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And There I Stood with My Piccolo

Meredith Willson

Publication Year: 2009

And There I Stood with My Piccolo, originally published in 1948, is a zesty and colorful memoir of composer Meredith Willson’s early years—from growing up in Mason City, Iowa, to playing the flute with John Philip Sousa’s band and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, to a successful career in composing for radio and motion pictures in Hollywood. It was apparent to everyone, except maybe Willson himself, that he was on his way to something big.

Lighthearted and inspiring, it is no surprise Willson’s tales caught the attention of prominent Broadway producers. In 1957, just nine years after the publication of this book, The Music Man became a Broadway sensation, winning five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Meredith Willson’s musical comedy is to this day arguably the most produced and beloved musical in American culture.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Title, Copyright, Dedication

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An old Maravian flute player once told me a story that went like this

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pp. 7-10

"A very important king hired a whole orchestra to play for him one night during his supper, just because he felt lonesome. ...

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pp. 11-26

New York talk was a heck of a shock to me. So were mountains. You can read about things all your life and still be completely unprepared for what they actually turn out to be. At any rate, I certainly wasn't prepared for Pennsylvania, all full of mountains like what I saw out of the Pullman window that morning, ...

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pp. 27-28

I learned to eat raw oysters in New York. New York, like oysters, is also an acquired taste, it seems to me. Once you bluff the town out of that upper-classman-in-a-world-of-freshmen superiority, and expose its imitation cold-heartedness, you never get it out of your system. ...

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pp. 29-33

Of course the main idea of going to New York, aside from the forlorn hope of getting my piccolo straightened, was to study the flute with the world-famous flutist, the great Georges Barrere. He lived on Ninety-third Street near the Drive, and I was sure nervous on the way to his house on account of I'd been dreaming of studying the flute with him ever since the vague images of being a fireman, ...

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pp. 34-39

Did you ever hear of Sam Otts? There's no such fellow, you know, yet there are thousands of people who firmly believe the legend that an immigrant boy of that name came to this country some eighty years ago, and that stamped on his trunk, according to legend, were his initials—S. O.—for Sam Otts, followed by the letters U. S. A.—his destination. S-O-U-S-A. ...

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pp. 40-43

The Sousa contract said that a member must wear his uniform at all times, which was kind of like joining the Army. The uniform went all the way up to the Adam's apple. This called for a stiff white collar and stiff white cuffs—presenting a fantastic laundry problem on the road. ...

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pp. 44-47

Just think, tomorrow's kids won't know anything about the thrill of hearing Sousa's band. I hope the new button-pushing, streamlined, jet-propelled, atomic-powered age won't also eliminate things like hammers and flatirons. ...

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pp. 48-54

Between seasons with Sousa I played in the Rialto Theatre orchestra. Everybody at the Rialto was pretty excited all right when on one particular occasion Victor Herbert wrote the music for a very elaborate series of tableaux and came in person to conduct the orchestra that week. All of us musicians in New York had a real affection and admiration for this great man, ...

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pp. 55-60

At the Rialto we wore green velvet coats and starched white vests (laundry problems again!), and if we were one minute late we missed the whole overture because the orchestra pit was an elevator, and when it went up, it went up, and you couldn't sneak in till the lights went down for the newsreel. ...

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pp. 61-71

Well, after Sousa and the Rialto, I joined that obstinate, stubborn, spoiled, conceited, pampered, gorgeous instrument known as the Philharmonic Symphony Society of New York, being conducted in those years by Willem van Hoogstraten, Willem Mengelberg, and Wilhelm Furtwaengler. ...

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pp. 72-75

I can think of three things that don't taste as good as they smell: (i) coffee being ground in that big old red grocery-store grinder, (2) that toasty cigarette smell when you get your light from the dashboard lighter, and (3) gasoline. Now I don't drink gasoline, but instinctively I know it doesn't taste as good as it smells. ...

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pp. 76-82

The New York Philharmonic Orchestra made a spring tour every year that ended with a matinee in Pittsburgh. After the matinee Fritz Geib, the tuba player, used to go down to Dimling's Restaurant and bring back a lot of "lunch," he used to call it, for the train on the way back to New York. ...

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pp. 83-88

Mr. Mengelberg, as I have said somewhere before, was at this time the conductor of the Philharmonic. One of his most annoying characteristics was a habit of putting special signs in all the music. Considering the many times we had played Tschaikowsky's "Fifth Symphony," the famous horn solo was marked up so badly you couldn't see the notes any more. ...

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pp. 89-93

For some reason or other, a "modern" trend raised its ugly, cacophonous schnozola along about this time and nurtured a considerable number of noisy neurotics who were particularly active in chamber music. The sounds that are now to be heard in a certain classy ten-cent store on Forty-second Street, between Fifth and Sixth avenues, ...

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pp. 94-97

At the end of every season the dear old Philharmonic was prostituted, as you might say, to the extent of giving several postseason concerts to any aspiring conductors who had the money to pay for them. ...

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pp. 98-108

Furtwaengler finally got the job away from Mengelberg, but he was soon getting the old fish eye from the Philharmonic's Board of Directors, who were thinking about trying to bring the one-and-only out of Italy—Toscanini. ...

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pp. 109-113

Along about this time a very fine dancer by the name of Angna Enters was planning to give a recital, and she asked me if I would like to hook on with the flute. Sort of a joint recital, as you might say—although, of course, what she had in her mind was that something had to go on while she was changing her costumes. ...

