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Mondegreens, gigs and deliberate practice

Posted by  Mark Schenk —February 27, 2013
Filed in Fun

Last Thursday night, Tony High asked me if I knew what a ‘mondegreen’ was. I had no idea. A quick search of wikipedia revealed that a mondegreen is a term coined for those times when we get the lyrics of a song wrong. But to be a mondegreen, the incorrect version needs to be better, in some way, than the original.

The term mondegreen comes from the first verse of a 17th century ballad:

Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,

Oh, where hae ye been?

They hae slain the Earl O’ Moray,

And Lady Mondegreen.

The actual fourth line is ‘And laid him on the green’. I know I have many mondegreens in my repertoire, and my kids are ruthless in pointing them out.

Then, on Saturday night, I saw Colin Hay, former lead singer and songwriter from Men at Work, in concert. Apart from being a terrific guitarist and singer, he is an accomplished raconteur and had the audience in stitches for much of the concert. At one stage, he described how one of the lines he is most proud of is in the song ‘overkill‘ which goes ‘ghosts appear and fade away’. A few years back, he was about to start a concert in country South Australia when a guy came up and asked him if he was “going to do the song about the goat?” Colin replied “I don’t have a song about a goat” After some to-ing and fro-ing, the guy said “you know the one…’goats appear and fade away'” Colin’s response was “yeah, I’ll do that one tonight”.

All of that is a little by-the-by, as the point of this post is to explain that I got to have a chat with Colin after the concert – its one of the beauties of living in Canberra :-). We often point people to Colin Hay as an example of good storytelling in action, so I asked him if he had any tips on being a good storyteller. He answered “If you think any of this is ad lib then you are sorely mistaken. You need to practice, practice and practice some more in order to get it right.”

So, even those who appear to be natural storytellers practice extensively to refine their skill. Its an important realisation for the many people who think they are not natural storytellers. Maybe we just need more deliberate practice?

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Mark Schenk About  Mark Schenk

Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. Connect with Mark on:

One Response to “Mondegreens, gigs and deliberate practice”

  1. Alasdair Says:

    Colin Hay’s comment about practice reminds me of an aphorism about artists, that is relevant here.
    What’s the difference between an unsuccessful and a successful artist?
    A successful artist is an unsuccessful artist that just kept practising!

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