What do the musicals Wonderful Town, My Fair Lady, Brigadoon, The King and I, , Oklahoma, She Loves Me, Annie Get Your Gun, Carousel, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to the Forum, Damn Yankees, The Pajama Game, Two by Two, The Sound of Music, Bells Are Ringing, Fiorello, Pipe Dream, and The Boys from Syracuse all have in common? The answer is that they were all given their world premieres and Broadway tryout at the Shubert Theater in New Haven, Connecticut. This year, the Shubert in New Haven is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Opening night for the theater was December 11, 1914, and tickets sold for 25 cents to $1.50. Since then, the Shubert Theater in New Haven has played host to over 600 pre-Broadway tryouts, including over 300 world premiers and 50 American premiers. The Shubert underwent a renovation beginning in 1976, and was restored to its original appearance for its re-opening in December of 1983. It has become the heartbeat of the region’s cultural life.
As part of the celebration, 1300 New Haven middle and elementary school children participated in a colossal sing along of some songs from some shows that premiered at the Shubert. Music teachers from across the New Haven Public Schools signed up to conduct or accompany one song each. The program began with a play that was set on that first opening night, and performed by students form one of the arts magnet schools in the city. All 1300 children then sang “There’s No Business Like Show Business” from Annie Get Your Gun, “Getting to Know You” from The King and I, “Brigadoon” from Brigadoon, “Oklahoma” from Oklahoma (which was not part of the original play as it was done in New Haven. At that time, the play was called Away We Go), “Dites Moi” from South Pacific, and “My Favorite Things,” ” Edelweiss,” and “Do Re Mi” from the Sound of Music with the children divided into two groups, and the teachers singing Maria’s parts.
Although the Shubert Theater theme was unique to this year, “Spring Sing” is an annual event put on by the New Haven Public School Music Department to celebrate children and music education in the city. Political figures and parents sit on stage while the children stand in the seating area of large auditorium. The sound of over one thousand children all singing together, sometimes in unison, sometimes in harmony, is a thrill every year, no matter how many of these I am a part of. The event requires the cooperation of the transportation department, to arrange for school buses to transport all of those children to and from the event site, and the hard work and dedication of the city Music Supervisor to arrange all of the logistics. It cannot be overstated how worth the effort is. Events of this magnitude build life-long memories, and bring to light the often forgotten or overlooked fact that there are few things in life more satisfying and unifying than groups of people singing together. Personal music players and phones have gotten many of our students, and probably ourselves as well away from the community aspect of music making, as we listen to our music recorded and in solitude. While listening to music this way is enjoyable, it is no substitute for performing music, and there is nothing better than performing music with others. When it can be lots of others, so much the better.
The impact that an event like this has on the children who participate is evidenced in the eagerness and enthusiasm with which the event is anticipated each year. Depending on the difficulty level of the music, I take different grade levels different years. Last year I took third graders. Yestersday, I took fifth and sixth graders. The children who could go were excited to do so, and the ones who couldn’t go were disappointed. Because there has to be a limit to the number of children the event site can accommodate, not every child in the district can go in any single year. While we should never build our programs just around events, be it trips or mega-concerts, including these kinds of events into a balanced music program builds enthusiasm, support and awareness of the value of music education. These are great reasons to do this kind of thing, and New Haven has gotten it right by holding this annual event. .