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Major-General's Song

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Wikipedia article

as the Major-General (1919)

"'I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General'" (often referred to as the "'Major-General's Song'" or "'Modern Major-General's Song'") is a patter song from Gilbert and Sullivan's 1879 comic opera 'The Pirates of Penzance'. It has been called the most famous Gilbert and Sullivan patter song.Nicholson, David. [https://www.dailypress.com/news/dp-xpm-20071110-2007-11-10-0711090116-story.html "'Pirates' to Invade Virginia"], 'Daily Press', November 10, 2007, accessed October 30, 2019 Sung by Major-General Stanley at his first entrance, towards the end of Act I, the character introduces himself by presenting his rsum and admitting to a few shortcomings. The song satirises the idea of the "modern" educated British Army officer of the latter 19th century.

The song is replete with historical and cultural references, in which the Major-General describes his impressive and well-rounded education in non-military matters, but he says that his military knowledge has "only been brought down to the beginning of the century". The stage directions in the libretto state that at the end of each verse the Major-General is "bothered for a rhyme". Interpolated business occurs here, and in each case he finds a rhyme and finishes the verse with a flourish.This is demonstrated in the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company recordings of the opera. See, e.g.:

The piece is difficult to perform because of the fast pace and tongue-twisting nature of the lyrics.Davis, Kimberly. [https://web.archive.org/web/20140911001756/http://archives.timesleader.com/2003/2003_12/2003_08_22_GILBERT_AND_SULLIVAN_TUNES_DELIGHT_IN__INNOCENT_MERRIMENT__PRODU.html "Gilbert and Sullivan Tunes Delight in 'Innocent Merriment' Production"], 'Times Leader' (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania), 22 August 2003, accessed 16 May 2013[http://dictionary.onmusic.org/terms/2507-patter_song "Patter song"], 'OnMusic Dictionary', Connect For Education, Inc, accessed 2 May 2014

Historical basis

The character of Major-General Stanley was widely taken to be a caricature of the popular general Sir Garnet Wolseley. The biographer Michael Ainger, however, doubts that Gilbert intended a caricature of Wolseley, identifying instead the older General Henry Turner, an uncle of Gilbert's wife whom Gilbert disliked, as a more likely inspiration for the satire. Nevertheless, in the original London production, George Grossmith imitated Wolseley's mannerisms and appearance, particularly his large moustache, and the audience recognised the allusion.Ainger, pp. 182 Wolseley himself, according to his biographer, took no offence at the identification and sometimes sang "I am the very model of a modern Major-General" for the private amusement of his family and friends.Bradley (1996), p. 118


I am the very model of a modern Major-Gineral,

I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral,

I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical

From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical;

I'm very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,

I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical,

About binomial theorem I'm teeming with a lot o' news,

With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.

I'm very good at integral and differential calculus;

I know the scientific names of beings animalculous:

In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,

I am the very model of a modern Major-Gineral.

I know our mythic history, King Arthur's and Sir Caradoc's;

I answer hard acrostics, I've a pretty taste for paradox,

I quote in elegiacs all the crimes of Heliogabalus,

In conics I can floor peculiarities parabolous;

I can tell undoubted Raphaels from Gerard Dows and Zoffanies,

I know the croaking chorus from 'The Frogs' of Aristophanes!

Then I can hum a fugue of which I've heard the music's din afore,

And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense 'Pinafore'.

Then I can write a washing bill in Babylonic cuneiform,

And tell you ev'ry detail of Caractacus's uniform:

In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,

I am the very model of a modern Major-Gineral.

In fact, when I know what is meant by "mamelon" and "ravelin",

When I can tell at sight a Mauser rifle from a javelin,

When such affairs as sorties and surprises I'm more wary at,

And when I know precisely what is meant by "commissariat",

When I have learnt what progress has been made in modern gunnery,

When I know more of tactics than a novice in a nunnery

In short, when I've a smattering of elemental strategy

You'll say a better Major-General has never sat a gee.

For my military knowledge, though I'm plucky and adventury,

Has only been brought down to the beginning of the century;

But still, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,

I am the very model of a modern Major-Gineral.


