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Richard Rogers’ Oklahoma! The Story of a Game Changing Musical…

Musical Theatre, or ‘Music for Theatre’ is a diverse topic, and the variety and quality it offers ensures its place in the exam board syllabus. Both the AQA and Eduqas at A-Level curriculums give Musical Theatre equal weight to hefty genres like the western classical tradition and jazz.

One composer common to both syllabuses is Richard Rogers (June 28, 1902 – December 30, 1979). Rogers wrote 43 Broadway musicals and more than 900 songs, and is recognised as one of the most significant composers of 20th century American music. He is known in particular for his song-writing partnerships with the lyricists Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II. His work has had a significant impact on musical theatre and popular music, and 2018 marks the 75thanniversary of the opening of his ground-breaking musical Oklahoma!

Rogers met Lorenz Hart, his first collaborator, at Columbia University, in 1919. Together they wrote 26 musicals, which were performed on Broadway, in London and recorded in Hollywood. Sadly the partnership ended in 1943 when Hart died. Their work together includes On Your Toes, Babes in Arms, The Boys from Syracuse (based on Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors) and Pal Joey.

In 1942 Rodgers began working with Oscar Hammerstein II who he had also met at Columbia University. Hammerstein had already made a name for himself working with Jerome Kern but the partnership of Rogers and Hammerstein took both to higher success. It could be argued that this musical partnership changed the American musical: Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals earned a total of 35 Tony Awards, 15 Academy Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes, two Grammy Awards, and two Emmy Awards.

Their first work was Oklahoma!. The musical was immediately popular and ran for an unprecedented 2,212 performances – 5 years and 9 months. This was a record that it held for 15 years, until My Fair Lady ran for 2,717 performances from March 1956.

The history of Oklahoma! provides its own interesting story. The musical is based on Lynn Riggs’s play of 1930, Green Grow the Lilacs the name of which is from an old American Civil War song. The play, set in ‘Indian territory’ in 1900, seven years before the State of Oklahoma was founded, was performed just 64 times on Broadway between January and March 1931. However, ten years later in 1941, Theresa Helburn, a producer at the Theatre Guild, saw a production of Green Grow the Lilacs which was supplemented with traditional folk songs and square dance. She saw that the play could be the basis of a musical good enough that it might revive the struggling Guild and approached Rogers and Hart about writing it. Rogers was interested in the project and bought the rights to the play.

Green Grow the Lilacs

Rogers had already started talking to Hammerstein about working together with Hart. Hammerstein had said he would be happy to work with Rogers if Hart were unable to work, and as Hart was struggling with alcoholism and finding it hard to write, it was suggested that Hammerstein would be an ideal new partner for Rogers.

Coincidentally, Hammerstein had already considered setting Green Grow the Lilacs to music, but his then collaborator, Kern was not interested, so when he heard that Rogers was looking for a partner to write the show, he jumped at the opportunity.

One of the reasons the Rogers and Hammerstein partnership worked so well was that the partnership allowed both collaborators to follow their preferred writing methods: Hammerstein preferred to write a complete lyrics before his libretto was set to music, and Rodgers preferred to set completed lyrics to music. It has been suggested that this permitted Hammerstein to build the lyrics into the story so that the songs could enhance the story instead of diverting it.

The work was originally called Away We Go! But following tryouts, it was re-named Oklahoma!for the Broadway run.

According to playwright and theatre writer Thomas Hischak,

Not only is Oklahoma!the most important of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, it is also the single most influential work in the American musical theatre. … It is the first fully integrated musical play and its blending of song, character, plot and even dance would serve as the model for Broadway shows for decades.

However, initially it was expected that the show would bomb. According to theatrehistory.com

The saga of the trials and tribulations of Oklahoma!before it reached its premiere performance in New York to become one of the surpassing triumphs of the American theatre is now a twice-told tale. Virtually everybody connected with the production was convinced he was involved with a box-office disaster. Here was a musical without stars; without “gags” and humour; without the sex appeal of chorus girls in flimsy attire. Here was a musical that strayed into realism and grim tragedy, with Jud as one of the main characters, and his death as a climax of the story. Here, finally, was a musical which for the first time in Broadway history leaned heavily upon American folk-ballet–the choreography by Agnes De Mille, one of America’s foremost choreographers and ballet dancers. Oklahoma!might be fine art, was the general consensus of opinion before premiere time, but it was poison at the box-office. The effort to get the necessary financial backing proved to be a back-breaking operation, successfully consummated only because the Theatre Guild, which had undertaken the production, had many friends and allies. But there was hardly an investor anywhere who did not think he was throwing his money down a sewer.”

