In 1791, the debut performance of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera “The Magic Flute” took place in Vienna. The main characters: The handsome prince Tamino (who gets the magic flute), who is on a quest to save the beautiful princess Pamina. He is accompanied by Papageno who is dressed up like a bird so that he can better catch birds.
On their journey, the two eventually stumble into a “temple of trials” where they undertake all kinds of tests – well, actually Tamino goes through all the tests(later on joined by Pamina), because Papageno messes up each and every examination and isn’t allowed to progress very far (not that he had been particularly interested in going through all of the stress in the first place). Tamino of course makes no mistake ever. What’s cool about the story though is that in the end, Papageno gets rewarded just as much as Tamino, despite having screwed up during the exams. But I guess those were the 1790s.
One of Mozart’s finest achievements is the Duet between Papageno and Papagena that he wrote in honor of countless students who in future centuries would voluntarily dress up as giant chicken to make advertisement for fast-food-chains.
Paris 2001 performance of the Magic Flute:
The duet is noteworthy due to its stuttered “Pa-pa-pa..”, which is first surprised and later on overjoyous. Please be aware that it is totally inappropriate to feel reminded of the “cluck-cluck” sound of chickens, irrespective of the fact that the singers in fact are wearing feathers. This is because there are unwritten rules forbidding you from comparing the high brow art form of opera with low brow animal sounds. Sorry about that!
Old MacDonald had a farm (“cluck-cluck” from minute 0.29 onwards):
Well over two hundred years later, Hong Kong singer-songwriter Karen Mok re-discovered Mozart’s technique of lyricization in her song “Ai Qing Zhong Du” – which can be translated as “addicted to love”. In this song, she starts off the chorus with an emphatic “bu-bu-bu-bu” (meaning “no-no-no-no”), similar to Mozart’s “pa-pa-pa”. In the remaining lyrics of the chorus, she – in vein! – renounces the poison of love.
Karen Mok – Ai Qing Zhong Du (2001):
The perhaps most recent addition to this century-long, globalized engagement with the repetition of syllables can be found in the US, with the following “ba-baa”-introduced a capella rendition of the Beach Boy’s Barbara Ann that kind of segues a sort of sheepish “ba” into an the at least medium brow art form of pop:
Scrubs – The Janitor’s Band Hibbleton, Barbara Ann (2005):
This week, go to Lalaland!