Orchestra Joke: Percussionist

Q: How can you tell that a percussionist is at your door?

A: The knocking speeds up.

My informant says this joke is so widespread that she’s heard it multiple times, and she thinks she first learned it in elementary school in a children’s orchestra she was in. The stereotype in orchestras is that percussionists can’t keep beat and are constantly speeding up. This joke is an example of blason populaire—the joke relies on the stereotype that brass players have difficulty staying on beat. The joke also promotes group identity within an orchestra, since it would need to be explained to someone who isn’t part of an orchestra. It’s interesting that my informant first learned this joke in a children’s orchestra, where it was probably likely that most players were often off beat. Even though most elementary schoolers have trouble staying on beat, the percussionist stereotype was so widespread in orchestra culture that members repeated the joke to each other even when it wasn’t necessarily true in their own experiences.