The Twelve Days – All Twelve

And on the Twelfth Day (05 January) — A day of drumming!

Cynthia Yeh, Principal Percussionist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, announcing the end of the world on the bass drums in a performance of the “Dies Irae” section from Verdi’s “Messa da Requiem”.

Striking the mighty hammer-blows in Mahler’s Symphony No. 6.

Jazz percussionist Max Roach as “Max”, leader of the house band at Billy Pastor’s Café in the film “Carmen Jones”. The band inserts a jazz break and drum solo into Pearl Bailey’s musical number “Beat Out Dat Rhythm On A Drum”, Oscar Hammerstein’s adaptation of the Act II Gypsy Dance “Les tringles des sistres tintaient” from Bizet’s “Carmen”.

Peter Edward “Ginger” Baker (19 August 1939 – 6 October 2019) was an English drummer and a co-founder of the rock band Cream.

Maureen “Moe” Tucker of the Velvet Underground. From the performance of “Heroin” in the video of the MCMXCIII reunion concert.

Watch VU MCMXCIII Heroin at YouTube . And watch Moe Tucker create the overwhelming pacing.

Timpanist Wieland Welzel of the Berliner Philharmoniker finishes off the Symphony No. 5 of Dmitri Shostakovich
Still at the Berliner Philharmoniker, it takes *two* timpanists at eight kettles to finish off the 112 minute performance of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 in D minor, at a concert 29 Feb 2020 under batonless direction of wunderkind Lorenzo Viotti.

For those into timpani, here is Part 1 of 3 of a tutorial on changing and tuning TIMpani heads, by TIM Genis of the Boston Symphony. A little inTIMidating as he starts off with saying it is simple, and showing the ten products you will need. Fun as this is, it isn’t the one I was looking for — let me know if you find one about the excitement of receiving the delivery of the new “skins” and the start of the installation, from a big-name orchestra percussion section.

Djembe circle class

Djembe class recital, Old Town School of Folk Music 2013. This one brings ten drummers!

Third Coast Percussion — they do have drums, just not too evident in this picture!

Drumline is much more than drums in a line!

And how could “Little Drummer Girl” have been an instantly comprehended title had there not been the song “Little Drummer Boy”.

But maybe not everybody loves that boy:

And from the Eleventh Day

And a bonus on the plumber == piper theme!

And from the Tenth Day

And from the Ninth Day

Detail of Feiffer’s “Dance to Spring”

Ist das die richtige Anzahl tanzender Damen? NEIN!

And from the Eighth Day

And from the Seventh Day

And you can have a listen!

And from the Sixth Day

And a bonus of six more geese laying — or at least being encouraged to do so.

And from the Fifth Day

And from the Fourth Day

And from the Third Day

Sarah Willis and other members of the horn section of the Berliner Philharmoniker

And from the Second Day

And still around from the First Day

Spacer with multicolor segments

Credits, Addenda, and complete series

Comics and other images were contributed by Rob S., Andréa, Kilby, and other readers.
The Liz Climo panel for Six Geese was picked up from a discussion on Arnold Zwicky’s blog, which takes an interest in analyzing the language of comics.

Twelve-days series from familiar comics

“Mother Goose and Grimm” has more than once run thru the twelve days, with different levels of punning. Usually they run these *before* Christmas Day, as a sort of countdown; and skip weekends. (We at CIDU have followed the traditional pattern of starting on Christmas Day and counting forwards until 06 January.) The 2012 series of MG&G, for interest, started with the first day on Wednesday, 12 December 2012, here. The “two hurtled gloves” was used here in draft (until the tee-shirt with the hybrids showed up) and was from the 2011 series, which started on Monday, 19 December 2011, with a “Partridge Family” joke., and did not go on for all twelve.

“Off the Mark” similarly had full or partial series around 2002, 2003, and a one-shot in 2004. These also took a pre-Christmas Day quasi-countdown approach. This strip also gives a nice example of a one-shot panel or strip referencing several of the Twelve Days gifts via some gag like the store returns window seen here — with variations seen pretty often. Our 11 plumbers plumbing came from one of these OTM series. This very recent “Argyle Sweater” also puts a long (but not total!) list of the items into one transaction, in this case a purchase rather than returns (and for eating!).

“New Adventures of Queen Victoria” has had a series, with jokes about the accumulation of gifts. (As faithful reader Deety let us know, back on the First Day!😀 ) It seems to be used for reruns; the 2020 version started with the First Day just on 21 December. A GoComics comment for the Second Day entry answers one of the usual math questions (below) and nicely shows their work for each kind of gift. The 2006 run may have been the original (the dates in the drawings match the publication dates), but it runs for a five-weekdays-plus-Saturday span only, jumping from a nervous Fifth Day to a sudden escape with a Twelfth Day intervention.

After completion of this thread on 05 January, we will make a new post, as a postscript, to sample or present some of those partial or full twelve-day series from familiar comics.

