Carmel Welcomes International Scholars to The Palladium
Writer // Janelle Morrison
Photography // Courtesy of the Great American Songbook Foundation
The Great American Songbook Foundation (GASF) will welcome an international conference to the Palladium: “Reading Musicals: Sources, Editions, Performance – A Conference in honor of Geoffrey Block.” The conference will run from May 9-11 and is organized by Dr. Dominic McHugh, a senior lecturer in musicology and director of performance in the Department of Music at the University of Sheffield. McHugh made national and international news with his discovery of some of the lost songs from Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man” while he was conducting research at the GASF in Carmel.
Some of the lost songs were found in a box containing Willson’s collection, and one particular piece of sheet music was literally hidden in the middle of a published book within that box. The lost songs had been cut away from the show before it reached Broadway. McHugh took copies of the songs back to the U.K. where they were performed in a world premiere concert last February.
McHugh, an expert on the history of Broadway musicals, has published several high-profile publications on musicals. His work has appeared in the Journal of the American Musicological Society and has contributed chapters to The Oxford Handbook of Musical Theatre Adaptations, to name just a few. He is also a member of the Advisory Board of Oxford University Press’ Broadway Legacies series.
Upon his visit to The Center for the Performing Arts, McHugh began to envision bringing the international conference and a caucus of world-renowned musical theatre scholars to Carmel.
“I thought it [Palladium] was extraordinary actually,” McHugh said. “It is such a great resource, and from the outside, you would never know that it is of the quality that it is. I have traveled all over America and Europe doing research, and the quality of the Palladium, in particular, is just amazing. The whole building, the surrounding areas, going to Divvy for lunch and the whole experience was amazing and totally unexpected. That’s primarily why I’ve been so keen to bring this international conference to The Palladium because the quality of the building and the setup of the city is so welcoming and interesting. Working with Lisa [Lobdell] was unlike any other research experience that I’ve had anywhere in the world.”
McHugh worked alongside Lisa Lobdell, archivist at GASF, during his visit to Carmel in 2013. He shared that Lobdell was supportive of his work and welcoming. He was treated to a tour of Carmel, lunch at Divvy and a trip down to the Indiana State Fair where he experienced his first-ever corn dog and elephant ear.
“We [GASF] received the Meredith Willson Collection in late 2012, and Dominic contacted us in 2013 to see if he could do some research here,” Lobdell explained. “He had already contacted the executor of the Meredith Willson Estate and was given the ‘go-ahead’ to make copies and other things as part of his research for the book he is currently writing about Meredith Willson’s musicals.”
Lobdell shared that McHugh was thoughtful and left copious notes on what was in the litany of boxes that he went through, so as Lobdell and her fellow archivists processed the boxes, they would know what was in them.
Impressed beyond measure with Carmel, McHugh returned to the U.K. with his found treasure: a couple of lost songs from “The Music Man” and other incredible relics from the Meredith Willson Collection and turned his thoughts to organizing the upcoming conference.
“I’m organizing the conference in terms of the academic content and speakers,” McHugh stated. “The guys over there in Carmel are organizing all of the practical things. The world’s leading musical theatre scholar, Geoffrey Block, is retiring after 30 years. He is a beloved figure in musicology, and I wanted to run a conference in his honor. It’s been in my head to bring the scholars to Carmel, so they can see how great the facilities and city are. This is the special occasion needed to draw them in.”
In the 20 years since the original publication of Geoffrey Block’s seminal book, “Enchanted Evenings: The Broadway Musical from ‘Show Boat’ to Sondheim and Lloyd Webber” (1997; 2nd ed. 2009), musical theatre research has grown exponentially. Numerous monographs, articles, performances and digital outputs have expanded the parameters of the field, and the journal, “Studies in Musical Theatre,” has been a vehicle for research on a subject that sometimes previously struggled to find a home. Archives have enriched and expanded their collections, often putting both catalogues and documents online, and the creation of critical editions of the works of George Gershwin and Frederick Loewe, following on from the pioneering efforts of the Kurt Weill Edition, will put reliable versions of musical theatre texts in libraries across the globe for performers and students alike to refer to.
This conference that honors both Block’s own scholarship and his stewardship of the work of others through Oxford’s Broadway Legacies and Yale’s Broadway Masters series aims to address three broad themes in particular: sources, editions and performance. The conference will feature extended presentations by members of the Broadway Legacies board – Tim Carter, Kim Kowalke, Jeffrey Magee and McHugh – as well as Block himself.
Chris Lewis, executive director of the Great American Songbook Foundation, shared why hosting the elite international conference at the Palladium is a great opportunity for the Foundation.
“We feel that this conference is a real opportunity for the Foundation and will continue to establish our place in this industry,” Lewis said. “This is a major nod for the organization to host this conference. The way that I describe the archives that are here, it is a treasure hunt. You never know what you’re going to find when you open a box. There have been discoveries here that are amazing. From a cocktail napkin with lyrics to a song to the Meredith Willson Collection, it is all breathtaking. It makes me think how much more is in the archives that have yet to be discovered.”
The conference is open to the public and attendees can register online at https://sites.google.com/site/readingmusicalsconference/home. The fee is $160/person.