Da Musically Inclined Bomb

DePauw University's First Year Seminar on Writing about Music

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Making A Name

Stephen Sondheim was born on March 22, 1930 in New York City. He was a very talented child who skipped kindergarten and was reading the New York Times by first grade. In 1936 he received his first piano lesson, however, this was not the beginning of his true training as a musician. There were many factors that lead to the instruction of the young Sondheim; the largest factor was his parents. His father, Herbert and mother, Janet were divorced in 1940. At first glance this may look as if it was a horrible emotional wrenching experience, as many divorces can turn in to, but in essence it was the beginning of Sondheim’s career. His mother uprooted him from New York City and sent him to military school. Unlike most children this was a very good experience for Sondheim because there was a wonderful organ there that he was allowed to play. The real achievement came after military school when Sondheim and his mother moved to Doylestown, Pennsylvania. It was here that Sondheim attended George School. George School was where Sondheim met and quickly befriended Jimmy Hammerstein. This friendship would prove to be one of the best things to happen to young Sondheim.
Jimmy’s father Oscar Hammerstein II soon learned of Stephen’s passion for music and became Stephen’s first mentor. He began teaching him about musical theatre and how to write musical theatre. Hammerstein developed a type of course outline for Sondheim to follow. This outline consisted of four assignments. The first was to turn a play he enjoyed into a musical, the second to turn a play he disliked into a musical, the third to use a non-dramatic piece and convert it into a musical and the final assignment was to create something original. This course took around six years and was finally concluded when Sondheim finished college.
Sondheim attended Williams College and was a music major under the influence of his first music professor Robert Barrow. After graduation he began private studies with Milton Babbitt in New York. They studied counterpoint and did a lot of music analyzation. Sondheim was a slow, hard working student. This hard work paid off in the long run.
Stephen Sondheim’s first major work was not that of composition, it was that of a lyricist. If there is one thing about show business that Sondheim learned and forever remembered it was that you take every opportunity you are handed. His first success “West Side Story” was premiered on September 16, 1957.
Sondheim continued to learn from his elders. He did not allow the fame of his first success to cloud his judgment, but continued to work diligently. He was given many other opportunities that would lead his way to his own full score and lyrics. He was taught his final lesson by Hammerstein when he was asked to write the lyrics for “Gypsy”. This lesson was how to write for a star. Stephen Sondheim achieved what every musician and artist hopes for, great success. He used the resources and opportunities he was given to make a name for himself in the musical theatre world, a name that will not easily be forgotten.

Zadan, Craig. Sondheim & Co. 2nd ed. New York, New York: Harper & Row,, Inc., 1989.

The Kennedy Center Sondheim Celebration. Washington D.C.: The Kennedy Center Education Department, 2002.


At 11/12/2006 10:17 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

That's really cool, about the whole Hammerstein-Sondheim relationship. I never knew that.

At 11/12/2006 10:22 PM, Blogger Mistuh Bond said...

Gripping and informative. I like this.

At 11/12/2006 10:40 PM, Blogger Renee said...

maybe start by identifying something significant about him that we can relate to

At 11/12/2006 11:07 PM, Blogger Andrew said...

I liked your wording of information, but maybe you could draw the reader in more at the beginning

At 11/12/2006 11:16 PM, Blogger Becca said...

I found Hammerstein's 'lessons' for Sondheim really interesting - and vaguely familiar to Carrillo's composition meeting with me. Step one, arrange a small emsemble piece for full orchestra... *sigh*

Great work!

At 11/12/2006 11:34 PM, Blogger Godfather Outlaw said...

very nice closing paragraph/sentence


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home