Saturday, November 7, 2009

Naming Musical Instruments

Something interesting that happened while I was giving my music student his lesson today. He pulled out his saxophone and said, "alright Judy, time for exercises."

Is isn't just me; everyone names their instruments!

Famous musicians do it all the time, but rarely do I hear about regular people naming theirs. A friend of mine named his drums, and I know my old bandmates named theirs on occasion. (Though they changed the names every so often, which was kinda funny. "This is Shannon." "Wasn't it Mary before?" "No, I think it was Gloria... or maybe Margaret. Whatever. It doesn't matter." "Okay.")

The point is, in all my years as a musician, nobody has ever really talked about this random little thing.

Some famous examples of named musical instruments:

1. Lucille, the name given by B.B. King to every single one of his guitars
2. Blue & Floyd, the names Billie Joe from Greenday gave to some of his guitars
3. Trigger, the name of Willie Nelson's guitar
4. Dolphin, a rare Stradivarius violin, originally by George Hart who named it
5. Davidov, another Stradivarius instrument, a cello, currently owned by Yo-Yo Ma

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Sobriquets have got to be my favorite thing about owning my own personal musical instruments. (Besides the getting to play them part.) The habit got started with my first saxophone. My dad bought it for me - in a very removed sense - get this, he sent his accountant to drive me all the way to San Bernadino to buy it from some shady pawn-shop who he knew the owner of. It didn't matter. I loved the saxophone from the moment I layed eyes on it. A gorgeous, beat-up & rusted Evette with no high F-sharp key... but who cares! It was mine.

Ever since that day I've named my instruments. Always a girl's name. Never a boy's. I would never play any instrument that has a boy's name, because there's something about how I play that always reminds me of making love. Well, since I'm not gay, the instrument has got to be a girl if I'm going to be able to play it.

There are some other rules too. I've got to incorporate the manufacturer name somehow, because they always appear on the instrument and so I can't really ignore it. Also, it has to be a full name. It can't be a nickname, or half of a name. Gotta be first, middle, last, and sometimes a shortened version for regular use. The idea is to transform the instrument into a person. You need to relate to what you're playing. You need to work together to create music. You've gotta be together like lovers, but also like each other.

Let me give you the rundown:

Saxophone: Donna Lee Yamaha

 The first part of the name comes from a Charlie Parker song that was originally written by Miles Davis. Naturally the song is about a woman, specifically it was named after bassist Curley Russell's daughter, Donna Lee Russell. The instrument itself is a 62 Mark II by Yamaha, with a beautiful rose on the bell. Altogether the name means something like, "Lady Meadow of Profound Excitement in Superior Performance." (The last part is unfortunately because of the yamaha.)

Sometimes I want to give my sax a better name, but you can't do that. It's against the rules. Le sigh.

Piano: Antoinette Bellafonte de Lowery (pronounced la-rey)

The first-name is not because of Marie Antoinette, but because of a girl I knew from New Orleans who had the name. She was Cajun, which influenced the rest of the name. The middle comes from Harry Bellafonte, who is just about one of my favorite Calypso performers. The last is the brand-name, of course. (I typically name the brand-name the last-name.) However, I changed the pronounciation to fit the motif. Altogether the whole thing means, "Praise Worthy Beautiful Purse of the Street."

Yeah, none of these are going to make much sense, but so it goes.

Djembe (West-African acoustic bass drum): Matilda Legum Meinl

The first name comes from the character Matilda in Roald Dahl's novel (and also the movie, featuring Mara Wilson & Danny DeVito). The second name comes from legume, which are basically nuts, like soy, peas, and beans. I picked the name because I love edamame, which are baby soybeans - which are legumes - and because it has a vaguely badass feel to it. Meinl is the manufacturer. The whole name has a very long, convoluted etymology, but altogether it means, "Strength in Battle Pod Strength."

These names really do sound cool! It's just their definitions that mess it up... Most of the time I just call her Matty, or Maud.

Cajon (Spanish box drum): Hannah Clarie Meinl

I have a thing for palindromes, and the first-name is my favorite one. The middle comes from Clarice, from Silence of the Lambs with Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. (The only truly scary movie in my opinion.) And again, this drum is a Meinl, so of course we've got to add that in. The whole thing basically means, "Favour Clear Strength."

This one is the only name that kind of makes sense to me.

Guitar: Penelope (pronounced penelopi) Francesca (pronounced franchesca) Ibanez

The first-name is my favorite girl's name. Period. I only wish I had given it to my saxophone first, but by the time I realized it, I'd already named the damn thing. So, I gave it to my guitar. The middle comes from my obsession with romanticized versions of Gypsy women, and this is a common-name among them in the books I've read. The last is, of course, again the manufacturer. The whole thing means, "Duck Frenchman Son of God is Gracious."

Strange how such beautiful sounding names can have such twisted, inglorious meanings.

I'm very fascinated by etymology, and it always surprises me what things mean. Nomenclature is also a hobby, and naming things is - I think - one of humanity's original peculiarities that separates us from other animals. Humans name so many things, from musical instruments to the sun or the moon or even the Earth itself. As if anyone could forget what those are. Only we are so dedicated to ordering things that we need to name the obvious.


5 footnotes:

Anonymous said...

Lol @ "making love" :-P

I briefly named my flute Franklin in high school, but it didn't last.

Jasper said...

@Jasmin: Yeah, you don't know where that flute had Ben. (nyuck nyuck)

On naming instruments:

I've never felt compelled to name any of my instruments or recongnized that the act of playing music with said instruments was analogous to making love. Maybe I'm too emotionally distant and consider them more like tools than partners in melody and rhythm.

However, I've also never considered it odd either. I just accept that some people feel a special kind of relationship with music and like to anthropomorphize their tools.

As Cam'ron once said, "rock the Mike."

Manju said...

yh right a gay instrument hahaha
but i guess naming your instrument makes things more personal, and your 'bond' deeper.

p.s. i'll go and check out those chad vader videos ^^
have a great weekend!

Zek J Evets said...

@jasmin: aww, poor franklin.

@jasper: indeed, sir! and i rock the mike with my anthropomorphicized instruments.

@manju: haha, gay instruments, what? yeah, it does make the bond deeper.

hope you enjoy(ed) the chad vader vids!

Mira said...

I don't own any instruments. I am learning how to play bass guitar, and I am a very, very slow learner (whit not much of a talent, really)- But!- this instrument naming thing does make sense to me. I'm planning on buying a bass guitar when I can afford it, and I know I'll name it. And I know it's going to be a male name. It just makes sense to me.