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pp. 114-120

It was now 1928 and I had known for several years a remarkable man named Adolph Linden, who was building a national radio chain. In the twenties there was only one complete coast-to-coast network, and it was highly desirable to broadcast not only east to west, but also west to east, ...

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pp. 121-128

While I was waiting for a taxicab in the Pasadena railroad station (Hollywood doesn't have a railroad station—doesn't even have a railroad) I met a small girl who said she'd never be able to leave home on account of she lived in the middle of an orange grove, and if she ever moved away she'd be homesick for the sound of the orange blossoms falling in the night. ...

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pp. 129-140

Abe Meyer, my good friend and the fellow who helped to get me my first publisher, was now musical director of Tiffany-Stahl, a Hollywood picture company. I deposited my transfer card in the local musicians' union and went to see Abe. ...

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pp. 141-146

San Francisco has more personality than any other city I've ever been in: big, good, kind, friendly, the Golden Gate, the food, the people, their appreciation of music and sculpture and honest art, hills, the Family Club, the Bohemian Club, Dr. Margaret Chung—ask any flier about Margaret Chung—Julius's Castle, Golden Gate Park, the Opera House, the fine musicians, the symphony, and Pierre Monteux. ...

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pp. 147-153

The program I went to Hollywood to do was called The Maxwell House Show Boat from Hollywood, which was rather odd because they had spent the preceding five years trying to convince the radio audience that the Maxwell House Show Boat actually plied the Mississippi River from Natchez to Mobile, from Memphis to St. Joe, wherever the four winds blow. ...

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pp. 154-157

When I left mason city I sure thought everybody would be different, and it gradually has come over me through the years that they aren't different at all. Too bad young ones don't believe that and have to find out for themselves. They'd just be that much smarter sooner. ...

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pp. 158-162

We finished up the first Good News season in a blaze of glory, splitting a forty rating just about fifty-fifty with our opposition, Major Bowes. The plan was to go off the air for the summer, so I thought, If I'm ever going to get to Europe I'd better go. ...

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pp. 163-168

The Good News series started up again in September, and one day Mr. Sidney bought a hunk of script from George Kaufman called If Men Played Bridge as Women Do. It was a very funny piece of business and was all set for the show that week. ...

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pp. 169-174

I did quite a little composing that year, and in addition to finishing my second symphony and The Great Dictator score, I wrote a symphonic poem, "The Jervis Bay," and a popular song called "You and I." ...

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pp. 175-179

Along about this time a fello named Sam Goldwyn was producing a picture called The Little Foxes, and just because I didn't want to do the music for it he wanted me to, which is characteristic of Hollywood and Mr. Goldwyn. In fact, I guess, to some extent it's human nature. ...

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pp. 180-184

If you're interested in virtues like modesty, all-around gentlemanliness, and thoroughbred behavior, you'll usually find them in the person who is the best in his line. Like a personality I knew whose nickname was Bob. ...

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pp. 185-191

After three pleasant years Maxwell House and M.G.M. decided to go their separate ways. So everybody shook hands all around, nostalgically happy—happy about a fine radio series, and nostalgic because this series was disappearing into the limbo—and Maxwell House gave birth to the Frank Morgan-Fannie Brice show which starred Robert Young as emcee, and again I went along with the deal. ...

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pp. 192-195

Points of view change, don't they? I already mentioned that I used to think "doily" was a naughty word. Used to mix it up with "diaper," I guess, which, of course, nobody would ever say in front of anybody. Well, only last week I saw a laundry service ad in the Los Annelus Times—"Rock-A-Dry-Baby"—and I must say I was taken even farther apace ...

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pp. 196-200

During our 40-41 season benefits had become more and more frequent. Hardly a week went by without a special Red Cross broadcast or Bundles for Britain or Greek Relief or Russian Relief. And then one Sunday morning, wham! we were at war, so everybody immediately began to worry about how he could best serve his country ...

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pp. 201-208

Like everybody else, I didn't look forward to the scientific assembly-line life in uniform. Of course when the government shopped for the Army, they had to buy ten million of everything, so it was "scientific assembly line" or else. ...

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pp. 209-213

Back in 1879 "Vanity Fair" published a picture of Verdi, maybe the greatest opera composer of all time. Under the picture some nonimmortal caption writer brushed this genius off with the following remark: "Giuseppe Verdi, composer. His music is the music of the times, tuneful—pleasant—and shallow." ...

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pp. 214-220

Some things get so established in your make-up as luxuries that you never get to the point where you can lean back and enjoy them. With me it's Welch's grape juice. To this day I never seem to think I can afford those little ten-cent bottles. ...

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pp. 221-228

Everybody has his own memories of V-J Day. We were in the middle of recording Command Performance and I couldn't begin to put the events or my feelings down on paper any more than you could yours, though they are as clear and distinct as though it all happened yesterday. ...

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pp. 229-234

Every profession has its terminology and its lingo. I first discovered this in New York when I used to ride on the Tremont Avenue cross-town streetcar to play in Sol Klein's Crescent Theatre orchestra. ...

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pp. 235-241

Funny how Thursdays have always had a special kind of flavor for me, starting with my Saturday Evening Post route in Mason City. When I was a kid, the Post came out on Thursdays—nowadays it comes out on Tuesdays. Maybe in the next generation it will be pushed back to Saturday again—wouldn't that be interesting? ...

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pp. 242-255

Well, after finishing my first season back with Maxwell House since my Army discharge, there came the matter of a summer replacement, and George and Gracie wanted me to be it and I was anxious to get the job so I could try out my own musical. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780816670772
E-ISBN-10: 0816670773
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816667697

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2009