the record got to "Feeeee-garo! Feeeee-garo! Feegaro-feegaro-feegaro!" I was in physical pain. Eric, of course, was sitting up straight, eyes on Fraulein Professor, not even cracking a smile. To my dismay, Dr. von Terminbach noticed me and stormed down the aisle, evoking the image of the "Surrender Dorothy" scene from the Wizard of Oz.

Again with the glare.  "Ist sahm-zink fahnee about ziss opp-hor-a?"

"No, (cough), Dr. Terminbach, (chuckle), nothing at all." I replied.

"Vatt aboot you, Meestair Williams? Do you find zee Bahr-bayr off Za-veel ist zee comedy?"

"No ma'am," mumbled Eric.

"Vell, you har laughink," she snarled at me, "obviously sahm-zink hast strucken zee fah-nee bone, no?"

"I don't think you'd see the humor in it, Dr. von Terminbach."

"Oh, ahf course I vill! I have zee great zence ahf humor. Vat ees zo fah-nee?"

"I'd rather not say, Dr. von Terminbach. Just go on with the test, please?"

She sighed, then turned back toward the record player. And just when I thought we were going to get through this unscathed, the androgenous front-row opera student had to give us away.

"What they're giggling about, Dr. von Terminbach," he (she?) said, "is that this piece was used in a Bugs Bunny cartoon."


Her outburst, combined with her enunciation of "Bogs Bah-nee", did us in. The back row erupted in hysterics. Eric might have cracked a smile.

Dr. von Terminbach, giving me a look best described as "withering", snarled through clenched teeth, "Zat ist it, get out ahf ziss closs room at vunce."

So the following semester I got to take History of Music in Western Civilization all over again.


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Grumpy, M.D. said...

Ah, I remember a similar course on jazz. The things we do for college credits.

Eva Gallant said...

that was hilarious! I hope you were fortunate enoughto get a different instructor!

Respectfully Yours said...

Great funny. Great portrayal of the accent too. LOL

Bossy Betty said...

Oh yes! I remember courses such as this! Now I teach one!!!!

00dozo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
00dozo said...

Hilarious! I like some classical music but not so much so that I would reasearch its history. I'm afraid to ask if that course ever covered the other piece parodied by Bugs Bunny with Elmer Fudd.

Suldog said...

LOVE this story.

As an aside, I think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone or anything that introduced certain classical passages to an entire generation, with such fondness of memory, as the WB cartoons did.

Shawn said...

Well, well, look who got popular as hell in my absence. Selling merch and everything.

Congratulations, man, seriously.

Oh, and Bugs is inextricably linked with opera. Let's not forget the tragic classic "What's Opera, Doc?"

Heff said...

Skipped college. Ha ! I showed THEM....

00dozo said...

In case you're interested, I have something for you at my site today.

Candy's daily Dandy said...

Absolutely, without question the most reconized and well known piece of music ever written....and synonomous with "BOGS-BAH-NEE"!!

We were the television generation whether Helga likes it or not...

My favorites, "Pardon me, excuse me, pardon me, pardon..."

"Monsters are so very interesting..."

"You might rabbit, you might."

Tgoette said...

Zat vas zo vunny! Funny, but I got a great appreciation for classical music from cartoons, and for jazz courtesy of Vince Guaraldi and the Charlie Brown specials.

IT said...

I actually got credit in a Music Literature and Appreciation class for attending a Vince Guaraldi concert.
I was fortunate enough to have an enlightened teacher who understood what general education means and spoke impeccable American English.

corticoWhat said...

I had a Music Appreciation teacher that actually showed the entire Merrie Melodies series. Once with the cartoon, then without.

Candice said...

Ah yes, I'm remembering fondly back to my acting 101 class.

What a bunch of freaks!

lime said...

i was cracking up reading this because i could well imagine the scene. i'd like to see a course based on all the classical music used by the bugs bunny cartoons.

Jenn of Many Cabbages said...

You completely moidelized her. What a maroon she was! :)

PS- Extra points for your excellent German accent-- Mel Blanc would have been proud. :)

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