Come fly with me

When I was 7, I learned this piece in my Teaching Little Fingers to Play piano book:

The Bee2The lesson introduced A-sharp, a black key, so that I could create chromatic buzzing. If you play a key on the piano, then play the key directly next to it (up or down, black or white), you’ve moved chromatically—one half-step in pitch. Do that quickly, back and forth, and it sounds a bit like the hum of a bee.

That little beginner’s song helped prepare me to play this a few years later:

flight of the bumblebeeThat’s a page from “The Flight of the Bumblebee,” composed around 1900 by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov for his opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan. The music occurs at the point when a magical swan turns Prince Saltanovich (the Tsar’s son) into an insect, so he can fly away to visit his father.

I was around 10 years old when I tackled this piece—I can tell from the handwriting on the sheet music. Of course, I didn’t do justice to the composition at that age. Presto was a speed my fingers could not yet manage. But I was pretty pleased with myself for even giving it a try.

“The Flight of the Bumblebee” has been arranged for a wide variety of instruments. I’ve heard it performed on violin and flute. And on piano of course. But YouTube also offers versions played on tuba, euphonium, alto sax, trumpet, trombone, clarinet, even guitar (impressive).

The piece served as theme music for the radio program The Green Hornet. When the show moved to television in the 1960s, a bumblebee trumpet solo by Al Hirt was added.

Jack Fina’s swing arrangement of “The Flight of the Bumblebee,” which he called “Bumble Boogie,” was a hit in 1946. The tune climbed the charts again in 1961 with a rock rendition by B. Bumble and the Stingers.

Here’s Fina. Watch him fly.

Copyright © 2015 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.

This entry was posted in Piano performance, Reminiscences and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Come fly with me

  1. Sharon Regan says:

    Always a great blog. Thanks for sharing. When I was growing up in Indiana we had a piano teacher that came to our house and gave lessons. Unfortunately I did not follow through with the lessons regularly but I enjoy the music from your home when the windows are open.

  2. Roger Wise says:

    Awesome. I took piano lessons for eight years before switching to drums but Bumble Boogie was nothing I had any guts to tackle. However I did buy the sheet music for several of my favorite Brubeck tunes and managed to do a half way decent job on most. Among them was “Countdown”, the title track on the album “Countdown – Time In Outer Space” which was dedicated to American astronaut Lt. Col. John Glenn. It’s based on the typical “8 to the bar” boogie stride piano in the manner of Earl Hines or Teddy Wilson but with two extra notes added in giving a meter count of 10.

    • I have a book of piano solos from Brubeck’s “Time Out” album. I work on those pieces every once in a while, but have never mastered one. Thanks for sharing “Countdown” — don’t think I could do justice to that one either!

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