Published on July 2, 2016
“Seventy-Six Trombones” is the signature song from the musical play The Music Man (1957), which was written by Meredith Willson. The song also appeared in the 1962 film and in the made-for-TV movie adaptation in 2003. It is also a piece commonly played by marching and military bands. On the first of three Meredith Willson Variety Show specials for CBS (airing April 6, 1964), Sergio Franchi performed this song backed by four military marching bands. Seventy-six trombones led the big parade
With a hundred and ten cornets close at hand …
In the musical, “Professor” Harold Hill uses the song to help the townspeople of River City, Iowa visualize their children playing in a marching band by recalling a time when he saw several famous bandleaders’ bands in a combined performance. While an average-sized high school marching band might have about 10 musicians playing the trombone, and a large college marching band seldom has more than 30 trombonists, the band that Harold Hill describes to the villagers includes 76 trombones, 110 cornets, “more than a thousand reeds”, double bell euphoniums, and “fifty mounted cannon” (which were popular in bands of the late 19th century).
The love ballad “Goodnight My Someone”, which immediately precedes “Seventy-Six Trombones” in the musical, has the same tune but is played in 3/4 time, at a much slower tempo.
In Willson’s hometown of Mason City, Iowa, the song is honored (along with the whole plot of The Music Man) in a building called “Music Man Square”, which is located next to Willson’s boyhood home. In one large room, there are 76 donated trombones hanging from the ceiling.