By Amrita Ramanan, Literary Manager and Production Dramaturg for The Music Man
There were bells on the hill
But I never heard them ringing,
No, I never heard them at all
Till there was you.
There was love all around
But I never heard it singing
No, I never heard it at all
Till there was you!
– “Till There Was You”
In 1951, Meredith Willson was one of America’s most beloved songwriters and composers. With credits spanning film, television and radio – including the recognizable holiday tune “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” – his songs travelled through the airwaves into the homes and hearts of millions. Yet, despite his already extensive career and growing popularity, an apprehensive Willson embarked on an ambitious new project: writing the book, lyrics and music for a musical theater comedy about a con-artist posing as a boys' band organizer in a small Iowa town. Six years – and 40-odd drafts later – Willson’s first foray into musical theater successfully transitioned from the page to the stage and became a milestone in the American musical theater canon: The Music Man.Aptly titled, The Music Man evokes a nostalgic reflection of Willson’s childhood experiences and explores the transcendental power of music on his life and the lives of the people in his hometown. Born in Mason City, Iowa in 1902 to John David and Rosalie Willson, infant Meredith was accustomed to hearing the lilting sound of piano scales echoing throughout his home. In addition to operating the first kindergarten in Mason City, his mother taught piano lessons to hundreds of Mason City children, as well as the Willson youngsters. After fine-tuning his piano skills, Willson expressed interest in expanding his music repertoire to other instruments and persuaded his mother to purchase a flute and piccolo for him from a mail order catalog. At age 10, he became the youngest member of the first band erected in Mason City, composed of his piccolo, two clarinets, two cornets, one euphonium, one tuba, one snare drum, one bass drum and an alto.
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