My mother introduced me to the wonder of musicals, which served as a form of family entertainment, during my younger days. It seems that the golden age of musicals must have peaked by the beginning of the 1960s. That doesn’t mean that no good films came out in this genre after that period. An example of a later addition, and one of my personal favorites, is The Music Man. To this day I will put down the remote when I come across this classic. Just the mention of the title has the melody of “Seventy-Six Trombones” running through my mind. That alone is enough of a reason for us to arrange a River City stop at Music Man Square in Mason City, Iowa.
We want to thank Visit Mason City for hosting our visit. Rest assured that all opinions are our own.
The Family Home
Having a chance to visit the boyhood home of Meredith Willson, was an opportunity to learn more about the Midwestern composer responsible for a substantial body of work. After checking in at the Music Man Square, we joined a few other visitors for a guided tour. Willson was born and raised in Mason City, which is situated on the Winnebago River. From a young age he was interested in music. By the time he reached adulthood, he was an accomplished musician on the flute and piccolo.
Growing Up with Music
After attending the Damrosch’s Institute of Musical Art, in New York City, he would go on to perform in John Philip Sousa’s band. Willson moved on from that role to perform with the New York Philharmonic. He would eventually move to San Francisco where he would become musical director for the NBC radio network. By 1940 he was busy composing scores for movies like Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and The Little Foxes with Betty Davis. World War II would find him working with stars like Gracie Allen and George Burns. After seeing the home, and Willson’s boyhood bedroom, we were ready to move into the Music Man Museum.
The Music Man
Here we would get detailed background on his most famous piece of work. Drawing on his memories of his hometown, Willson wrote the story of a con man named Harold Hill, who visits a small town in Iowa. Hill’s River City stop is designed to convince the townspeople in their need to organize a community band to the tune of “Ya Got Trouble”. While his intentions are underhanded, he becomes sidetracked when he falls for the local librarian, “Marian the Librarian”. The resulting commotion results in an unexpected ending that features an impromptu marching band. Along the way we are treated to some of the other classics like “Seventy-Six Trombones”, “Shipoopi”, “Goodnight Ladies”, and “Till There Was You”.
Moving through the museum, we found a wide variety of artifacts and memorabilia associated with The Music Man. There are also other pieces that center around his other works. Willson’s other big musical hit is The Unsinkable Molly Brown, which tells a fantastical tale of a wealthy woman who survives the sinking of the Titanic. The story is loosely based on a real person, Margaret Brown, who hailed from Hannibal, Missouri. During our time in the museum, we also discovered that Meredith is responsible for the 1951 song “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”.
Once we completed our time looking at the accolades and awards, we headed back toward the museum entrance. This area is designed to mimic a River City stop along Main Street. Visitors can meander down the road peering in the storefronts. Each one is filled with items that would have been commonplace in 1912, which is the setting for the musical. Strolling to the end, we discovered an ice cream shop that was open for business. You know us, we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to enjoy a sweet treat while we looked out over the diorama.
River City Stop
The Music Man Square and Meredith Willson Boyhood Home are an interesting side note in the history of Mason City, Iowa. It is easy to see how the city has embraced this hometown hero. The entire city has a distinct artistic side which makes it especially interesting for tourists. When The Music Man premiered, in 1962, it was right here in his hometown. He even led the parade through town, which was attended by stars from the silver screen. Much like his imaginary counterpart, Meredith brought music to this Iowa town. Do you remember The Music Man?