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William Schuman

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Biography

William Howard Schuman (August 4, 1910–February 15, 1992) was an American composer and music administrator.

Born in the Bronx in New York City to Samuel and Rachel Schuman, Schuman was named after the twenty-seventh U.S. president, William Howard Taft (although his family preferred to call him Bill). Schuman played the violin and banjo as a child, but his overwhelming passion was baseball. While still in high school, he formed a dance band, “Billy Schuman and his Alamo Society Orchestra”, that played local weddings and bar mitzvahs (Schuman played string bass in the band).

In 1928 he entered New York University’s School of Commerce to pursue a business degree, at the same time working for an advertising agency. He also wrote popular songs with E. B. Marks, Jr., a friend he had met long before at summer camp. About then Schuman met lyricist Frank Loesser and wrote some forty songs with him. (Indeed, Loesser’s first published song, “In Love with a Memory of You”, credits the music to William H. Schuman.)

On April 13, 1930, Schuman went with his older sister, Audrey, to a Carnegie Hall concert of the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Arturo Toscanini. The program included works by Wagner, Kodály, and Schumann. Of this experience, Schuman later said, “I was astounded at seeing the sea of stringed instruments, and everybody bowing together. The visual thing alone was astonishing. But the sound! I was overwhelmed. I had never heard anything like it. The very next day, I decided to become a composer.”

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