Review: Beethoven's Wig 3 - Richard Perlmutter

Classical Music Geek Test: I took piano lessons as a child.

I'm sure many of you are thinking, Hey, I took piano lessons as a child. Lots of people take piano lessons. That doesn't make you a classical music geek. Yes, but...

I took piano lessons to strengthen my fingers for my organ lessons.

No kidding.

Between organ, piano, and violin lessons, I had a reasonably musical childhood, primarily focused on classical music. And although I only play the violin now on a semi-regular basis, I still enjoy listening to classical music.

So it's with that background I'm reviewing Beethoven's Wig 3: Many More Sing Along Symphonies, released in May 2006, the 3rd (natch) in the popular Beethoven's Wig series from Richard Perlmutter. The concept of the series? Take famous classical melodies and write (or re-write) lyrics for the melodies. Instead of the lyrics from an answering machine tape ad from many years ago ("No-bo-dy's HOME... no-bo-dy's HOME..."), Perlmutter in his first CD matched the famous notes from the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony to the lyrics, "Beethoven's WIG... Is very BIG..."

In his first CDs, Perlmutter's lyrics focused on the composer, matching a composer's famous piece(s) with lyrics tied to the composer. Recognizing that perhaps he'd have to dip back into a particular composer's well once too often or go to composers whose few outside the classical music world would recognize, on Beethoven's Wig 3, Perlmutter ties the lyrics to particular instruments. Sometimes the resulting effect is great -- the unknown (to me) Beethoven work for mandolin is given lyrics suggesting that Beethoven wrote the song for a girl who done him wrong, breaking his heart so much that he never wrote for the instrument again. It's a delightful, sprightful piece with lyrics to match. Handel's Harp Concerto in B-flat and the very beginning of Rossini's "William Tell Overture" (before the "Lone Ranger" part) are two other successful matches. And the paranoid, almost non-sensical lyrics of "They're There," rewritten from Dukas' "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," though having nothing to do with the bassoon, are amusing.

In other cases, though, the lyrics don't match up as well. And I found the "Short & Suite" -- very short pieces in the middle of the disc -- went by too quickly to make much of an impact. (Even the longer pieces are typically excerpts from movements, not the full movement.)

Musically, it's appropriate for kids of all ages, of course, but the lyrics, given their complexity and speed of enunciation, probably make this most appropriate for kids aged 4 through 9. The disk is actually pretty short (about 33 minutes), and that includes the original instrumental versions for every piece on the album. (I guess you could even sing the Perlmutter lyrics karaoke-style if you wanted to.) The liner notes also have trivia questions and suggested activities. You can hear excerpts of the pieces at the Beethoven's Wig website. The album is available at the usual online and offline suspects.

I'm a believer that if you want your child to develop an appreciation for classical music you should just play the actual pieces of music. But if you don't have a classical music background, this series is a fine starting point. (And even if you do, it's a good starting point.) And while perhaps the first two albums had a slightly higher ratio of familiar-to-unfamiliar pieces, Beethoven's Wig 3 still has a fair number of selections familiar to somone whose exposure to classical music is mainly through movie trailers and television ads. You may find yourself just as interested in the music as your kids.