15 March 2009

Manic Monday - What's Your Party Piece?


A "party piece" is some small exhibition of talent via song, poem, joke or instrumental performance that entertains or impresses friends and guests at a social gathering. Back when a gathering of friends didn't include any object operated by electricity, everyone was expected to pitch in to entertain the gathering. People were expected to join in games such as "The Minister's Cat", tell jokes or share their particular prepared bit. In addition to the usual games and music of piano or song, one of the most popular entertainments was the declamation of a long poem, comedy routine or dramatic recitation such as you might read about in Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, or Pride and Prejudice.

The Soliloquies of Shakespeare or ballad poetry of the type written by Noyes, Longfellow, Burns or Service lends itself well to this type of performance, though the hundreds of lines in The Song of Hiawatha or Tam O' Shanter probably would have been a bit much. One of my favorite Service poems that fits the theme is The Cremation of Sam McGee with its comic phrases:

I was sick with dread, but I bravely said:
"I'll just take a peep inside.
I guess he's cooked, and it's time I looked"; . . .
Then the door I opened wide.

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm,
In the heart of the furnace roar;
And he wore a smile you could see a mile,
And he said: "Please close that door.

It's fine in here, but I greatly fear
You'll let in the cold and storm --
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee,
It's the first time I've been warm.

Since St. Patrick's Day looms you can memorize the lyrics to the following for your next party piece: Finnegan's Wake


anthonynorth said...

Parties have degenerated so much in recent times to how they used to go :-)
As to Joyce, I think I'm the only person I know who has actually read 'Portrait ... '

Mo said...

Usually these "party piece" scenes are not my favorites from period movies, but there is one in the Gweneth Paltrow "Emma" that makes me smile.
I think a modern party with "party pieces" might be interesting. I just won't be singing "Tim Finnegan's Wake" ~ maybe reciting the Prince's speech from "Romeo & Juliet."

Thanks for participating in Manic Monday!

Thom said...

Enjoyed this very much. Mahalo

carol g said...

#1 son has made a chocolate cake covered in a Bailey's glaze... that's my celebration :o)

maryt/theteach said...

In the days when there was no TV, people would get up and perform: play the piano, recite poems and such. If you've ever read Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, etc. there are always these sorts of evenings... and there's always someone falling asleep with boredom. Ha! Have you read Vanity Fair, Jamie? They women did set peices in costume... do you remember?

Marilyn said...

I think I would have failed and never been invited again.

If you have the time to share the soda bread recipe I'd make it tomorrow and post about it. You can e-mail me at marilynzelha@yahoo.com if you're interested.

Mags said...

I heart Anne of Green Gables. That'd be my crazy party trick. :)

Linda said...

"The Cremation of Sam McGee" has long been one of my favorites and the way this past winter has been going, I'm beginning to feel a bit like Sam myself!

I am not at all sure that I'd have any sort of entertainment for people - unless they want to listen to some sardonic ramblings! You, on the other hand, would put a fine show I'm sure!

Ralph said...

That is a arty to attend! Poetry and Jameson's would make for a fun time!

HalfCrazy said...

Hi there!

Aw, I adore those gathering things and showcasing of talents. I always see it in movies! In a movie called Once, I think they're also Irish, they attended this little gathering with candles on in some sort of basement. Requirement is that they should know how to sing or play something. It's really cool.

Nowadays, I guess not a lot of people do it but there are some that still do it. I for one don't do it, hahaha. I just simply hang out with friends and do whatever.

Travis said...

This is the kind of thing we do with our friends for game night. Not reciting lines of poetry, but during the games we tell stories and crack jokes, and generally get silly.