May 8, 2008

Ur Song

The great composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein dedicated his final years to searching for what he called the “Ur Song” (pronounced "er" or "oor"). There is a theory, to which he subscribed, that there exists in each of us a song that we are born knowing without having been taught. This song is universal to all races and cultures and is instantly recognizable without lyrics (although some may be ascribed to the tune at any time in history). It’s in our DNA.

Named for the region from which Abraham came—the convergence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, called the “Cradle of Civilization”—the Ur Song would have survived the milennia, instinctively imbedded in music throughout history. Bernstein studied music from all over the world, historical and modern, trying to find that collection of notes that crossed time and geography. He died never having found the Ur Song.

He was looking in the wrong places.

I know the Ur Song. You know it too. It has six notes. Its meaning is transmitted instantly upon hearing it for the very first time, with words or without. It brings an emotional response every time. Your child knows it, and you never taught him. Bernstein could have found the song on any playground in the world. Since I can’t sing it for you, I’ll write the lyrics that have been attached to this tune in modern times: “Nanny nanny boo boo.”

Am I right or what? Everyone knows this song. Not one parent ever taught this song to a child, but we all know and hate it—with lyrics or without—because we recognize the taunting in its tune. It’s in our DNA.

I think someone should look for the Ur Dance.


Anonymous said...

"It's a little bit funny..."
When I think of Your Song, immediately, I go to Elton John. Nanny nanny boo boo works too though. :)

Birdie said...

It never occurred to me that Ur would be seen as leet for "your." Nuts. It's pronounced "er." Sorry for the confusion.

Sooo-this-is-me said...

O_O Wow! Actually I think you could be right! Even someone speaking another language could tease us without the 'nanny boo' words and we would still know what they meant!

Java said...

I seem to recall reading somewhere years ago about that tune, that many other cultures and languages throughtout the world have the exact same note sequence with a similar meaning attached. You may be right. Our Ur song. hmmm

Sooo-this-is-me said...

Birdie, would the Ur dance be that little jig that every child does when they have to pee bad? Even some adults still do it! ;)

Father Tony of the Farmboyz said...

Despite their ubiquity, I'd hate to think that the Ur Song is something as nasty as that playground taunt or as frightening as the "Devil's Interval".

Greg said...

Yah, I'd be disappointed to find out the only thing we universally have in common is that little taunting song.

I, too, was thinking that perhaps Elton had just been mis-pronouncing it all these years...

I'm not surprised that Bernstein worked on a project like this...I hear lots of the natural world in his work: I've always sworn those red-winged blackbirds are singing "I Feel Pretty" up there in the treetops.

(Welcome to this side of the blogosphere, Birdie!!)

Bill said...

I'm with Fr. Tony on this one, but I fear you may be right.
However, until I learn otherwise, I'm going to pretend that the Ur song sounds like Que Sera Sera.