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Classiscsonline Home » Composers » W » Willson, Meredith



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Meredith Willson (5/18/1902 - 6/15/1984)

Meredith Willson was one of America’s most talented artistic personalities. As a composer his idiom, style and sources of inspiration were always American. Meredith was born in Mason City, Iowa on 18 May 1902. It was a family tradition to gather every evening around the piano in the living room to sing favorite songs. As a boy, Meredith was the proud owner of the first mail-order flute ever seen in his native city. The fact that he promptly sat on it, bending it to resemble a scimitar, may have been inadvertent. But it may also have been intentional, because he was bitterly disappointed to discover that he had to play it sideways, over his shoulder, instead of where he could see what was going on.

At fourteen, armed with a new flute, his father’s prayers and a bag of his mothers fried chicken, he set off for the Damrosch Institute of Musical Arts in New York, for the start of what was to be a brilliant career. There, young Meredith took private flute lessons from Georges Barrère, composition from Mortimer Wilson and conducting from Henry Hadley. To help meet expenses during his musical schooling he began playing in motion picture theaters in the Bronx. At the age of seventeen he auditioned for John Philip Sousa, who signed him up for a nationwide tour with his famous band. He remained with Sousa for three seasons, touring the United States, Mexico, Cuba and Canada. In 1925 Willson joined the New York Philharmonic as flutist, performing under such conductors as Toscanini, Furtwängler, Mengelberg, Goossens, Reiner, Stravinsky, and others.

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