Some of my favorite songs during childhood were novelty songs. In early elementary it was the Halloween favorite The Monster Mash and in junior high I loved Ray Stevens’s The Streak with its classic catchphrase, “Don’t Look, Ethel!” In college, I was in novelty heaven when Weird Al Yankovic burst onto the scene with My Bologna and subsequent hits like Eat It, Like a Surgeon, and Fat. While preparing a series on pop music for a fine arts class early in my career, I came across a few classics from the late 1950s by the Coasters: Along Came Jones, Charlie Brown, Poison Ivy, and Yakety Yak.
The first novelty song for concert band I remember is Peter Schickele’s Grand Serenade for an Awful Lot of Winds and Percussion, which I heard in junior high school. Seeing the high school clarinet players gargling water as part of the piece struck me as hilarious. To my delight, I performed it in high school in a couple of years after that and have even conducted it several times over the years. I have added quite a bit of theatrics to the prominent cymbal solo by having guest performers join in; it was performed one year by a country bumpkin clown named Uncle Dan and just last year my assistant dressed up like Psy of Gangnam Style fame and attempted to perform it while dancing until I instructed him on proper cymbal technique.
Probably the first and most iconic novelty song I ever actually performed was Harold Walter’s Instant Concert, with its clever presentation of 30 classic melodies. It has certainly stood the test of time; I played it in high school, college, and in recent years with a community band.
One of my favorite memories as a conductor was when I featured my mom on Leroy Anderson’s The Typewriter, a piece she performed in high school under the direction of her band-director father. Given that we were well into the computer age at the time of our concert, I had to search high and low for an old-style typewriter. The one I found left a lot to be desired, but it added to the humorous effect when my mom would have to unstick some stubborn keys to resume her rousing rendition.
Marching band has also provided an opportunity for a little novelty from time to time. One year for the local Christmas parade my band played an arrangement of Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer, a 1979 holiday novelty classic by the husband-and-wife duo Elmo and Patsy. I added to the musical effect by having an injured “Grandma” pushed in front of the band in a wheelchair.
I have listed some novelty pieces for concert band below. If none of the selections suit your fancy, you can always dig through deep, dark recesses of your band library or the lower depths of your local music store’s discount bin and see if you can discover some old marching arrangements of C.W. McCall’s Convoy, Rick Dees’s Disco Duck, Steve Martin’s King Tut, Cheech and Chong’s Bloat On, or some other such gem.
Attack of the Garden Gnomes by Timothy Loest (FJH). Marching feet, screams, and vibraslap effects give this piece its distinctive character.
Christmas in the Kitchen by Michael Story (Alfred). Get fellow faculty members to play solo water glasses, pots and pans, and they can help you spoof Jingle Bells and Up on the Housetop.
Cluster, Fluster, Bluster March by David Holsinger (Wingert-Jones). This dissonant golden oldie has trombone smears and many percussion effects.
Concerto Extremely Grosso by David Marshall (Hal Leonard) is a twisted medley with snatches of tunes like Three Blind Mice, Beethoven’s Fifth, Turkey in the Straw, and the Song of the Volga Boatmen to name a few.
Concerto for Triangle by Mike Hannickel (Curnow). Feature a staff member to play on this classical sounding piece where the bumbling soloist drops music, sneezes, and answers a cell phone call before ultimately performing his solo.
Revenge of the Dust Bunnies by Dan Adams (LudwigMasters). Eerie music, screaming, and a vacuum cleaner solo separate this piece from almost all others.
Bumble Bones by Mike Hannickel (Curnow) is a trombone feature with mouthpiece buzzing, smears, slide whistle, and snippets of Home Sweet Home and Flight of the Bumblebee.
Faculty Versus Band (The Final Conflict) by Del Elliott, arranged by James D. Ployhar (Wynn). Draft four or more faculty members to solo in front of the band on Pomp and Circumstance, La Cumparsita, High School Cadets, and 1812 Overture.
The Monster Under the Bed by Robert Sheldon (Alfred). Add sound tubes to this entertaining and jaunty piece for an eerie effect.
Mouthpiece Mania by Ware S. Mahorn (Alfred). This hilarious trumpet mouthpiece-buzzing feature is based on the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Blue Danube Waltz, and more.
Zooveniers by Randall Standridge (Grand Mesa). A great selection for recruiting concerts, this piece presents an excellent opportunity for audience participation by having prospective students guess what animals the music is describing.
At a Dixieland Jazz Funeral by Jared Spears (Barnhouse) features a Dixieland combo along with the full band on Just A Closer Walk With Thee followed by a rousing version of When The Saints Go Marchin’ In, on which the band sings.
General Radetsky Goes Cuckoo by Edward Michaelson (G&M) is an entertaining march with interesting sound effects including, of course, a cuckoo.
March of the Cute Little Wood Sprites by PDQ Bach/Peter Schickele (Presser). All the craziness you would expect from Schickele. You will need to have clarinetists who can play terribly in the upper register.
The Roosters Lay Eggs in Kansas by Mayhew Lake, edited by Robert Foster (Carl Fischer). This was Sousa’s favorite encore and would work as a closer or encore for any band today.
Salute to Spike Jones arranged by Calvin Custer (Hal Leonard). This arrangement will take the audience way back with Spike Jones’s Chloe, Cocktails for Two, and The Poet and Peasant Overture.
Cheerio by Edwin Franko Goldman, arranged by Johnnie Vinson (G. Schirmer). Singing and whistling on a catchy tune make this march stand out.
Grand Serenade for an Awful Lot of Winds and Percussion by PDQ Bach/Peter Schickele (Presser). If there is any novelty work that is a staple of the repertoire, this is it.
On the Mall by Edwin Franko Goldman, edited by Lisk. With one of the catchiest march trios ever, this section gets the band and audience involved by singing the melody on la and then is whistled when it returns.
The Typewriter by Leroy Anderson, arranged by Floyd Werle (Alfred). This piece is not too difficult, but some good woodwind players are needed to play the piece up to the marked tempo.
Waltzing Cat by Leroy Anderson, transcribed by Philip J. Lang (Alfred) is a pleasant piece with sounds of another era. It requires someone to make realistic meowing sounds on cue.
Variations on a Kitchen Sink by Don Gillis (Wingert-Jones). Include as many as eight guest soloists on this piece using many utensils from a common kitchen. The score notes give some creative suggestions on how to stage the piece.
The Travelin’ Hat Rag by David Bobrowitz, arranged by Kenneth Soper (Grand Mesa). This infectious piece for advanced groups works well as a concert closer or encore piece.