Flight of the Bumblebee, like you've never heard it before

On the 170th anniversary of composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's birth today, CBC Music presents this track and video of flutist Mark McGregor and rapper Kia Kadiri battling the bumble — may the best bee win.

CBC Music celebrates 170th anniversary of composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's birth

To celebrate the anniversary of the composer’s birth, CBC Music approached rapper Kia Kadiri, flutist Mark McGregor and Russ Klyne (who created the beats and arrangement) to create a new recording of his most famous composition. (CBC Music)

You know this music.

Incredibly, almost everyone seems to know it.

Flight of the Bumblebee seems to perfectly embody frantic, quicksilver action.

And if you don’t know it by name, you’ll instantly recognize the music when you watch this new video playfully remold the tune into something just a tad more contemporary-sounding.

This a contest of skill, will and musicality between two Vancouver musicians, both lightning fast.

And today, on the 170th anniversary of composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's birth, CBC Music presents this track and video of flutist Mark McGregor and rapper Kia Kadiri battling the bumble — may the best bee win.

VIDEO: Flutist Mark McGregor vs. rapper Kia Kadiri in Fight of the Bumblebee

The question remains: Why is this music so well known?

A quick walk through pop culture history reveals the answer.

Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov wrote Flight of the Bumblebee in 1899 or 1890 as part of an opera.

This music set the scene for a magic swan changing a prince into a bumblebee so he could fly away to see his father. 

No wonder people like Walt Disney later took an interest in the music.

By 1948 Disney took Flight of the Bumblebee and added a boogie-woogie beat for the animated movie Melody Time in which a bee-like insect is, well, “attacked” by the music.

This pop culture moment got the ball rolling for the bumblebee's revival

A few years later, in 1961, a band called B Bumble and the Stingers found success on the Billboard charts with their take on the tune.

And then along came The Green Hornet — the original television series of the mid-sixties.

Jazz trumpeter Al Hirt was featured in a 60s-style version of Flight of the Bumblebee. The show and the theme song cemented the future for this little piece of music.

Since then, many movies and TV shows have made use of the song. It has also fascinated countless musicians, especially those obsessed with speed.

The music sets out to capture the speedy flight of an insect and, so, why not trying playing it faster? Maybe even try playing it faster than anybody else? YouTube is littered with guitarists, flutists, brass players and others – each vying for bumblebee supremacy.

Then, of course, we have Kia Kadiri and Mark McGregor.

In anticipation of this year's anniversary of Rimsky-Korsakov's birth, CBCMusic approached KiaKadiriMark McGregor and Russ Klyne, who created the beats and arrangement, and invited them to give the flight a fresh take. 

Happy Birthday, Mr. Rimsky-Korsakov – no doubt he’d be amused by the endless fascination this one little piece of his has held for generations of music lovers.

About the Author

Jon Siddall

Music Producer

Jon Siddall is a guitarist, percussionist and composer living in Vancouver. He has written for a wide variety of instrumental ensembles both Western and non-Western. As a music producer for the CBC, Siddall has produced many recordings seen and heard across Canada. His interest in music is broad, having worked with such diverse individuals as John Cage, Noel Gallagher and F.X. Widaryanto.