An American Composer By Paul Provencio, Townsend Elementary and Joy Agre, Russell Elementary His Life and Music Teacher’s Page
GEORGE GERSHWIN Born: Brooklyn, New York September 26, 1898 Died: Hollywood, California July 11, 1937
Find Out About Gershwin George Gershwin’s parents were Russian Immigrants, but George and his brother, Ira, were strictly American. George grew up playing stickball in the the streets of New York. His father was a businessman who liked to start businesses and move on. This meant the family moved often to a new apartment and neighborhood. (When the Gershwin brothers were grown up, they figured out they had lived in twenty-five to thirty different apartments!)
Gershwin, Page 2 George, and his brother Ira, were very different people. Ira was serious and an avid reader. George liked to play outside, and would often get into scrapes and fights. Ira would rather be inside with his books. He was a great student, and would often have to talk to George’s teachers. Ira promised the teachers to help and look after George.
Gershwin, page 3 When George was twelve, something important happened. His mother bought a second hand upright piano so Ira could take lessons. Ira had a couple of lessons and really didn’t want to learn. He would have rather played the Victrola. But he wasn’t about to cross his headstrong mother, so he resigned himself to his fate. No sooner was the piano in the living room than George sat down and began playing one of the hit songs of the day-and quite well. Everyone was amazed!
Gershwin, page 4 They had no idea that music even interested George, much less that he could play the piano as well as he did. So Ira was off the hook and George took lessons. In six months George became a virtuoso on the piano. Eventually Ira became known as “Mr. Words,” while George was “Mr. Music, and together they wrote successful Broadway musicals.
Gershwin, page 5 George would go out of his way to hear music all over Manhattan, which at that time wasn’t as easy as turning on the radio. His father was encouraging, but his mother was concerned about how he would make a living. She thought he should learn accounting, and so George entered the High School of Commerce in 1912. Although George never cared for school, he tried to follow his mother’s wishes and stayed in school.
For two years he played the piano for all the school assemblies and kept learning more about music and piano. He continued taking piano lessons. Finally, George couldn’t take studying anymore, so he quit school and got a job as a “song plugger” on Tin Pan Alley for the salary of $15 a week. Working as a plugger, his first song was published in 1916. It was called “When You Want ‘Em You Can’t Get ‘Em, When You Get ‘Em You Don’t Want Em.” Gershwin, page 6 Click here to find out about TIN PAN ALLEY
Gershwin’s first hit-”Swanee”-was one of the earliest phonograph records ever made and sold over two million copies. At age 19, he had become rich and famous. He lived in a 14-room apartment where he had a piano even in the gym. He owned every music book of the time, was a major art collector, and drove a Mercedes Benz. Gershwin, page 7 Click here to go to GERSHWIN: RICH AND FAMOUS
Gershwin loved jazz and ragtime and incorporated those sounds into even the most serious of his music. He wrote symphonic pieces for orchestra, songs for Broadway musicals, Hollywood film scores, serious works for piano, and even opera. All of his music has rich melodies and rhythms that are unmistakably American. Gershwin, page 8
In 1936, during a concert tour that ended in Los Angeles, Gershwin began having memory lapses and dizzy spells. No one thought much of it especially George because he was the picture of perfect health. Six months later, he died of a brain tumor at age 38. He had two funerals at the same time. At the start of services in Hollywood, all the movie studios shut dwon for a moment of silence in his honor. In New York, the funeral music was Bach, Beethoven, and his very own “Rhapsody in Blue.” Gershwin, page 9
Can you remember? Questions 1. Composer’s full name________________________ 2. Date of birth_________ Date of Death________ 3. Place of birth_____________________________ 4. Place of Death____________________________ 5. One interesting fact about the composer’s childhood:________________________________ 6. One interesting fact about the composer’s musical training:_________________________________ 7. Name one of the composer’s works.____________ 8. What kind of music did the composer write?_____ Click here when finished
The students will need journals to record their answers and thoughts. Activities can be done as they appear or at the end. Questions can be written in journals and used as study sheets. Have Fun!!! Make the composer human. Teacher Page
Tin Pan Alley Tin Pan Alley was the name given to the street where all the music publishing houses in New York were in the early 1900’s. Since radio wasn’t yet established as a way of “selling” a tune, or making a song known or popular, all the publishers had “song pluggers.” Each of the publishers kept a staff of piano players to play all their songs so people could come in and listen before they bought a song. Since all the publishing houses were close together, quite a cacophony arose from all those pianos playing different songs. It was said that when you walked down the street it sounded as if someone were beating tin pans together-Tin Pan Alley
Gershwin: Rich and Famous George Gershwin became rich and famous at the age of 19. He spent his money on a nice place to live, a nice car, music books, records, and art. If you were to become rich and famous at 19, what would you do with your money? What kinds of things would you buy? Who would you spend money on? What would become important to you?