In popular culture

Film references

drawing by W.S. Gilbert

'The Pirate Movie', a 1982 modern musical parody of 'The Pirates of Penzance', features many songs from the opera, including this song. Contemporary references were introduced, as when the Major-General adds to the song "Man, I'm older than The Beatles, but I'm younger than The Rolling Stones." In the 1983 film 'Never Cry Wolf', the hero sings the song. Similarly, in the 2001 time-travel comedy 'Kate & Leopold', Leopold sings the song; however, the scene is anachronistic in that 'The Pirates of Penzance' premiered in 1879, 'after' Leopold had already left his own time of 1876.Bradley (2005), p. 12 A nonsense pastiche of the song in 2017 film 'Despicable Me 3', sung by Minions, was uploaded to YouTube by Illumination Entertainment as a singalong challenge; the video has been viewed more than 18 million times.[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwgTtwJHoWQ "#DespicableMeChallenge In Theaters June 30 (HD)"], YouTube, Illumination Entertainment, July 4, 2019

Television references

The song, or parts of it, has been sung in numerous television programs.[http://www.popisms.com/Song/39739/The-Modern-Major-Generals-Song-1879-by-Gil.aspx "The Modern Major-General's Song (1879) by Gilbert and Sullivan"], Popisms.com, accessed 10 September 2016 For example, 'The Muppet Show' (season 3, episode 52) staged a duet of the song with guest host Gilda Radner and a talking carrot. Radner had requested a seven-foot-tall talking 'parrot', but Kermit had difficulty reading her handwriting. In a short cutaway from the 2012 'Family Guy' episode "Killer Queen", Peter plays the Major-General in a community theater production and mumbles all through the opening verse of the song.Pierson, Robin. [http://www.thetvcritic.org/reviews/comedies/family-guy/season-77/killer-queen/ "Episode 16 'Killer Queen'"], 'The TV Critic', March 21, 2012, accessed August 29, 2013 The 2003 VeggieTales cartoon episode 'The Wonderful World of Auto-Tainment!' features Archibald Asparagus singing the first verse of the song.[http://ringostrack.com/en/movie/veggietales-the-wonderful-world-of-autotainment/53943 "'VeggieTales: The Wonderful World of Autotainment' Soundtrack (2004) OST"], Ringostrack.com, accessed 10 September 2016; and [https://www.ovguide.com/tv_episode/veggietales-season-1-episode-15-the-wonderful-world-of-autotainment-385279 "VeggieTales Season 1 Episode 15 S1E15 'The Wonderful World of Auto-Tainment!'] , OVguide, accessed 10 September 2016 In Season 2, Episode 13 of USA Network series 'In Plain Sight', "Let's Get It Ahn", WITSEC workers, Mary and Eleanor, sing along to the song while listening to it being played as hold music. In a Season 3 episode of 'Home Improvement', "Room for Change" (1994), Al Borland, believing that he is in a sound-proof booth, belts out the first stanza but is heard by everyone.Taylor, Duncan. [http://www.hiarchive.co.uk/index.php?content=script&s=3&e=17 "Room for Change"], Home Improvement Archive, 1 July 2007, accessed 10 September 2016

Other examples of television renditions of the song include the 'Babylon 5' episode "Atonement", sung by Marcus Cole to irritate fellow passenger Dr. Franklin;[http://gsvloc.org/gilbert-sullivan-resources/gilbert-sullivan-in-popular-culture/the-pirates-of-penzance 'The Pirates of Penzance'], The Gilbert and Sullivan Very Light Opera Company, accessed 10 September 2016 'The Wind In The Willows' episode "A Producer's Lot" (Series 3, Episode 11) sung by Mole (Richard Pearson); the 'Married... with Children' episode "Peggy and the Pirates" (Season 7, Episode 18); the 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' episode "Disaster" and the 'Star Trek: Short Treks' episode "Q&A"; two episodes of 'Frasier', including "Fathers and Sons", where Martin joins in the song, singing, "With many awful facts about the scary hippopotamus!"; the 'Mad About You' episode "Moody Blues" (Season 6, Episode 5); and the "Deep Space Homer" episode of 'The Simpsons'. Sometimes the song is used in an audition situation. For example, in the 'Two and a Half Men' episode "And the Plot Moistens" (Season 3, Episode 21), Alan sings the first verse of the song to persuade Jake to join the school musical. Similarly, in season 2 of 'Slings & Arrows', Richard Smith-Jones uses the song to audition for the festival's musical. In the pilot episode of '90210', Annie Wilson sings the beginning of the song in a flash back of her old school performance. In the first episode of the 2020 British miniseries 'Quiz', about the Charles Ingram cheating scandal, Ingram and another Army officer sing the Major-General's Song.Keller, Joel. [https://decider.com/2020/06/01/quiz-amc-stream-it-or-skip-it/ "Stream It Or Skip It: 'Quiz' On AMC, a Miniseries About Britains 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?' Cheating Scandal "], 'Decider.com', 1 June 2020

