Composers have discovered inspiration in insect world

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Richard Tiegs
| Special to the Iowa City Press-Citizen

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov wrote a bizarre piece for his opera “The Tale of Tsar Saltan” that always attracts my attention.

I don’t care about the instrument (and I’ve heard a lot, from piccolo to tuba and almost everything in between); I just need to hear the bumblebee flight.

Rimsky-Korsakov wasn’t the first composer to write music reminiscent of members of the insect world. He wasn’t the last either.

Composers have long used string instruments to mimic the chirp of crickets, grasshoppers, and cicadas. The music that inspires the insects can be as funny as it is serious. Because imitation is still the most sincere form of flattery.

There are the many songs or compositions that were inspired by the insect world. Space is limited and many are missed; enjoy this sampling.

I’ll start with some larvae songs: the plaintive “Inchworm” from Frank Loesser’s “Hans Christian Anderson” and the bubbly “Glowworm”. Danny Kaye sang the story of the Inchworm Missing the Marigolds to teach the young children hearing the HCA stories to pause and pay attention to the world around them.

“It seems to me you would stop and see how beautiful they are” is good advice for all of us as we rush through life. As soon as we stop, we have to be like the firefly and “mica, mica”.

This song was written in 1902 by Paul Lincke for a German operetta “Lysistrata”. It took on new life when English words (the title actually means fireflies) were added. The best known recording is from the Mills Brothers.

From my Bible camp days, I even sang and led songs about ants “marching to the ground to get out of the rain, boom, boom, boom”. Or adapted words to sing over “Mm-mm-mosquito” to the tune of “Kkk-Katie”.

We stretch our minds to find rhymes for words and prove how rich are the languages ​​in which we sing. Languages? Si, dear reader!

Think of “La Cucaracha!” It was not written in English and is one of the most famous songs today.

The Grand Opera has its insect in Giacomo Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly”. The female lead, Cio-Cio-san, means butterfly. Her aria “Un Bel Di” is truly an amazing piece in soprano literature.

Who sang it best? The person who has drawn the most to your heart, dear reader, the person who has drawn the most to your heart.

Our last entry into the whim of insect music is this typical Disney song that is sung to us by a cricket. We still need the hope and longings that Jiminy Cricket sings to make us human, not wooden beings, who go through life.

This Oscar-winning song “When You Wish upon a Star” became the theme music for Walt Disney Studios. Today I wish you: may your dreams come true.

Richard Tiegs is a Coralville musician who views all sounds as inspiration for making music.