Ellington and Gerald (The Story of a Piano-Playing Duck and an Elephant Who Liked to Sing) 

Written by Kurt Gottschalk 


Gerald liked to sing. Gerald liked to sing songs all day. He always did his chores, but he sang songs while doing them. Sometimes he would sing and do chores and think about things all at the same time (which can be tricky). He’d think, “I wish I didn’t have to do chores. I wish singing was my chore.” 

Some of the other elephants liked to sing while they did chores, too. But Gerald didn’t think they had such good voices. He was glad they liked to sing, and that they had fun singing songs, but secretly he thought he sang better. 

The other elephants sang songs that their mothers and fathers taught them, and that their grandmothers and grandfathers taught their mothers and fathers. They sang songs like: 

With a great big trunk and a mighty tusk, 

We work hard from dawn till dusk.” 

and 

Our four legs are very strong. 

We work and work and sing our song. 

But when the sun goes down and our work is done, 

We’ll dance in a circle and have some fun! 

and also 

We’ll make a dinner of leaves and grass 

for dessert we’ll have branches and fruit. 

When everything’s ready we’ll call the herd 

By raising our trunks and with a great, loud ‘toot.’ 

TOOT! 

Sometimes the other elephants made fun of Gerald because he didn’t sing the songs they sang. He’d just make up things that he thought sounded good, like “Bo bi di doo deedle-ah, bo bo di deedle-ah, doh day day.” 

“What kind of song is that?” the other elephant boys would yell. “Those aren’t even words!” Gerald didn’t like to be teased, but he kept singing his songs the way he liked them anyway. 

Gerald and the other elephants and their mothers and fathers and their brothers and sisters and their mothers’ brothers and their fathers’ sisters and some of their friends and so on lived on a hill. At the bottom of the hill was a duck pond. 

One day after dinner, Gerald asked his father if he could go for a walk. Gerald’s father was a very big and very wise elephant with big tusks and a great long trunk. Everyone in the herd respected Gerald’s mother and father, and came to them when they needed help with problems. Gerald had never left the top of the hill by himself, but he wanted to go where could sing without the other young elephants laughing at him. 

“If it’s OK with your mother, you can go,” Gerald’s father said. 

“As long as you’re careful,” his mother said. 

Gerald sang while he walked to the edge of the hill. He sang all the way down the hill and kept singing with his head back and his eyes closed until he fell right into the duck pond. He didn’t even see the duck and the blackbird and the little cockroach who were at the edge of the pond. 

“Hey, man, you splashed all over my drums,” said Max the Cockroach (who was so small Gerald could barely see him). 

“Awww, my sheet music is all wet,” quacked Ellington the duck. 

“Hey, cool out,” chirped Charlie the Blackbird. “That big old elephant didn’t even see the pond, he just went right in.” 

“I’m sorry I splashed all over you,” Gerald said as he pulled himself out of the pond. 

“Don’t worry about it, friend,” Ellington said. 

“It was an accident,” Gerald said quietly. He was feeling nervous and wanted to run away. “Well, have a nice night,” he said. 

While Gerald lumbered back up the hill, he wondered if they had heard him singing and if they would make fun of him like some of the other elephants did. He stopped singing and looked back down at them. They were making music too, but they weren’t singing. The duck was beating on a big wooden box and the blackbird had a gold tube in his mouth and the cockroach, well, he couldn’t see what the cockroach was doing, but Gerald was sure he was doing something too. 

Ellington lived in the duck pond (because she was a duck) and worked very hard to get her chores done early so she could practice the piano before it was time for dinner. It was hard to play the piano because there were lots of keys and she had webs between her toes, but she practiced a lot so that she would be good. Every Monday after dinner Charlie and Max would come over. Charlie would bring his saxophone and Max would bring his drums, and they’d all play like crazy. 

The next day, Gerald did his chores as quickly as he could and skipped dessert after dinner. He asked his parents if he could go for a walk again (they said he could if he didn’t go too far). He went right back to the edge of the hill and looked down to the pond, but he didn’t see them. He saw some ducks swimming around, but he didn’t see a duck beating a big wooden box or anyone else making music without singing. 