In 1955 the show was made into a feature film, in fact, the first feature film shot in 70mm widescreen. It was also unique in that Rodgers and Hammerstein, having held onto the rights until the stage run had finished, personally oversaw the making of the film to ensure that no changes were made. As a result, the film follows the stage version much more closely than any other Rodgers and Hammerstein. The film won Academy Awards for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture and Best Sound, Recording.

Fact file:

  • One innovative feature of Oklahoma! is the dream ballet sequence which reveals the hidden fears and desires of the main characters: A device that was later used in many musicals including, famously An American in Paris: 
  • A key element of the story, following in the footsteps of Show Boat (also by Hammerstein) and Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, is the showcasing on Broadway of the pioneering men and women who had worked the land of the American Southwest. It has been suggested that harking back to the ‘good old days’ was timely as Americans fought in the Second World War. Roger and Hammerstein’s Carousel in 1945 also built on this theme.
  • Oklahoma!It opened at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on April 30, 1947 to rave press reviews and sell-out houses, running for 1,543 performances. Its pre-London run opened a day late at the Manchester Opera House on April 18, 1947, because the ship carrying the cast, scenery, and costumes ran aground on a sandbank off Southampton.
  • The exclamation mark in the show’s title was in common use in musical titles in the 1930s and 1940s. As George Jean Nathan, an American drama critic and magazine editor stated “It seems that the moment anyone gets hold of an exclamation mark these days, he promptly writes a musical show around it”.
  • As the end of the musical celebrates the formation of the state of Oklahoma, the title song became the official state song of Oklahoma in 1953 and is the only state song from a Broadway musical.
  • Richard Rodgers was the first person to win all four top show business awards. He was awarded an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony, and also won a Pulitzer Prize.
The dream sequence from An American in Paris

Songs from the musical:

Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’

The Surrey with the Fringe on Top

Kansas City

I Cain’t Say No

Many a New Day

People Will Say We’re in Love

Pore Jud Is Daid

Out of My Dreams

The Farmer and the Cowman Annie, Laurey, Ike Skidmore, Cord Elam & Ensemble

All Er Nuthin’

Oklahoma

BBC Proms performances with the John Wilson Orchestra:

New Resources for a New Term from AQA

sarah perrymanThis month the MWC team are excited to welcome back Sarah Perryman, Music Qualifications Developer at AQA. Sarah has lots of exciting news update on supporting resources, shares details about AQA’s Commit To Teach campaign and tells us all about which CPD courses are available to help you get ready for September. There are also links to free posters for your classroom.

“Happy Holidays!

I hope you’re all having a well-deserved break after the busy exam period. In my last blog post, I focused on the main changes across all exam boards and outlined the main features of AQA’s new Music specifications for you. Now, as our focus inevitably turns toward September and the first teaching of the brand new reformed Music qualifications, I want to make you aware of how AQA can support you as we head into first teaching

Commit To Teach

If you tell us you’re teaching with us we can make sure you and your students have everything you need for September. Let us know here and we’ll provide you with the right information at the right time.

This information will help in planning our support, where to hold events and our examiner staffing.

If you’re not teaching with AQA, you’re still welcome to use all our free GCSE and AS/A-level resources, and we’ll keep you up to date with developments to teaching and assessing our Music qualifications.

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 17.22.08

An update on our free resources

We’ve been working to develop a range of brand new resources for the new GCSE, AS and A-level specifications.

Here are the resources so far available for the GCSE syllabus:

Here are the resources so far available for AS/A-level:

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 17.22.23

Look out for these GCSE resources coming soon:

July

  • resource list
  • schemes of work
  • teacher guide: Area of study 4
  • student guide: Area of study 4

August

  • teacher guide: Area of study 2
  • student guide: Area of study 2
  • performance piece: Area of study 2
  • teacher guide: Area of study 3
  • student guide: Area of study 3
  • performance piece: Area of study 3
  • performance piece: Area of study 4
  • additional set of Sample Assessment Materials (secure section of the AQA website)
  • non-exam assessment (NEA) exemplar materials (secure section of the AQA website)

September

  • listening library (interactive)

There are more AS/A-level resources on the way too:

August

  • schemes of work
  • teacher guide: Area of study 1
  • student guide: Area of study 1
  • non-exam assessment (NEA) exemplar materials (secure section of the AQA website)

September

  • listening library (interactive)

October

  • additional set of Sample Assessment Materials (secure section of the AQA website).

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 17.26.45

Free posters for your classroom

Inspire your students with these posters. We have them up in the Music office and we think they look great!

Add GCSE Music to your mix!

Add GCSE to your music collection

AS and A-level Music it’s your take

CPD courses

We have just finished our series of free Preparing to Teach events that took place across the UK. The events were very successful and we received very positive feedback from teachers.

Currently, we are running Getting Started meetings to help you to get ready for September. You can find out more about these, as well as the other professional development courses we offer here.

