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And There I Stood with My Piccolo August 1, 2010

Posted by flutebrarian in Generalities.
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No, this isn’t about me and my piccolo playings of the summer concert season. But about a book that I’ve been waiting to read for probably 30 years since I first heard about it during a Legion Band concert.

I was playing piccolo in the American Legion Band of the Tonawandas (NY) and the piece on the program was selections from my all-time favorite musical The Music Man by Meredith Willson. Our announcer, Brad Steiger, always came up with the most interesting tidbits of musical trivia to introduce the pieces on the program. During this concert, I learned that Meredith Willson had not only composed two truly wonderful musicals (The Unsinkable Molly Brown being the other) but he had also played piccolo with the Sousa Band.

And the title of his autobiography was, you guessed it, And There I Stood with My Piccolo.

The tome had been long out of print since its publication in 1948 and a copy was not to be found. So I kinda forgot about tracking it down although it remained in the back of my mind for all these years.

Until July 3rd when I heard the Blossom Festival Band play under the direction of Loras Schissel and he told a story about Willson which ended with “and there I stood with my piccolo.” So the pursuit began again.

This time, I was armed with tools that didn’t exist 30 years ago – the Internet, Amazon.com, an iPhone, and most importantly, SearchOhio. On the way home from the concert, I got out the iPhone, headed over to Amazon.com and discovered that the book had been republished in 2009 by the University of Minnesota Press. But before I took out my credit card I thought I’d give the libraries another shot.

So, off I went to SearchOhio, a borrowing network of public libraries in Ohio offering over 10 million volumes. Lo and behold, there was ONE copy of the original edition at the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library. I immediately ordered it and in a few days, I was finally reading the memoirs.

I learned more about Willson than I ever realized – not only did he play with Sousa’s band for several years, he also played principal flute with the New York Philharmonic, studied with Georges Barrere, and became one of the top composers and conductors for radio programs in the ’30s and ’40s.

The reminiscences read like a veritable who’s who of musical circles and Hollywood celebrities. It’s a great look at the humble life of a kid from Mason City, Iowa who got started with a mail order flute and took off for New York City to make his fortune. Not content to just play in orchestras and bands, he headed for San Francisco to take a stab at radio and landed in Los Angeles to finally host his own musical radio show. He most definitely had a knack for landing in the right place at the right time.