It’s hard to find a musical instrument which receives less respect than the kazoo. Tambourines and triangles have their detractors, but the kazoo is typically lumped in with inherently non-musical objects which can be manipulated to produces sounds (typically percussion) to harmonize with other instruments. They fit firmly with musical spoons and the cowbell.
This is generally true, but not if you’re visiting the Kazoo Factory store and museum in Beaufort, South Carolina. There, they not only sell kazoos but they have an array of classic and modern instruments and oddly-shaped decorative ones.
What the owners of the kazoo museum did not do, however, is compose a classical music piece for them. That honor was left to David Bedford.
Bedford was a British composer who worked with both classical and popular music, and he was pleased when the highly influential composer Pierre Boulez asked him to create a work for a musical showcase series. Boulez was very clear that he wanted Bedford to incorporate audience participation into the program.
Boulez meant that he wanted Bedford to hand out paper to the audience, ask them to write down questions, and allow Boulez to educate and inform them. What Bedford thought he meant was that the audience was to participate in the production of a classical piece.
The obvious difficulty was that there was no way to determine if randomly selected members of an audience could play one instrument, much less at the level required for a decent performance. Bedford found his way around that by using kazoos.
Even the least musically inclined audience member could hum, after all. And with 100 of them, anyone who was off on a few notes would be drowned out by the others. With 100 Kazoos was born.
Boulez did not include the piece for his showcase.
Question of the night: What’s one of your favorite classical pieces?