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I'm a huge fan of the musical Les Miserables. Oftentimes I will find myself absentmindedly singing songs from the musical while I'm doing mindless tasks like cleaning. Since certain melody phrases repeat often in the musical, sometimes I will start a song and then suddenly switch songs, even characters, mid-phrase, without skipping a beat, and often without even realizing it.

For example: Valjean: That nothing remains but the cry of my hate? The cries in the dark that nobody hears? Here where I stand at the turning of the years. If there's another way to go/ I missed it twenty long years ago (...morph...) Javert: I am the Law and the Law is not mocked! I'll spit his pity right back in his face! There is nothing on earth that we share/ It is either Valjean or Javert!

Does this phenomenon have a name? If not a specific name, is there a good word for it? I'd accept a good, descriptive phrase too.

Pretty much the same thing can happen with poetry too, especially if it is particularly rhythmic. So if there is a word or phrase for that, it might work here too.

BTW That particular example is pretty deep. If you know the musical (or even better, the novel), that those two particular songs flow together so easily is brilliant. Kudos to Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schonberg and Herbert Kretzmer.

  • Music: Practice & Theory knows? – Kris Apr 29 '14 at 6:57
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    I don't think there's any established word or phrase for this. You could use something like: singing a hodgepodge of songs, music mash, song mix-n-match, lyrical chimera, ... – Jeffrey Kemp Apr 29 '14 at 6:59
  • @Kris I was thinking that. I'll try there in a few days if I don't get an answer here that works for me. – Jolenealaska Apr 29 '14 at 7:03
  • [meta] Could be migrated to Music: Practice & Theory – Kris Apr 29 '14 at 7:04
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    @MT_Head: I've got a weird one like that too, dark and light: I start off with the "Imperial March" from Star Wars and sometimes somehow segue into "A Spoonful of Sugar" from Mary Poppins. – user39720 Apr 29 '14 at 16:09
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It sounds like you are spontaneously splitting and joining different musical segments. Using musical terminology, this is a type of improvisation.

1 To compose, recite, play, or sing extemporaneously

2 To make, invent, or arrange offhand

If you sometimes repeat a musical phrase in altered form, then you are improvising a variation.

The repetition of a musical theme with modifications in such elements as rhythm, melody, harmony, key, tempo, and accompaniment

Furthermore, you could you call your activity an arrangement of the original songs, because you are collapsing an orchestral score to a solo voice.

An arrangement of a musical composition is a reworking of a piece of music so that it can be played by a different instrument or combination of instruments from the original.

Finally, you are composing a medley, and since I am a Les Miserables fan myself, here is a video example for your enjoyment.

In music, a medley is a piece composed from parts of existing pieces, usually three, played one after another, sometimes overlapping.

  • "Spontaneously splitting and joining different musical segments" is a pretty good description in itself. I don't think improvisation or variation work because they imply intent. – Jolenealaska Apr 29 '14 at 7:33
  • Hmm, musical improvisation is by definition extemporaneous, though I agree that it hints at a more focused, deliberate activity, as opposed to "random" singing. – SEL Apr 29 '14 at 7:39
  • The randomness is kind of key here. I have several phrases from that musical that I frequently juxtapose, completely mindlessly. But, like the example in the OP, meaning can be found in the juxtaposition. I credit the writers, and am looking to more effectively express my appreciation. if that makes any sense – Jolenealaska Apr 29 '14 at 7:46
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This phenomenon is known as a "Mondegreen". The etymology is from a classic case in point, where the hearer reportedly construed a couple of lines from an old ballad incorrectly. The actual words are along the lines of "They've slain the Earl of Murray, and laid [sic] him on the Green . . .". This was reportedly construed as "They've slain the Earl of Murray and Lady Mondegreen."

I'm not making this up!

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    Why did you sic “laid him”? – tchrist Apr 29 '14 at 13:10
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    Love the word, but it's not quite the same thing. A mondegreen is a "mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase as a result of near-homophony" - from Wiki. There is no misunderstanding in the phenomenon of the OP. – Jolenealaska Apr 29 '14 at 14:27

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