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Toronto Montreal

CLASSICAL 101 | The Surprising Origins of the Door Knocking Song

By Michael Vincent on April 29, 2015

The song we all know.
The song we all know.

Anyone who has ever stood in front of a door has probably performed the door knocking song at least once in their lives. The strange thing about it is, we all seem to know how it goes – like it was somehow part of our collective musical DNA – at least in North America anyways.

Have you ever wondered where it comes from?

You know the one:

 

 

dut, dut-dut dut, dut… dut, dut.

After a bit of research, it turns out it originated from a song written in 1899 by Charles Hale called, “At a Darktown Cakewalk”.

You can hear it played here on an old Stella 17-Inch Music Box here:

 

Did you catch the rhythm? It came to be called, “Shave and a haircut, two bits,” and was most often used at the end of a piece of music for comic effect.

Shave_and_a_Haircut_in_C

 

Over the past hundred years, it has become one of the most recognizable rhythms in North America. It’s been used on car horns, Morse code “dah-di-di-dah-di, di-dit” ( –··–·   ··) and even at the end of communications by ham radio operators to sign out.

It’s also inspired composers such as Leonard Bernstein  (“Gee, Officer Krupke” from the West Side Story [see video below starting at 4’11”]), P. D. Q. Bach  “Blaues Gras” (“bluegrass”) aria, as well as countless others.

As a fitting conclusion, we leave you with a compilation of clips from Vancouver-based music journalist Nardwuar The Human Serviette, who famously ends his interviews by inviting guests to sing, “Doot Doola Doot Doo… Doot Doo!”

[Warning: the video contains profanity and may not be suitable for everyone.]

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Michael Vincent

Michael Vincent is the Editor-in-chief Ludwig Van and CEO of Museland Media. He publishes regularly and writes occasionally. A specialist in digital media for over 15 years, he has worked as a senior editor and is a former freelance classical music critic for the Toronto Star. Michael holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Toronto.
Michael Vincent
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