Friday, September 2, 2022

Oz and the Musical: Performing the American Fairy Tale

Oz and the Musical: Performing the American Fairy Tale considers the special relationship between Oz and Musicals in the US. Drawing on my experiences as a fan, scholar, and practitioner I argue that musical adaptations of The Wizard of Oz make the "American fairy tale" available as participatory culture. In return, Oz contributes to the musical's pedigree as an America art form. Along the way, I discuss L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), the popular Broadway adaptation of 1903, the famous MGM film, the stage and screen versions of The Wiz (1975 and 1978), and Wicked (2003). The book concludes with a chapter on home, school, and community musical performances of Oz. Central to these adaptive performances are the contributions of diverse American producers, performers, and audiences, including kids, immigrants, Black people, and queer people, who have expanded and transformed the American fairy tale through song, dance, and the gestures of musical theater.

The cover image is from photographer Carol Highsmith's America, which is curated by the Library of Congress. These ruby-slippered feet belong to Ashley Harkins, who plays Dorothy at the Land of Oz park in Beech Mountain, North Carolina.

Oz and the Musical is available for purchase at Oxford University Press, or wherever you buy books.



"Bringing together his expertise in American musical theatre and childhood studies, Bunch walks readers through a culturally-grounded understanding of the world of Oz as found in books, on stages, on screens, in homes, and in communities. Deep scholarship and deep engagement with fan culture create a persuasive reading of the Oz fairy tale as quintessentially American, consciously performative, and full of a kind of theatrical humbug that makes the story perpetually adaptable and reflective of our changing society."

Dr. Jessica Sternfeld, Associate Professor of Music, Chapman University

"Oz and the Musical beautifully analyzes the utopian possibility of the Oz story in forging a sense of American belonging. Exploring the form of the musical and its participatory potential, Bunch embraces the value of make believe and the performative to American inclusiveness. In engaging, lively prose, he reads OzThe Wiz, and Wicked as fabulous expressions of the variety of the American imagination."

Katharine Capshaw, Professor of English and Africana Studies Affiliate, University of Connecticut

"[Bunch's] ability to weave previous scholarship with his own fresh takes, and to intertwine Oz musicals with Oz's utopian ideals; the participatory culture of musicals; and America's darker side of exclusion, erasure, and appropriation mak Oz and the Musical a worthy addition to the bookshelves of scholars and fans alike.

Dina Schiff Massachi, The Baum Bugle

Friday, February 25, 2022

Mary Had a Little Lamb

Image result for denslow mary had a little lamb
First posted on October 11, 2018. 

"Mary Had a Little Lamb" is one of the first songs many English-speaking kids learn. The canonicity of the nursery rhyme is suggested by Thomas Edison's recitation of it on his first phonograph recording in 1877. It's the first "real" song many of us learned to play in music lessons.

The poem was published by Sarah Josepha Hale as part of a collection of children's verses in 1830. She had been encouraged to produce this volume by Lowell Mason, who led the founding of school music education in the United States. He was in search of material he could set to music for instruction, and he included "Mary's Lamb" in his Juvenile Lyre, Or, Hymns and Songs, Religious, Moral, and Cheerful, Set to Appropriate Music, For the Use of Primary and Common Schools. This songbook was used in Boston public schools and was probably the first such collection in the United States. Hale's verse is reportedly based on the true story of Massachusetts girl Mary Sawyer, who took her lamb to school and in whose honor the city of Sterling Massachusetts has erected a statue.

Image result for lowell mason mary had a little lamb
"Mary's Lamb," with music by Lowell Mason from the Juvenile Lyre, 1831,
Lowell's tune, which is in a somewhat pedantic style resembling that of early American church music, did not really catch on. The tune that is familiar to us today--more directly appealing, vernacular, simple, and folk-like--became attached to the words in 1868 when H.R. Waite borrowed it from the chorus of minstrel man E.P. Christy's "Goodnight Ladies" (the original words were "Merrily We Roll Along"). Like so many tunes that have become standards of the children's music repertoire, "Mary Had a Little Lamb" has roots in blackface minstrelsy. This tune is so simple as to read like an exposition of the building blocks of music. The melody is almost entirely confined to the first three notes of the scale (Do, Re, Mi, easy as One, Two, Three) except for a brief leap up to scale degree five at the end of the first phrase. Even this motion outlines the minor third characteristic of much children's music and the pentatonic scale considered natural to children's musical expression.


Boston Literary History

Pound, Gomer. "Mason's Hand in "Mary's Lamb"." The Bulletin of Historical Research in Music Education 7, no. 1 (1986): 23-27.

Richards Free Library