Tuesday, February 3, 2009
“The Wampus Cat Stomp”
The primary purpose of this post is to announce another guest blogger appearance by my wife Eberle Umbach. Eberle’s thoughts on Mother Goose, poetry & music, & the subversiveness of the folk process—& more— will be posted tomorrow morning. It’s Robert Frost’s Banjo’s second installment of the Women’s Art is Women’s Work series—essays composed by Eberle & our friend Audrey Bilger (of recent Lesley Gore interview fame), which they’ve generously agreed to post in this space.
But as a secondary purpose, I thought we could have a bit of fun along with the announcement. One of the nursery rhymes mentioned in Eberle’s piece tomorrow is the following:
We’re all in the dumps
For diamonds are trumps,
The kittens have gone to St. Paul’s.
The babies get bit,
The moon’s in a fit,
& the houses are built without walls.
This little surrealistic gem has always been a favorite of mine; I believe Maurice Sendak gave it his treatment a while back. It’s always been a favorite of Eberle’s, too. Back when we first got the Alice in Wonder Band together, the group was searching for a name, & one suggestion under consideration was the Wampus Cats. For those of you who don’t know, the Wampus Cat is a creature from Appalachian lore—you can read about its escapades here & here. Thinking this might become the band name, Eberle composed a tune called “The Wampus Cat Stomp” as a possible theme song; she also composed an additional verse of lyrics (I participated a bit on this, but most of the words are hers). This additional verse goes as follows:
One, a terrarium
Two, a lasso,
Three, a geranium in southern France.
Four, a velocipede,
Five, a butterdish,
Six, a canary in a yellow trance.
The “stomp” of the title is slightly misleading if you’re versed in the minutiae of musical terminology. The term “stomp” usually refers to a specific chord progression used quite often in big band & swing, & based on the opening of "King Porter Stomp" by Jelly Roll Morton. But tho “The Wampus Cat Stomp” is modal (& hence doesn’t have a “chord progression” in the usual sense of the term—tho for any sticklers out there, I am aware that a modal tune can be harmonized with chords), the title is catchy.
Anyhoo, the “Wampus Cats” was voted down as a band name, & I’d have to say we went with the better choice by being the Alice in Wonder Band. But I put together a slide show of the Wonder Band performing “the Wampus Cat Stomp” at the Alpine Playhouse in September 02. The pictures of the Alice in Wonder Band were taken by Michael Richardson & Tim Hohs; the other pictures are from Wiki Commons (all public domain) & from My First Picture Book by Joseph Martin Kronheim; this work is from 1893 & can be found here on Project Gutenberg. The band members playing on this recording are: Kati Sheldon: vocal; Lois Fry: violin; Art Troutner: recorder & oboe; Eberle Umbach: marimba; Barb Dixon: washboard & agogo bells; yours truly: banjo; Deb Cahill & Nina Trainor: Boomwhackers®; Deb & Nina also were our fantastic dancers for this number—choreography with Boomwhackers®!
Hope you enjoy, & be sure to check in tomorrow for Eberle’s essay on Mother Goose.