Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Announcing the winners of this year’s Grove Music Spoof Article Contest

In honor of April Fools’ Day, we are pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 Grove Music Spoof Article Contest.

This year’s expert judges included:

  • Deane Root, Editor in Chief of Grove Music Online, and Professor of Music, Director and Fletcher Hodges, Jr. Curator of the Center for American Music, University of Pittsburgh, has been immersed in Grove style since he worked under Stanley Sadie on the first New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
  • Daniel Goldmark is Professor of Music at Case Western Reserve where he serves as Head of Popular Music and the Director of the Center for Popular Music Studies. He was an Area Editor for the second edition of The Grove Dictionary of American Music, is editing the forthcoming Grove Guide to American Film Music, and has written extensively on comedy and music in American film, including his 2011 book Funny Pictures: Animation and Comedy in Studio-Era Hollywood (U. California Press).
  • Anna-Lise Santella is Senior Editor for Music Reference at OUP, a position that includes serving as publishing editor of Grove Music Online. She spends a lot of time with style guides and once read the 1927 edition of Grove cover-to-cover. For fun.

We received an impressive crop of submissions this year. Some highlights:

    • 35 spoof articles were submitted by 29 authors for an average of 1.2 articles per author (3 submissions per person were permitted).
    • 17 submissions came from the United States.
    • 9 submissions came from the United Kingdom.
    • 1 submission each came from Malta, Portugal, and Switzerland.
    • 22 submissions were biographies.
    • Careers of biographees included 14 composers, 4 singers, 1 pianist, 1 euphonium player, 1 instrument inventor, and 1 music hall artist with a particular talent for the tambourine.
    • 5 articles described musical instruments.
    • Several articles offered pointed satire inspired by the likes of Donald Trump, the Grammys, and even Grove.
    • One article, on “Leonard Berenstain” submitted by Andrew Miller, brazenly copied nearly word for word (with appropriate name changes as warranted) the opening of Grove’s article on Leonard Bernstein, although its final bibliography item is found nowhere in either Grove or in the annals of publishing:

Berenstain and J. Berenstain: The Berenstain Bears and the Trouble with Music (New York, 1962)

    • The fake books that contestants invented for their bibliographies would fill a very entertaining shelf in the Grove offices. Our favorite overall bibliography was one submitted by last year’s contest winner Joanna Wyld with her article “Mildew, Tilly,” who graced the stages of nineteenth-century English music halls with her show “Tilly the Tremendous Tambourine Tickler.”

T. Mildew: Aint’ Life Jolly, Ain’t Life Sweet, Until You Punch Sigmund Freud in the Face—an Autobiography (London, 1925)
P.S. Pettilove: Le Pétomane: Life’s a Gas! (Oxford, 1980)

  • J.J. Gordon submitted an article on a 1970s craze for opera spin-off sitcoms that seems like a missed opportunity in television history. The Grove editorial staff hopes that J.J. will be soon be in Hollywood pitching Kurvy’s Kafé, in which “Kurwenal leaves Tristan, Isolde, and Cornwall behind to open up a cheap-eats diner on a dead highway in the American southwest.”

In short, the judges had their work cut out for them. However three articles quickly rose to the top.

This year’s winner is Caroline Potter for her article “Musical cheesegrater.”

Judge Goldmark observed, “The author impressively inserts this instrument into the wide chasm of instrumental possibilities first opened by the Futurists and the Dadaists, forcing us to question whether it’s possible an instrument like this didn’t actually exist, which I’d say is the goal of obfuscatory historiography. The author could have constructively raised the entire question of how the choice of cheese becomes a performance practice issue, which leads to training cheesemongers as moonlighting musicians. Also: please add me to the Gastromusicology email list forthwith!”

Judge Root added, “The translations are a nice touch, as are institutional references. (It does, however, omit the option of playing the instrument from the inside, which has occurred during Purimspiels.)”

*   *   *   *   *

Musical Cheesegrater

(Fr. râpe à fromage musicale; It. grattugia musicale)

A percussion instrument that enjoyed a brief vogue in Rome and Paris in the 1910s and early 1920s. In the Hornbostel-Sachs classification the instrument is reckoned as a friction idiophone. Of metal construction, it typically has four sides, each with raised perforations of a particular size. The player strokes one or more of the sides with a metal implement, producing a distinctive rasping sound. A rare rotating variant, where a perforated barrel is turned using a crankhandle to create friction against metal tangents, survives in the Musée de la Musique in Paris. The musical cheesegrater is cited in a posthumously published appendix to Luigi Russolo’s celebrated manifesto L’Arte dei rumori in the fourth category of his sound classification (screeches, creaks, rumbles, buzzes, crackles, scrapes). Its best-known use is in Maurice Ravel’s opera L’enfant et les sortilèges (1924), where it is rubbed with a triangle beater.

The musical cheesegrater was employed by Italian Futurist composers and associates of the Dada movement in Paris, and its popularity and decline mirrors the fortunes of these artistic groupings. The manuscript of Erik Satie’s Rabelais-themed Trois petites pièces montées (1919) features the instrument rubbed with a hard cheese, though scholars disagree whether Satie intended this to be a percussion instrument or part of a projected staging. Edgard Varèse showed enthusiasm for the musical cheesegrater during a dinner with Russolo; it appears in sketches for Amériques (1918-21), but not in the final version. Recent academic research in gastromusicology has revived interest in the instrument.