Other kinds of presentation, and Math

The featured image at the top of the post puts all twelve days together in a grid of boxes, with a representative for each kind of gift in the day’s box. That one is straightforwardly traditional and plain representations, but there are good examples of satiric or political-editorial intent in that format, such as this Ted Rall. After completion of this thread on 05 January, we will make a new post, as a postscript, to present a few of these 12-icon layouts.

For a detailed account of the history of the song and variations in the gifts accumulated in the lyrics, see the Wikipedia article. After completion of this thread on 05 January, we will make a new post, as a postscript, to present the table of historical lyric variations from that Wikipedia article.

Maybe someone can find and link the math-problem treatment of summing the total number of each kind of gift, on the assumption that the gifts mentioned in different “daily” run-thrus do accumulate — so that, for example there are 5 gold rings for day 5, another 5 gold rings for day 6, etc., for a total of 40. Which item has the highest total count? Which the lowest? What is the total of gifts for all kinds? Do the partridge and its pear tree count separately? If you don’t care to do the work yourself right now, here is how a goComics commenter summarized it for Queen Victoria readers. Now tell us, what is that series {12, 22, 30, 36, 40, 42, 42, 40, 36, 30, 22, 12} related to? It’s not quite a binomial expansion, or a diagonal of Pascal’s triangle …
Note from Second Day: There is a nice exposition from CIDU faithful reader Woozy on some math questions for the Twelve Days!.

And here is an interesting graphic account of some of the numbering questions:

Parodies, stories, and radio plays

Also there is an epistolary story parody similarly based in an assumption of accumulating quantities, in which the fair lady receiving the gifts gets increasingly annoyed in each letter, up to the cease-and-desist order. Please do find and link!
Update: Many thanks to faithful reader Shrug for finding and sharing this publication of a transcript exactly that story! And in turn, the collector who runs that blog has provided a link to an MP3 audio file of what seems to be the original radio presentation of this story.
Further: Actually, it is listed on the Wikipedia article in the Parodies and Other Versions section. If only we had been reading closer, sooner.

(And how charming that the lady in the skit turns out to be named Cynthia – pleasing for a reason you will see on Twelfth Day!)

The Music

We have been concentrating on the lyrics so intently, we mustn’t lose sight of the music itself!

(Answers start around 6:30)

(Top graphic credit: Xavier Romero-Frias, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
Little Drummer Boy phono single cover art: for usage see


  1. There seem to be a few of these out there, with fairly short paragraphs/letters for each day, and different character names and milieus, but similar disastrous outcomes and denunciations.

    The Kaaza blog (where we picked up the Sibley script and audio, not having noticed it on the Wikipedia page) also has this Nola and Bognot version . A commenter remarks about the names: “”Dear Nuala”, with “Gobnait O’Lunacy” That’s the Frank Kelly version that most people know!”

    Also on that same page in the Kazza blog (I don’t seem to be able to pick up a within-page target URL) Kazza as a comment puts another, with Edward the lover sending the gifts and Emily receiving them and growing exasperated. It does resemble the Sibley script in tone and setting, even ending with a letter from lawyers rather than the woman herself; but is just a short paragraph.

  2. As for “Lay, Lady, Lay”: That would be *correct, if you consider it an imperative because you want to get laid, or not, if it relates to positioning herself.

    *although it really should have an object, most likely “me.”

  3. I translated: “Is that the correct number of ladies dancing?”

    We should also raise “Is that the correct season mentioned?”

  4. Day 10: I suppose those guys are peers, right?

    ✔😎🤦‍♂️🤞❗✅🍆 Too true!

  5. I’ve tried counting them a few times, and can only come up with 10 plumbers/pipers.

  6. Danny Boy: I see 11. One just has a little bit sticking out from behind the staircase wall, and is in front of another that has is back to us.

  7. Danny, can we help you? Which is the one you’re missing?

    Thank you! I think I can describe him. He has a very prominent, unevenly trimmed moustache; nose projecting thinly in front of that moustache; also very heavy dark eyebrows. Wearing a flap-top cap with extended front bill; black trousers; gray or brown shoes with strongly contoured tread soles; and a wide-collar pullover shirt with the company name on the back. Medium height, or a bit short and stocky. Only three fingers per hand!

  8. (Actually, I have spotted my missing piper, thanks to a helpful clue. I wasn’t counting the one mostly hidden by a wall, in profile and maybe conversing with a clone facing him and holding an elbow pipe.)

  9. “Danny, can we help you? Which is the one you’re missing?”

    Oh, ha. ha.

    But it is interesting in that it’s hard to figure which one is missing. I suspect WW has it that the guy stepping out from behind the wall is being merged with the guy with his back to us.

    The eleven are in Clockwise order:

    1) One guy hidden carrying a ruler behind the stairwell with his nose poking out.

    2) A guy with his back to us peeing against the far wall.

    3) A guy so disgusted with guy 2) he is about to bash him over the head with a wrench. Which is really unfair as guy 2) can’t help it. If you had an L vent embedded into your kidneys, you’d have uncontrollable peeing too.

