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A New Look at The Music Man

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I have been "studying" one of my favorite movies lately -- The Music Man. "Why do I like it?" you might ask. First, it is set in my home state of Iowa. And of course it is the only musical I can think of that has a song with the word "euphonium" in it. But mostly I just like the music.

I hope you are already familiar with the story. I cheating salesman goes from town to town in the Midwest selling things people don't need. So he creates a need. In this town, River City, he is selling them on the need to form a boys' band. His plan is going fine until he starts to fall in love with the librarian in town (Marian).

I've know this musical and its music since the 1962 movie came out (where I got in for free by playing 76 Trombones in front of the theater -- my first professional gig). But it was only recently that I realized some of the clever techniques Merideth Wilson used in the score. My favorite is that there are three pairs of songs that are first heard alone and then later in the show the pair is performed together.

The older movie is fun because of the fine main actors/singers, but it also marked an early appearance in a movie by Ronny (Ron) Howard. And the newer movie features some wonderful singing by Kristen Chenoweth.

A couple points of trivia from the old movie (courtesy of Internet Movie Database,

  • The marching bands of the University of California and the University of Southern California were drafted in for the final parade scene.
  • All the musical instruments in the film were made specially by the Olds Instrument Company in Fullerton, California. After filming, Olds refurbished them and sold them on.
  • Before starring in the musical The Music Man (1962), Robert Preston had not only never appeared in a musical before, he had never sung a note before (listen to him sing this show sometime and see if you can believe that!).
The video below has clips from both the 1962 movie with Robert Preson (the best Harold Hill ever!) and a later made-for-TV movie with Matthew Broderick in that role. In both movies the final scenes reprise 76 Trombones. It is originally heard as a vocal where Hill sings about some famous who all played together one day. The unit then had 76 trombones, weeds springing up like weeds, and horns of every shape and kind. The song also says there were double-bell euphoniums. So in the final reprise we see a band marching down Main Street. In the old movie, the band is made up just about right for the song! I couldn't count the trombone fast enough, but I could believe there are 76. Then in the newer movie, the parade is portrayed more like it might have had to be on Broadway, with a much smaller band. But a creative prop person dug up a surprising variety of brass instruments. [UPDATE, info courtesy of Jim McIntyre: The instruments were provided by Henry Meredith (a noted instrument historian) and are all appropriate to the period.] You will see a slide trumpet (or soprano trombone, an upright tenor horn, a helicon-like tuba, a valve trombone, and a few others. And of course there is a double-bell euphonium. The video has scenes from both movies, with the old movie first. And each scene is repeated at slow speed to help you spot the horns.

There are also some links below to purchase either movie or the movie and Broadway soundtracks. In the soundtracks, Robert Preston sings the Hill role, but Shirley Jones (Mama Partridge to younger folks, or the lead lady in Oklahoma for older folks) plays Marion, while the Broadway show featured Barbara Cook.

Original Music Man Movie on DVD, featuring Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, Ronny Howard

New Music Man DVD, featuring Matthew Broderick, Kristen Chenoweth

Original Soundtrack (Movie), featuring Robert Preston, Shirley Jones

Original Soundtrack (Broadway), featuring Robert Preston, Barbara Cook

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