Try singing these words to the first eight notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony: “Beethoven’s Wig is very big!”  Funny, huh?  That’s what I thought when I wrote them in what became the first song in a series of five Beethoven’s Wig albums made up of lyrics I set to well known pieces of classical music.

I also thought a lot of people would say,  “Hey, wait a minute… Beethoven didn’t wear a wig!”  But I had done research and found an entry in Beethoven’s diary in which he wrote down things he’d need when he went to study with Haydn in Vienna in 1796 – boots, an overcoat and a wig!  Maybe it wasn’t definitive evidence the old master wore a wig, but it was an interesting fact.

Many of my songs contain facts and historical information about the composers and their pieces.  It was my hope that Beethoven’s Wig songs be not only funny but educational too.

In the early 1900’s music was an important part of the curriculum for school children in this country.  Walter Damrosch, conductor of both the New York Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic in the early1900’s, added lyrics to classical pieces and sang them to millions of school children while he was host of NBC Radio’s Music Appreciation Hour, which aired nationwide (and was broadcast into classrooms) from 1928-1942.  One of show’s goals was to help students remember the themes of famous classical pieces and identify their titles and composers. 

I know from all the letters I receive from children, parents and teachers that because of my Beethoven’s Wig songs they can identify many masterpieces of classical music.  They also appreciate the educational content in my lyrics.

There’s another benefit.  Music teachers often tell their students that to improve on an instrument they should sing the pieces they play.  This is a key concept of the Kodaly Method of music education, which propounds that learning music through singing should precede instrumental training.   It forces students to interpret pieces “lyrically.”  They become more aware of how phrases rise and fall, where pauses should be taken for breaths, and what notes should be emphasized.   Singing along with Beethoven’s Wig lyrics is a means to this end.

When I perform at the Newport Music Festival I hope old and new fans of Beethoven’s Wig will enhance their enjoyment and appreciation of some great works of classical music.  In the show I sing and perform classical music on piano, guitar and mandolin.  I also have a “backup band” – cartoon characters projected on a big screen – including a raccoon and dinosaur that play violin, a robot that plays cello, and a frog that sings.   The star of the show is Beethoven himself – a cartoon character who I talk to, and who provides some true (and comical) insights into the history of classical music. 

I’m looking forward to bringing Beethoven’s Wig to the Newport Music Festival and to performing at the magnificent Chateau-sur-Mer. 

Richard Perlmutter

Beethoven’s Wig – July 14, 4 p.m. Chateau sur Mer, order your tickets here.