University of Mary Washington Music Professor and Department Chair Brooks Kuykendall will be featured on the With Good Reason public radio show. The episode, Unexpected Remixes, will air daily beginning Saturday, Sept. 21, and continuing through Sept. 27.
The episode showcases Kuykendall’s discovery of an epic 19th-century musical crossover. Working with Mary Washington alumna Elyse Ridder ’19, Kuykendall reconstructed a pirated orchestration of Gilbert & Sullivan’s immensely popular “H.M.S. Pinafore,” made by a virtually unknown John Philip Sousa nearly two decades before he composed “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”
“I don’t really remember a time before Gilbert & Sullivan in my life,” said Kuykendall, who told host Sarah McConnell about wanting to listen to one of their operettas at his fourth birthday party. He later realized that his Ph.D. in musicology from Cornell University would afford him the opportunity to dedicate himself to his passion. “My childhood geekiness has turned into my profession,” he joked.
After trading their favorite tongue-twisting lyrics, Kuykendall sang Gilbert & Sullivan’s praises to McConnell. Rife with outrageous situations and deadpan humor, their compositions were a “triumph on absurdity,” Kuykendall said. “The trademark of those pieces are these comic moments of lots and lots of fast words … all impeccably rhymed and in meter,” which he said was a testament to librettist W.S. Gilbert.
Known for his “musical precision and excitement of a march,” John Philip Sousa seemed an unlikely candidate to copy Gilbert & Sullivan’s work, McConnell said. But copyright laws didn’t exist when “Pinafore” premiered in 1878, so there were over 100 American pirated productions a year later, Kuykendall said. Among them was one written by a 24-year-old violinist, Sousa, who was tasked with scoring a new production for the Philadelphia musical theatre company where he worked.
Kuykendall played recordings on the show of both Arthur Sullivan’s sparser score and Sousa’s “thicker” version, filled with his signature musical flourishes, to highlight their differences. “[Sousa’s] making you very much aware of the genius in the orchestra pit,” he said.
After tracking down Sousa’s orchestral parts in a library in Sydney, Australia, last year, Kuykendall and Ridder used various sources, including what remains of the composer’s original score in the Library of Congress, to reconstruct Sousa’s complete score.
Because of his celebrity, Sousa provided a unique window into this “Wild West” world of pirated productions, said Kuykendall, sharing that many scores have been lost simply because their composers weren’t as well known. He also found it fascinating to take this already brilliant work by Gilbert & Sullivan and add the genius of Sousa. “It’s a refreshing new way to look at the piece.”
The music-themed episode will also feature faculty members from Virginia Commonwealth University and University of Virginia, as well as a spotlight on the youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music.
With Good Reason airs Sundays at 2 p.m. on Fredericksburg’s Radio IQ 88.3 Digital and at various times throughout the week on stations across Virginia and the United States. Check the website for show times.