    4) Mr. Magoo

    5) A guy feeding a slice of toast to a rat living in the pipes. (He has a jacket with the name of the company. the only one we can feed).

    6) the guy from the Electric Company’s “It’s the Plumber. I’ve come to fix the sink!” routine who is watching a horse race in the distance.

    7) Andy Capp standing on a rung in his bar stool.

    8) The guy tucking his baby into a lunch box (you can read part of the company name on his jacket.)

    9) A guy walking around with Captain Ahab’s spy glass.

    10) The guy being kicked in the back by number 10 (you can read must of his jacket).

    11) A guy who hates submarines and always rips the periscopes out of them.

    I guess Danny is thinking 1) and 2) a picasso eye view of one guy.

  10. Great cataloguing there, Woozy!
    Somehow I was just entirely skipping over #1, not as far as I know merging him with #2. But those whiskers growing out from the wall should be hard to miss, maybe I was unconsciously seeing them as somehow belonging to #2’s back shoulder.

  11. In case the caption / note for the Max Roach / Carmen Jones picture didn’t fit enough titles and names into one sentence, we might note that the character enacted by Max Roach is named Max, which we know (besides seeing it that way in the IMDb listing) because (1) the crowd calls out “Go, Max! Go, Max!” during the performance, and (2) he is addressed as Max by Pearl Bailey’s character Frankie — the counterpart in Oscar Hammerstein’s culturally transmogrified script of the character Frasquita in the opera Carmen.

  12. Chak, your point is well taken. I thought Ginger Baker could stand in for that broad category, sort of. But do share a picture if there’s one you like!

  13. “Striking the mighty hammer-blows in Mahler’s Symphony No. 6.”

    Later, the mighty hammer guy had gender reassignment surgery, changed hir name to “Harley Quin,” and took up with The Joker.

  14. Mitch4: In Portuguese, açaí has three syllables. It sounds similar to Asahi (Japanese beer).

  15. Thanks Ed. But I was half joking around, as a crossover remark from another thread , where worthies like Winter Wallaby and larK have been carrying on a discussion of rule-following that at some point included the spelling and pronunciation in English of the açaí berry.

  16. “Striking the mighty hammer-blows in Mahler’s Symphony No. 6.”

    Looks like he’s about to surprise a trumpeter with a game of Whack-a-Mole.

  17. I think Niel Peart’s drum solo in Frankfurt should also be considered. He does enough drumming for 12 all by himself.

  18. It’s very difficult to get a good hammer-blow sound for the Mahler symphony. On many recordings it’s there if you know what to listen for but you might not notice it otherwise.

  19. MiB , this picture was screencap from a short docu on planning and building this hammer and target. They tried other model ideas too. They mention that , on their interpretation of Mahler’s scanty remarks, it is not supposed to be resonant, more like a big thud. And I have to agree with you, that’s about what I hear too, both in this clip and most recordings. Some of that I feel sure is the fault of the recording and reproduction chain; but maybe also a difference between the intention and the expectation.

  20. One work that might be added to the list is the Shostakovich Symphony #12 (Year 1917). In the last minute of the third movement, the Battleship Aurora fires on the winter palace.

  21. Thanks, Dwight. That’s a work I’m not familiar with, but glad to hear about. I recently missed an online-live concert where it was featured.

    And it reminds me about another remarkable Shostakovich moment with drum. That’s the “invasion episode” from the first movement of Symphony No. 7 (Leningrad), a weird and terrifying passage of several minutes length, built on top of a snare drum repeating a military tattoo in a long, controlled crescendo.

    Here is a newspaper review of a 2014 concert that I went to, with Jaap van Zweden as visiting guest conductor leading the Chicago Symphony. (He was at that time with Dallas, not yet taking over the NYPhil, but talked about as a very hot property.) In fact, I’ll quote a bit:

    Van Zweden built this "invasion" episode – based on a banal, jaunty march tune Bela Bartok famously lampooned in his Concerto for Orchestra – inexorably, making the repetitions as relentless and terrifying as Shostakovich no doubt meant them to be, over Cynthia Yeh's steady snare drum ostinato. Again the effect was not just loudness but overwhelming intensity, and van Zweden marshaled his orchestral juggernaut with exacting control.

    The drummer mentioned, Cynthia Yeh, is Principal Percussion of the CSO, and was featured in the topmost picture of this post, hitting the bass drum in the Verdi Dies Irae. As the review suggests, she was so very intense in this section! She was standing well forward from the usual percussion row, poised over the snare drum, and staring unwaveringly straight ahead, as the music built up and turned nasty nasty! If I had a picture of that, I would have featured that instead of the Verdi.

  22. Here’s a YouTube clip of a performance of that “invasion episode”. Sadly, the visual is not the performance but a photo (and poster) montage of some historical circumstances. Still, this has the advantage over some other clips I was looking at, of starting right at the beginning of the episode, so you can hear the drum and isolated orchestra instruments starting out just quietly and seemingly innocently.

    (BTW, this performance, with Bernstein leading the CSO, may be the one mentioned in that von Rhein review.)

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