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"Ya Gotta Know the Territory:
The Musical Journey of Meredith Willson"

A Permanent Exhibition Designed and Installed in 2002
By the National Music Museum
At the Meredith Willson Museum, Mason City, Iowa

Entrance to the Exhibition

In a landmark collaboration designed to share the Museum's broad-based collections with a wider audience and further its mission to bring people together to study, enjoy, and understand our musical heritage, the Museum designed and installed a major, long-term exhibition, Ya Gotta Know the Territory:  The Musical Journey of Meredith Willson, at The Music Man Square in Mason City, Iowa, Meredith Willson's hometown.

Civil War Exhibit

Civil War Exhibit Civil War brasses

A wax figure of a Union soldier sitting on a log and playing his harmonica watches over an exhibit of Civil War instruments from the Museum's collections--including drums from the William F. Ludwig II Collection and over-the-shoulder cornets from the Joe & Joella Utley Collection.

Pioneer and Immigrant Music Exhibit

Pioneer and Immigrant Exhibit

Among the instruments displayed in the Pioneer and Immigrant Music Exhibit are several late nineteenth-century violins made in Iowa (Inwood, Iowa City, and Ottumwa); Scandinavian folk instruments, including a psalmodikon, langleik, and nyckelharpa); a British concertina by Lachenal & Co.; a Bavarian zither by Heinrich Stadlmair; and, a turn-of-the-century, piano-harp dulcimer by James A. MacKenzie of Minneapolis.

Parlor Music Exhibit

Young girl playing the piano Victorian Home

A young girl practices on a square piano in an exhibit devoted to parlor music, while her doll rests on an ornately decorated American reed organ in the parlor of her family's Midwestern Victorian home.

Victorian house and nearby band stand

Ya Gotta Know the Territory:  The Musical Journey of Meredith Willson, designed by Jayson Dobney, Curator of Musical Instruments at the National Music Museum (2001-2002), begins with the story of the musical influences that shaped the young Meredith Willson, including the nation's Civil War heritage, the immigrant experience, and Victorian parlor music. Other exhibits are dedicated to the musical career of Willson as a flute player, composer, and conductor, including The Golden Age of BandsTM; the New York Philharmonic; the silent movie era; talking pictures; early radio shows; and the swing band era.

The Golden Age of BandsTM Exhibit

The Golden Age of Bands exhibit in the band stand

A wax figure of John Philip Sousa can be seen in a gazebo patterned after the bandstand that stood in Mason City's central park during Meredith Willson's youth. Instruments featured in the gazebo include a "raincatcher" Sousaphone by C. G. Conn Ltd., Elkhart; two Conn cornets; a York & Sons double-bell euphonium; a Ludwig & Ludwig snare drum; French clarinets by Buffet & Crampon and Henri Selmer; and, a Couesnon contrabass sarrusophone.

New York Philharmonic Exhibit

New York Philharmonic Exhibit

A life-size wax figure of Arturo Toscanini can be seen in the New York Philharmonic Exhibit, poised against the backdrop of Carnegie Hall, the Philharmonic's home during Meredith Willson's tenure with the orchestra. Three woodwind instruments from the Museum's collections represent those used by professional musicians of that era: a piccolo by Buffet (ca. 1900); a silver-plated flute with gold keys made by C. G. Conn Ltd. (ca. 1917); and, the first alto flute owned by the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, made by Harry Bettoney, Boston (ca. 1922).

Vaudeville and Silent Movie Music Exhibits

Pianists, theater organists, and percussionists were in high demand during the silent movie era to provide appropriate musical accompaniments, as well as the sound effects, for Saturday afternoon matinees at the movie house. Many of the percussionist's musical traps can be seen here, including a xylophone, bass drum, cowbell, woodblock, tambourine, coconut shells, ratchet, train whistle, school bell, guiro, Chinese tom, duck call, claves, maracas, slapstick, and several cymbals.

Vaudeville and Silent Movie Music Exhibit

Vaudeville and Silent Movie Music Exhibit

Saxophone bands, as well as mandolin and banjo orchestras, were all the rage among amateur musicians in the opening decades of the twentieth century. Representing these popular ensembles are saxophones by the Conn and Buescher companies (Elkhart) and banjos by Vega (Boston) and Gibson (Kalamazoo, Michigan).

State Theater

Meredith Willson regularly attended shows at Mason City's Star Theater (later renamed the State) during his youth. He could hardly have imagined, as a child, that one day his own music would accompany popular films shown in the same venue, such as Samuel Goldwyn's movie, The Little Foxes, and Charlie Chaplin's immortal film, The Great Dictator.

Interior of State Theater Wax figure of Charlie Chaplin

The Museum's Reproduco pipe organ/player piano (1920), displayed inside the State Theater, was a model specifically designed by the Operators Piano Manufacturing Co. of Chicago for use not only in movie houses, but also in funeral parlors. Appropriate music for both venues was available on paper piano rolls manufactured specifically for the dual-use instrument. The figure of Charlie Chaplin kicking up his heels in front of the State, along with the figures of Sousa, Toscanini, Harry James, and all the other wax figures on display in Music Man Square, were custom made in Long Beach, California.

Swing Music Exhibit

Swing Music Exhibit

A wax figure of Harry James presides over a typical dance band from the swing era. A Harry James trumpet from the Joe & Joella Utley Collection is highlighted in the case in the foreground. Throughout the exhibition, sound stations let visitors hear the music, as originally recorded by the Sousa Band, circus bands, Harry James and his Orchestra, and many others.

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Most recent update: December 6, 2013

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