Allow me here to get a bit personal by remembering Meredith Willson – the one Iowan who probably impacted my life more than all the others I write about on our website. Back when I was in elementary and junior high school in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa – the early 1960’s – I started playing the baritone in the school band. You can read more here. Below are a couple of news stories featuring my earliest performance days.
It was just about at this time of my life when I was looking for a place to belong. Being a fat kid with pimples, I got a lot of teasing. But then, it happened.
One day in band, our director told us about a new movie that had come out during the summer of 1962. It was called The Music Man and it was written by an Iowan named Meredith Willson – two l’s please. So, I asked my Dad for an early advancement on my allowance and ran overt* the record store and bought my own personal copy of the new movie soundtrack.
(M-0073) (M-0074) I tell ya. I played this LP record non-stop for the next year! While others were listening to Elvis Presley and doing the Twist, I was humming along with Marion the Librarian and marching up and down Henry Street to Seventy-Six Trombones.
(P-0316) And when the movie, starring Robert Preston and Shirley Jones, finally showed up at The Temple movie theater in Mt. Pleasant (see above), I went overt* the theater and sat in total amazement. The technicolor big-screen version of this classic Iowa love story, touched my heart and charted my course in music faster than one can say, “bang-beat, bell-ringin’, big-haul, great-go, neck-or-nothin’, rip-roarin’, ever-time-a bull’s-eye movie!” Read more here.
* just a quick explanation of the word “overt” – In Meredith Willson’s books, he many times would use his Iowa slang when telling his Mason City stories. When a person goes “over to” or is “over at” the record store – Meredith’s language would be, “He went overt the record store.”
So, thank you, Meredith Willson. And thank you to Harold Hill, Marian Paroo and your Irish mother, Mrs. Paroo, Winthrop, Amaryllis, Mayor Shinn and your lovely wife, Eulalie, the School Board, Marcellus, Tommy, Zaneeta, Charlie Cowell, and, of course, all the wonderful townspeople overt River City, Iowa.
Because of The Music Man, I found my place in life, and with it, a tribe. And throughout my high school years at City High School in Iowa City, and then at the University of Iowa, music became my life, and other musicians – my comrades. Graduating from Iowa in 1973, I became a band director, moved to the Chicago area, met my bride, and never looked back. And it all started with the drop of a phonograph needle on Meredith Willson’s The Music Man. Thanks, Meredith. Without you and your Mason City recollections, I just don’t know where my life might have gone.
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.