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Wizard of Oz Musical Odyssey

Wizard of Oz Musical Odyssey

by Sylvia Woods

Every year during my youth I waited in anticipation for that magical annual TV event: the broadcast of The Wizard of Oz. I don't remember the first time I ever saw it, but I do vividly remember the first year I saw it in color. We didn't yet own a color TV, but my sister's friend had one. We invited ourselves over to her house, and watched in awe as Dorothy stepped out into the glorious rainbow spectrum of Munchkin land.

The Wizard of Oz is a true classic, and has become a part of our culture. I, therefore, was extremely proud when I was granted the rights to arrange and publish a harp book of music from the film.

Wizard of Oz bookWhile doing the research for my Wizard of Oz harp music book, I came across a wonderful book in the library, "The Wizard of Oz: The Official 50th Anniversary Pictorial History" by Fricke, Scarfone, and Stillman, published in 1989 by Warner Books. Chock full of photos and history, it is a "concise chronicle of Oz". I found it fascinating, particularly the information on the music. I'd like to share with you some of what I have learned from this book, in hopes that it will make the music even more enjoyable!

Arthur Freed was one of the assistant producers of the films (as well as being the composer of such popular songs as "Singing In The Rain"). He "pushed from the beginning for an integrated film score, with each song designed to develop a character or advance the plot. It was a fairly innovative approach for that time; only a handful of stage and screen musicals had been so integrated (although the procedure would become de rigueur a few years later.)"

In April 1938, Freed dictated a memo illustrating his feeling for the songs."Music can be a big help properly used as an adjunct and accent to the emotional side of the story . . . The whole love story in Snow White is motivated by the song 'Some Day My Prince Will Come' as Snow White is looking into the well. Dialogue could not have accomplished this half as well. I make this illustration for the purpose that we plant our Wizard of Oz script in a similar way through a musical sequence on the farm."

An interesting footnote regarding both Oz and Snow White is that Adriana Caselotti, who was the voice of Snow White in Disney's animated feature (released in 1937), was paid $100 to sing the one line "Wherefore art thou, Romeo" in The Tin Woodman's song "If I Only Had a Heart."

The two men finally selected to create the music for Oz were composer Harold Arlen and lyricist E.Y. Harburg. "Over The Rainbow", the movie's best-known song, began as a melody by Arlen. Then Harburg "wrote a lyric built around his reaction to the 'grayness' of Kansas (heavily emphasized by Baum in the first few pages of the Oz book). Harburg felt that the only color in Dorothy's life would have been a rainbow."

The original lyrics for the musical bridge in the song "Over the Rainbow" (what later became "Someday I'll wish upon a star . . . " etc.) were

Someday I'll wake and rub my eyes and in that land beyond the skies you'll find me.
I'll be a laughin' daffodil and leave the silly cares that fill my mind behind me.

After the film was completed, and was running in limited previews, "Over the Rainbow" was actually cut from the movie because an MGM studio manager said "it slowed down the picture". Luckily for us all, it was reinstated in the final version.

The technique of recording music in a lower pitch and slower speed, and then replaying it at a higher speed and thus a higher pitch, was used for the Munchkin voices. (This is similar to the technique used to create the voices for "The Chipmunks" musical hits in the '50s and '60s.) The opposite technique (recording higher and faster, and playing back slower and lower) was used for the Winkies (the Witch's guards) to give them "a sepulcher kind of sound".

Once the filming was completed, Herpert Stothart and George Stoll worked on the score. "The arrangers peppered the score with interpolated musical jokes and appropriate underscoring. Schumann's 'Happy Farmer' was used in the Kansas sequences; the Mendelssohn 'Scherzo in E Minor' accompanied Toto's escape from the Witch's castle. Moussorgsky's 'Night on Bald Mountain' was played during Dorothy's rescue, and 'In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree' and 'Reuben and Rachel' were heard, respectively, during the apple orchard and cyclone scenes."

I highly recommend that you rent the 50th Anniversary Edition video of The Wizard of Oz, which includes extra goodies at the end of movie, such as a musical number, "The Jitterbug" that was cut from the film.

I hope you enjoy my book of harp arrangements from The Wizard of Oz, and that the songs bring back many happy memories for you and your audiences.

Click here if you'd like to take a fun Wizard of Oz Quiz to test your knowledge of the movie.

(This article was first printed in "The Harp Lover's News" Volume 2, Issue 4, 2nd Quarter, 1995, published by the Sylvia Woods Harp Center. Many of the articles from this newsletter can be found in this "Fun Stuff" section.)