Thursday, June 16, 2011


This is something I have wondered for a long time. Growing up in a household of musicians everything was a pun. Dinner table conversation often included puns on names of pieces my father was playing with the BSO that week, or puns on names of soloists or conductors. Granted, communication with my family of origin was indeed odd, but didn't know it when I was a child. Since I didn't have a frame of reference, I thought every family communicated mostly in puns.

Puns were everywhere at Juilliard, and punning always happens whenever and wherever I play music with people. I love them, particularly when they just come out without any preparation. It makes any musical gathering feel like home.

I wonder if making puns is something that people do because they are musical (notice I didn't say "musicians," I said "musical")? My husband and kids are champion punsters, and they are also very musical. I wonder if the joy of the pun (which I just named "homophonophilia") has to do with a certain musical pleasure that comes into play in both the act of punning and the recognition of the pun.

Notice that I refrained from making puns while writing this post. You are welcome to make them in the comments, though.



Oh yes, this all rings true. My family also made puns around the table all the time, to the point that I sometimes feel I have a little software program permanently running in my brain that inspects just about every word I hear for puntential. (That's an AWFUL one, by the way.)

And, yes, I agree that musicians must be naturally predisposed this way. So many of Bach's contrapuntal tricks, or the delight that he, Schumann, Shostakovich, etc. took from creating themes out of letters show the same kind of interest in tangential connections.

I've blogged before about feeling that just as my brain looks for verbal puns, it tends to look for melodic puns almost automatically as well. I suppose the whole process of thematic development is based on this kind of appeal - that the same set of sounds can have a completely different meaning in a different context, which is a big part of what's going on in puns.

And yet, I can't seem to find a good pun to end this post...

[By the way, I know you're not interested in Twitter, but you might be surprised how much time is spent there with wordplay - hashtags like #updatedoperas and #budgetclassical are basically about taking well-known titles and cleverly (or not so cleverly) sliding a few letters around to get an amusing alternative. It's addictive, and not always productive - but very much the kind of thing it sounds like your family used to do.]

Charlie said...

E.T. homophone!

Elaine Fine said...

Oh God!!! That's great!!!

Ben said...

I don't know if there's any connection between puns and music. I must note, however, that the key to creating both music and puns is in striking the proper tone, being dynamic, and conducting oneself appropriately.

[5 puns above!]

Michael Leddy said...

Ben, I think you need to give it a rest. :)