Russolo, Luigi, L’Arte dei rumori: manifesto futurista (1913; appendix published posthumously in English translation, London, 2013)
Orledge, Robert, ‘Chronological catalogue of the works of Erik Satie’ (London, 2010, 307)

Carolina Comté

*   *   *   *   *

Congratulations to Caroline, who wins $100 in OUP books and a year’s subscription to Grove Music Online.

The runner-up is Eric Saylor for his article “Raymond, Delray Odabee.” Judge Root called this article “rich in knowledgeable namedropping within the history of shapenote hymnody (including the author’s name), though embellished more storytelling than in most Grove entries.”

Judge Goldmark said, “I assume the author of this entry is either an Alabama native or at least quite handy with an atlas, given the liberal and very skillful use of the characteristically colorful names where the composer was born and died, as well as the mention of Winston County and its infamous opposition to secession, an island of progressive thoughts in a sea of secessionists. This brief story of a shape-note wunderkind really stood out as being entirely plausible without being ridiculous, from the names of the fuging tunes, or the Alabamians’ heated reaction to them.”

*   *   *   *   *

Raymond, Delray Odabee

(b nr Booger Tree, Alabama, 7 Apr 1814; d Double Springs, Alabama, 30 May 1871). American composer, teacher, and politician. Heir to a vast sorghum fortune, Raymond’s earliest musical experience involved singing shape-note hymns at Walker’s Chapel Church, being able to lead classes from the square “with great tenacity” as a six-year-old.

Upon moving to Double Springs in 1838, Raymond quickly became a popular teacher of composition and singing. Court documents from a copyright infringement suit imply that he taught the rudiments of music to John McCurry, compiler of The Social Harp (1855), though this claim has never been verified. Although best known for his fuging tunes “Rectitude” and “Hancock” (both 1839) and the buoyant revivalist hymn “Fritters” (1841), Raymond also wrote several classically-inspired stage works, most notably Euterpe in Tuscaloosa, or, The Muse in the News (1844), a farce in two acts.

In 1848, Raymond was elected to the Double Springs town council as a Whig, changing his party affiliation to Republican in 1856. An outspoken opponent of secession, he successfully led a campaign to ally Winston County (Alabama) with the Union in 1861. After the war, hoping to capitalize on local enthusiasm for the Confederate defeat, he released The Grand Harp of the Republic (1866), a shape-note compendium featuring such new tunes as “Lincoln,” “Appomattox,” “Union Forever,” and the fiery “Sherman’s March.” His misreading of the market led to the burning of the entire inventory of hymnbooks by an angry mob, and to Raymond’s subsequent bankruptcy in 1868; the few surviving copies of The Grand Harp are much prized by collectors. He died three years later of complications.


R. Blessing, Hymnody in the American South, 1776–1895 (Philadelphia, 1909)
V. Rassity, Yankee Doodle Dixie: The Free State of Winston (New York, 1998)

Sophronia Denson

*   *   *   *   *

Finally, one article ruled ineligible for competition, but its evocation of Grove style was so pitch-perfect that we award it a special honorable mention. Daniel R. Melamed’s article on the seldom-discussed neume “Sphinculus” wowed the judges.

Judge Root called the article, “Body humor clothed in Latin and impeccable scholarly writing style, brilliantly composed. It’s the most thoroughly integrated spoof of the submissions and the closest thing to the spoofs composed by the 1970s Grove editorial staff (two of which made it into the first printing of The New Grove). It’s the best I’ve seen in 35 years.”

Judge Goldmark felt similarly. “Definitely made me laugh out loud; I found this quite funny and clever. The slightly altered chant title ‘Ex laxis quaeunt’ was excellent. I could have added that it seems like this note might be related in some way to the fabled turba brunus referred to in the episode of South Park titled ‘World Wide Recorder Concert,’ for which this note might be an important precursor.”

*   *   *   *   *

Sphinculus [cursive sphinculus]

(? from Lat. sphinxis: ‘enigma’).

Neume appearing in Western chant manuscripts of the early late Middle Ages, typically at the tail end (cauda) of a chant. It indicates a three-note figure in which the lower of the first two tones is sounded as the upper neighbour of the third.

Its further meaning is obscure but it is thought to signal a tightening of all aspects of performance. There have been heated arguments about its rhythmic interpretation, with many older scholars arguing for regularity; research does not yet have complete control over the sphinculus.

It is curiously unmentioned by Huglo (‘Les noms des neumes et leur origine’, EG, i, 1954, pp.53–67).

The neume finds its classic expression in the hymns “Ex laxis quaeunt” and “Aperientes me” sung as petitions for relief to St Magnesia, usually in the Night Hours; and at the end of certain tracts. In secular music it is closely associated with the title character of the Roman de Fauvel.

Graphical forms vary; the sphincula of German scribes tend to be tight, whereas those of the French are typically much looser. (For illustration see NOTATIONTable.) It almost always closely follows another neume, the descending colon, for which it serves as a kind of stop. Its earliest appearance is in the Kaufbeuren MS (D-Klo WC 00) but it is also frequently encountered in Scots paper rolls.


Wogelweide, Wanda : The manuscript Kaufbeuren WC 00 (diss., U of Waterloo, 1990)
Wogelweide, Wanda : ‘The cursive sphinculus in the manuscript Kaufbeuren WC 00’, PMM, i (1992), 167–73

Wanda Wogelweide

*   *   *   *   *

Thanks so much to all the contestants and a special congratulations to our winner. We hope to see you all again next year!

Headline image credit: Sara Levine for Oxford University Press.

Recent Comments

There are currently no comments.