And then the next night and the night after that and the night after that and the night after that he went to the edge of the hill and looked down (his parents said he could if he didn’t go very far, and the edge of the hill wasn’t very far). But he never saw the duck beating on the wooden box and he didn’t see the blackbird and, well, he wouldn’t have been able to see a cockroach from that far but he was pretty sure there was no cockroach down there either. He listened, too, but he couldn’t hear anybody making music without singing. 

The day after that Gerald did his chores and ate his dinner and stayed for dessert. “Aren’t you going to ask if you can go for a walk?” his mother asked. “Naw, I won’t see them anyway,” Gerald answered. “See who?” his father asked. “The duck that beats on a big wooden box and the blackbird that blows in a big gold tube and the little cockroach I can’t see anyway,” Gerald said. “Who?” his mother asked. “Never mind,” Gerald said. 

The next night after dinner, Gerald’s mother and father asked him to show them where he saw the duck that beats the big wooden box and the blackbird that blows in a gold tube and the cockroach that was so small you couldn’t see him anyway. They all walked to the edge of the hill and looked down at the duck pond, but there was no one there. “They made music without singing,” Gerald said. “Well, maybe they’ll be back tomorrow,” his mother said. 

On the following night, Gerald ate his dinner and ate his dessert and decided to go for a walk again. He told himself he just wanted to go sing in the trees where he could sing as loud as he wanted, but he knew he was still hoping to see the duck that hit the big wooden box and the blackbird with the gold tube and the cockroach that, well, you know. He walked along singing “Ba doo di deedle-ee ba deedle-ee bom be dee, Ba doo di deedle-ee ba deedle-ee dooyee doo bah bam” until he got close to the edge of the hill. Then he stopped and listened, and he heard the kind of music that wasn’t singing. He got so excited he ran all the way down the hill and before he could stop ran straight into the duck pond again. 

“Well, look who’s back,” said Charlie the Blackbird. 

“Must be bath night,” laughed Max the Cockroach. 

“How you doing, grey fella?” said Ellington the Duck. 

Gerald pulled himself out of the pond and shook himself off. He looked at Ellington and Charlie (and tried to look at Max) and they weren’t looking at him like they wanted him to leave. They were smiling at him. 

“We heard you singing up on the hill,” said Ellington. 

“Yeah, you sounded pretty good up there,” said Charlie. 

“But I don’t really know any songs,” said Gerald. “I just make things up.” 

“That’s alright,” said Max. “A song isn’t a song until someone makes it up.” 

“Let’s make up a song right now,” said Ellington. Max counted, “One, two, and a-one two three” and Charlie started playing his saxophone and Ellington started playing her piano and Max started beating his drums and Gerald stood and watched them. At first he didn’t know what to do but then, without even thinking about it, he started to sing “Dit dit diba doo ba doo da di da.” And Charlie went “Ta tabba da ta ta ta tabba da ta ta, ta tabba da ta ta ta” on his saxophone and Ellington went “blan, blan, blanna dan, bla blan,” on her piano and Max went “chooka cha chooka cha chooka cha chooka cha cha cha cha cha cha cha cha” on his drums. Gerald thought they sounded good together, and so he sang “laba doy dah doo wah doo wah doo wah wah.” After a while they stopped and then Ellington taught Gerald a song called “Salt Peanuts” that Gerald liked very much. 

When they decided to take a break, Gerald told them that he had come looking for them every night but they weren’t there. “Yeah, man,” said Charlie. “We only jam on Mondays.” Then Ellington invited Gerald to come back next week. Max said something, too, but it was hard for Gerald to hear him. 

Gerald and Ellington and Charlie and Max played music together every Monday night and after a while they decided to ask their mothers and fathers and their brothers and sisters and their mothers’ brothers and their fathers’ sisters and some of their friends and so on to come listen to them. And they made up songs and everyone laughed and danced and clapped. 

They played “Salt Peanuts” and Gerald sang the whole song looking at his mother and father. And then Gerald said they had an extra special song he wanted to sing. Max counted off, “One, two, and a-one two three.” Ellington and Charlie and Max started playing and Gerald started to sing. 

Our four legs are very strong. 

We work and work and sing our song. 

But when the sun goes down and our work is done, 

We’ll dance in a circle and have some fun! 

All the other elephants and ducks and blackbirds and roaches danced while they played, and then they all tooted and quacked and chirped and did whatever roaches do when the song was done. Then they all jumped in the pond.

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