It’s amazing how much of the trivia of television history is preserved on YouTube. I recently came across some clips that had been buried fairly deep in my memory– some of my favorite short segments from the children’s educational show Sesame Street.
To be specific, I’m not talking about segments involving the main cast of human characters or Muppets like Bert and Ernie. I’m talking about the short (30 seconds to a minute) pieces on a variety of subjects that were shown close to randomly in between those.
They could use animation, stop motion, or live action film. Most were musical, but some had lyrics and others just had interesting pictures set to music. They seem to have come from a variety of sources– I still have no idea who made most of them.
But a few of them were among my favorites when I was a kid, and I always enjoyed whenever they would show up. My faint memories of them led me to look them up on YouTube, and I was pleasantly surprised to find all of them there!
So, in no particular order, here are my favorite non-Muppet Sesame Street segments:
Chickens in the Trees— This song still goes through my head in idle moments. I always liked the earnestness of the rooster politely correcting the pig based on his experience as “a professional chicken” that chickens don’t live in trees. Of course, just because he’s earnest doesn’t mean he’s right!
Follow the Arrows— Staying with the theme of songs you can’t get out of your head, don’t say I didn’t warn you if you watch this one. I think it’s pretty obvious why I connected with this song as a rule-following child. All of the things that interested me most involved understanding and following instructions: maps, puzzles, games, coloring. The idea that there would always be arrows around to “take [me] anywhere [I] wish” even when I was all grown up made me smile.
The complete silliness of the song is great, too. I’d still like to find an arrow that would take me to an octopus!
The Monster That Ate the Television— The voices in this one are great. My best friend Ryan and I would sometimes act out this little mystery when we were in elementary school, each of us trying to copy the stern voice of the questioner and the annoyed, squeaky voices of the monsters.
It occurs to me that this segment is a good introduction to the concept of wordplay. The humor comes from the fact that each of the answers the monsters give– “Do I look like I ate a television?” and “I like television.”– has a figurative meaning as well as a literal meaning, and in this case, contrary to expectation, the literal meaning is true.
That’s About the Size of It— This is a charming little song, animated very simply, but in a style that fits well with the music. I loved to learn about things that had to do with scale, from the very small to the very large, and this animation takes you on a very quick journey along that spectrum. (Though I was never quite happy with the way it showed the solar system at the end; it looks too crowded!)
What I wasn’t old enough to appreciate yet was the significance of the last change of perspective, where the camera pulls outward from the sun to reveal not the depths of space, but a simple sunset scene on Earth. The song isn’t just about the fact that things are many different sizes; it’s about how big a role our perspective plays in what we see.
Cats— Just a neat wordless look at a cat collection. Cats that are tea kettles, cats made out of metal, cats in a picture, a cat made out of Tinkertoys, even a cat made out of Legos! Each cat is accompanied by a change in the sound of the synthesizer used to play a cute little melody. The grand finale is the appearance of a real cat, accompanied by the musical theme played on a real piano. (As soon as I learned to play the piano, this was one of the first melodies I figured out how to play.)
Sunflower— This was actually the segment I went looking for in the first place, because the music had made such an impression on me that I hoped I could find out what it was. Set to part of the second movement of Vivaldi’s concerto for guitar and strings in D Major, this film takes a close-up look at a sunflower.
This segment practically entranced me when I saw it because of the beautiful music combined with the camera’s slow climb up the sunflower, showing its intricate complexity. It made me imagine a tiny insect climbing the plant, needing to reach the top in order to understand what it was.
Now that I’ve gotten to see the segment again, I think the focus was intended to be the drops of water running down the stem and leaves, which we eventually see are emerging from the center of the flower before panning out to show the sunflower is on the roof in the middle of a city. So maybe the flower is “weeping” because there are no others around, only stone?
But I never picked up on that when I watched it as a child– I didn’t think it was supposed to be sad. On the contrary, it felt joyful, celebrating the beauty of something God had created.
Well, anyway, I am happy to have identified the music that for so long I thought of as the “sunflower music.” And guess what? If you want to listen to the whole concerto, you can find it… on YouTube. 🙂