Music community

We’ve linked up with a growing list of music organisations that offer free teaching resources, including BBC Education, Royal Albert Hall, Southbank Centre and Museum of Liverpool. Access our community here. We hope you find it useful.

Thank you for reading. I hope you have a great summer!”

If you have any questions for Sarah and the Music Team at AQA you can contact them by emailing music@aqa.org.uk or calling 01483 43 7750.

All Change at AQA

Since the Rhinegold Expo back in March, Maria at the Music Workshop Company has been working to create a guest blog spot, to keep you up to date with what’s happening in the world of music education.

This month the MWC team are excited to welcome Sarah Perryman, Music Qualifications Developer at AQA, as she explains what’s new for GCSEs, AS levels and A-levels, and how the exam board created their new music qualifications… 

A-and-AS-music-imageYou’ve probably heard that due to new criteria set out by Ofqual and the Department of Education, GCSE, AS and A-level Music is changing.

Change can be healthy, progressive and in the best interests of your students. It can also be worrying and stressful for teachers who are under pressure to get results.

I’m honoured to have been asked by The Music Workshop Company to talk to you about the forthcoming exam changes and tell you about our new GCSE, AS and A-level Music.

So, what’s new at AQA?

Firstly, I’m new! I’m thrilled to be a Music Qualifications Developer for AQA. Previously, I’ve completed a Music degree, trained as a musical theatre actress at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, worked in theatre, radio and TV, and run my own production company.

How did we create our new music qualifications?

Many people don’t realise that we’re an independent education charity and the largest provider of academic qualifications taught in schools and colleges. This means that we use the money we make to advance education and help teachers and students realise their potential.

The exam alterations gave us the opportunity to create positive change across all three of our music qualifications. Our Qualifications Developer Jeremy Ward, brought huge energy to their development, hardly surprising considering he’s an experienced musician and previously Executive Director at Rockschool. Students will now study The Beatles, Labrinth, Daft Punk and music technology is fully integrated.GCSE-music-image

We’re incredibly proud of the evolution of our qualifications. They’re engaging, inspiring and sufficiently rigorous to be highly valued by employers and universities.

The response to our draft proposals has been overwhelming – particularly our GCSE, which sparked huge interest. We enjoyed coverage in the Guardian, Independent, Telegraph, NME Magazine and on BBC radio.

See our press coverage >

Music companion guide P20009 cover high resExplore our draft music qualifications

Draft AQA GCSE Music specification >

Draft AQA AS Music specification >

Draft AQA A-level Music specification >

Highlights of our draft GCSE, AS and A-level music specifications

  • They’re relevant and contemporary – more styles and genres, more artists and composers and more opportunities to compose and perform.
  • Designed to be taught the way students learn – we’ve scored excerpts of the GCSE study pieces for modern and classical instruments so that your students can get to know them even better.
  • All music styles are valued – our specification appreciates all styles and genres, skills and instruments, catering for different learning styles and musical tastes.
  • Music technology is fully integrated – many areas of study have artists or composers who have written works in this format and students can perform and compose using technology.

If you’re feeling unsure about any of the changes, don’t worry. The new music specifications don’t launch until September 2016 so you have plenty of time to prepare. The timetable below shows when the switchover takes place.

Date Current specification New specification
May 2015 Download our draft specifications here
July to September 2015 Available: GCSE, AS and A-level Book your place at our free launch events (also available online for GCSE only)
Autumn 2015 Download our accredited specifications and practice papers here
Spring 2016 Free prepare to teach meetings for GCSE, AS and    A-level
Summer 2016 Available: GCSE, AS and A-level
September 2016 First teaching GCSE, AS and    A-level
Summer 2017 Last chance to sit for first time: GCSE, AS and A-level AS first exams
Summer 2018 Resit only: AS and      A-levels First exams GCSE and A-level;AS available
Summer 2019 Available: GCSE, AS and A-level

 

We can support you in all sorts of ways

  • Our music subject advisors are just a phone call away
  • Our Music team and Teacher Network Group offer advice and support.
  • Free teaching resources from our music community which includes the BBC, The Royal Albert Hall, Music for Youth and the Museum of Liverpool.
  • Email updates keep you informed of our new resources and events. If you’d like to receive them, email music@aqa.org.uk
  • Free introductory launch meetings for GCSE, AS and A-level tell you all about our new specifications, resources and exams (book early if you’re interested, these are always popular!)

155308470-edit-MEDAll that’s left to say is thank you to The Music Workshop Company for inviting me to contribute to their blog. I hope you’ve found this helpful and that your students’ examinations go well.

Best wishes,

Sarah Perryman – AQA Qualifications Developer – Music

 

 

 


If you would like to talk to the Music Workshop Company about a workshop for GCSE or A-Level students, please contact us and we’d be delighted to help.

 

 

 

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