TBT: Composing Humorous Miniatures

There’s something about these winter doldrums that always get my creative juices flowing, and I’ve embarked upon a new composing project, which I wrote about briefly last week.  Piano miniatures—and mine are mini-miniatures—are a fun way to attempt to express a musical idea in a very brief format, much like “flash fiction” or very short stories.

Last year I penned P​é​ch​é​s d​’​â​ge moyen and a short sequel, then my composing pen laid fallow for much of the rest of the year.  I’ve sketched out a few short pieces that will eventually (probably, maybe) make it into Pdam III, but nothing with the drive and focus of the original and its shorter follow-up.

Then I hit upon the idea of taking the small red tardy slips that students bring to class and composing short pieces on that very small physical medium.  I now have a small stack, and it makes for a fun way of composing first drafts.

With that mini-project in the works—it’s perfect because I can take five minutes even on a busy day to jot down a few bars of music—I thought it might be fun to look back to the origins of what would become P​é​ch​é​s d​’​â​ge moyen.  As my red tardy slips project suggests, there are frequently “arbitrary and absurd sources for inspiration.”

Well, at least for yours portly.

With that, here is 8 February 2022’s ” Composing Humorous Miniatures“:

Today’s post will be a bit of an acquired taste, as I’m essentially spinning a cheesy inside joke from the Internet into a post for general consumption.

At best, I’m hopeful it will give some insight into the often arbitrary and absurd sources for inspiration.  I will note here that the short compositions here do not sound good (except for the second of the Ethiopian Rhapsodies I dashed off, which is actually pretty fun).

It all began Sunday evening.  While wrapping up lesson plans for the week, the ubiquitous “These are Difficult Times” meme popped up on Dragon Common Room, the Telegram chatroom that has spawned two published books (here and here).

Difficult Times Meme

I decided to try my hand at composing a short piece (literally, it’s four measures long) in 13/8 (9/8 is really not that difficult; there are a lot of hymns written in that time signature).  Here was the result (note the whole tone scale):

Difficult Times Composition

It does not sound good, but one of the chat members said he played it on guitar and enjoyed it.  Hey, there you go!  He found the A# challenging (third fret of the G-string), but figured it out.

Well, the chat rolled on, and member Goth Kilts mentioned that the best way to trigger her (him?  I still don’t know; s/he/ said that s/he uses “weaponized androgyny” online, which will make for a great song title) is to “talk about Ethiopia.”  Apparently, what we think of today in Ethiopia is somewhat more limited than the Biblical Ethiopia.

Regardless, I joked that “How to Trigger Kilts” would be the name of the next experimental piece I would compose.  It was barely a joke at all—but then I wrote an atonal piece in 3/4 time.

Well, s/he loved it, including the recording of it (see below), I think more for the fact that I absurdly composed a piece about an extremely obscure throwaway comment on Telegram.  As I always aim to please, I wrote two more “Ethiopian Rhapsodies” to round out the small collection:

Three Ethiopian Rhapsodies Manuscript

The text on the left-hand page of my little music journal reads as follows:

Three Ethiopian Rhapsodies

These pieces don’t have much to do at all w/ Ethiopia, but result from the Dragon Common Room chat.

It started with the “These are Difficult Times” meme, which inspired the two-measure [sic] composition in 13/8 on the previous page.  Shortly after uploading that to DCR, someone joked that anything about Ethiopia would trigger Goth Kilts, one of the members of the chat.

That inspired the first of these joke pieces.  User LaserCat called me a “simp,” which inspired the second piece.

Such collections come in threes, so I finished w/ “The Italian Job.”  Too soon?

Tyler J. Cook

As I noted, these are not very good pieces.  I was not sitting at a piano when I wrote them, and I played them very clumsily.  That said, they achieved their intended purpose:  to surprise and delight.

That said, I did try to maintain some form.  The overall key of the Three Ethiopian Rhapsodies is A minor.  The second piece, the allegro, is in the relative major of C.  The final movement is a grave and disjointed affair, as it depicts (well, sort of) the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935.

Here is the first of the Three Ethiopian Rhapsodies:  “Ethiopian Rhapsody No. 1: How to Trigger Kilts”:

Now, my personal favorite, “Ethiopian Rhapsody No. 2: The Simp of Addis Ababa,” a rather bouncy little tune about a man who loves too much in the capital of that great, mountainous kingdom:

And, finally, the gravest of the three pieces, “Ethiopian Rhapsody No. 3: The Italian Job”:

I doubt I’ll win any Grammy awards, but I enjoyed dashing off these little pieces—and then hearing the atonal results!  It is pleasurable to put pen to paper to write anything, but there is a satisfaction particularly with composing.  It’s fun bringing together the notes and unusual rhythms, and I particularly like writing miniatures, little short pieces of a minute or less.

I may very well try my hand at it more frequently—but next time, I’ll be sitting at a piano!

Happy Listening!



6 thoughts on “TBT: Composing Humorous Miniatures

  1. It’s going to get to the point where these little pieces grow into something more.

    I can’t read sheet music, by the way. When I learn how to play something on guitar, I either watch someone else play or, if I’m creating, I’ll write either chords or notes in numbers on the sheet. Which I have yet to do. One day.

    Regarding your Winter creative juices, I’d put that down to the weather. I would here anyway. When it’s glum outside, you tend to want to stay in and do something. I doubt you have that problem though. Am I right in thinking that, like Audre, seasons don’t occur in South Carolina? Rain, sun, that’s it? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Ponty. I’d like to see them expand. For now, I’m going to record them in miniature form.

      It’s easy enough to learn, but with chords and tabs, you can do quite a lot!

      Unlike Florida, we do have seasons, but like Florida, we mostly have summer. Right now it’s alternating wildly between the coldest depths of winter and pseudo-springtime. It’s been warm the past few days (and I even had to turn on my A/C this afternoon!), but it’s going to get bitterly cold again this weekend. Brrrr! But I like the cold better than the heat.


  2. Portly, how I love this idea! “of taking the small red tardy slips that students bring to class and composing short pieces on that very small physical medium. I now have a small stack, and it makes for a fun way of composing first drafts.” Ours are yellow (wait, these aren’t tardy slips. which don’t actually exist everywhere–– but hall passes, never mind) but its easy to imagine writing something in response to the blissfully limited space. I am going to have to start insisting that students return these. I shall admit that my previous response to such offers was “Ew, no thanks, Let’s recycle.”

    Liked by 1 person

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