Staging History: Setting History to Music

Historical drama long has been a mainstay of theatre, playwrights usually bending it for their own purposes. This seminar will look at how American history has also been used by our native composers to create musical stage works, ranging from light comedy to profound dramatic operas. The colorful characters involved in the creation of the Declaration of Independence populate 1776. A pairing of Leonard Bernstein's 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and Steven Sondheim's Assassins looks at the White House; its occupants, their politics, and their ends. Titanic - The Musical and The Unsinkable Molly Brown provide two quite different looks at that ill-fated voyage. Ragtime, based on E.L. Doctorow's best-selling book of historic fiction, tells the story of three different segments of American society, including a look at the immigrant experience. The powerful opera Nixon in China brings its own interpretation of a historic event that forever changed the politics of the United States on the world stage. Finally, the course returns to the early years of the nation with a look at the biography and the significant history that inspired the recent blockbuster Hamilton.

Course Recordings:  (Click on the links below to watch the recordings.)

Session 1 - October 5

Session 2 - October 12

Session 3 - October 19

Session 4 - October 26

Session 5 - November 2

Session 6 - November 9

Venue: online
Meets on: Tuesdays 3:30 to 5:30 pm
Starting: 10/5/2021
Sessions: 6
Class Size: 50
Teaching Style: Lecture with questions
Weekly Preparation: None
Group Leader Biography:

Bradford Conner and Benjamin Sears have been performing together since 1989 and lecture regularly on the music they perform. Conner and Sears are leading scholars of Irving Berlin, with print publications and six recordings of his songs and. Also opera and history lovers, both have taught at Beacon Hill Seminars and are recipients of the Jack Curtin Award. Sears, a graduate of Ithaca College and editor of The Irving Berlin Reader, wrote a chapter in Adapting the Wizard of Oz: Musical Versions from Baum to MGM and Beyond, and is working on The Fred Astaire Reader. Conner, a graduate of West Virginia University, also studied at the University of Salzburg (Austria) and the American College of Salzburg. A Renaissance individual with degrees in business, musicology, and foreign language, he has lectured and written on his interests in music and world history.