Parodies or pastiches of the song have been sung in a number of television programs. For example, the computer-animated series 'ReBoot' ended its third season (Episode 39: "End Prog") with a recap of the entire season, set to the song's tune. The 'Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip' episode "The Cold Open" (2006), the cast of 'Studio 60' opens with a parody: "We'll be the very model of a modern network TV show; we hope that you don't mind that our producer was caught doing blow". In 'Doctor Who and the Pirates', the Doctor (played by Colin Baker) sings, "I am the very model of a Gallifreyan buccaneer". Other songs, from 'Pirates', 'Pinafore' and 'Ruddigore', are parodied. When he hosted 'Saturday Night Live', David Hyde Pierce's monologue was a parody of the song. In the 'Animaniacs' short "H.M.S. Yakko", Yakko sings "I Am the Very Model of a Cartoon Individual". In the 'Scrubs' episode "My Musical", the song is parodied in "The Rant Song" sung by Dr. Cox. In a 2011 GEICO commercial, a couple that wants to save money, but still listen to musicals, finds a roommate, dressed as the Major General, who awkwardly begins the song while dancing on a coffee table.

Other parodies and pastiches

The song has been widely parodied and pastiched, including by Tom Lehrer's "Elements Song", "The Unix Sysadmin Song", written for the book 'The Unix Companion' by Harley Hahn, which replaces the military references with Unix trivia and one featured in comic No. 1052 on the webcomic 'xkcd' in 2012.Munroe, Randall. [http://xkcd.com/1052/ "Every Major's Terrible"], 'xkcd', 7 May 2012 This comic then became the subject of numerous musical adaptations.[http://www.uproxx.com/gammasquad/2012/08/ben-miller-xkcd-every-majors-terrible/ "xkcd's 'Every Major's Terrible' Is Now a Real Song"], Uproxx.com, 20 August 2012 "The Elements" inspired the "Boy Scout Merit Badge Song", listing all the merit badges that can be earned from the Boy Scouts of America In the video games 'Mass Effect 2' and 'Mass Effect 3', the character Dr. Mordin Solus sings a short pastiche version ("I Am the Very Model of a Scientist Salarian").Graff, Michael. [https://screenrant.com/mass-effect-secret-moments-you-definitely-missed "Mass Effect: Secret Moments You Definitely Missed"], ScreenRant.com, May 0, 2017

On the last night of The Proms in 2000, the outgoing conductor, Sir Andrew Davis, sang a pastiche of the song celebrating the festival. When Derek Pattinson retired as Secretary-General of the General Synod of the Church of England in 1990, a choir sang a variation on the Major-General's Song, with the line "He was the very model of a Secretary-General", in a meeting of the General Synod. In 2010, a parody version of the song was posted as an op-ed piece in the 'Richmond Times-Dispatch' mocking actions of the Attorney General of Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli. In 2010, Ron Butler released a YouTube video pastiche of the song, in character as President Obama, that received more than 1.8 million views. A 2015 YouTube parody satirizing county clerk Kim Davis called "The Modern Fundamentalist" was distributed by media outlets.[http://www.queerty.com/finally-the-kim-davis-musical-parody-weve-all-been-waiting-for-20150929 "Finally! The Kim Davis Musical Parody Weve All Been Waiting For"], Queerty, 29 September 2015

The character George Washington, in the song "Right Hand Man" from the 2015 musical 'Hamilton' by Lin-Manuel Miranda, refers to himself with irony as "The model of a modern major general", which he rhymes with "men are all" and "pedestal". Miranda commented: "I always felt like 'mineral' wasn't the best possible rhyme." Stephen Colbert opined that some verses of "Favorite Song" by rap artist Chance the Rapper (featuring Childish Gambino), utilize the same rhythm as the Major-General's Song. Randy Rainbow released a parody of the song in 2018 titled "A Very Stable Genius", which lampoons Donald Trump.








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