Facets Model Assignment

"Pick a Little, Talk a Little/Goodnight Ladies"

(From: The Music Man)

Wanda Wasatch

Music 3824

Who created it?

Meredith Willson (1902-1984) wrote the script, music and lyrics for The Music Man from which this song is taken.

When and where was it created?

Willson was living in California when he wrote his first musical production, The Music Man, which was performed for the first time in New York City on December 19, 1957 at the Majestic Theatre. It became the biggest Broadway hit of the 50s.

Why and for whom was it created?

Meredith Willson was born in Mason City, Iowa, and had a very successful career in music. He was the lead flute player in the Sousa band, and played piccolo in the National Symphony. He later moved to California where he was musical director for NBC. While he performed and conducted in the big city, he never lost his small town charm and wit. Encouraged by his wife and other friends, including his mentor, Frank Loesser, Willson wrote The Music Man based on his early life in Iowa. The jokes, characters, and setting were loosely biographical. The character of Marion, the librarian, was his mother, while many other characters were composites of several actual people from his childhood. He wrote about the charm as well as the stubborn "bullheadedness" of small town Iowans with humor, understanding and sensitivity.

What is the Subject?

The story is about a traveling salesman/con artist named Harold Hill, whose attempt to fast talk his way into the hearts and pocket books of the townspeople of River City, Iowa, backfires when he falls in love with the town's librarian. She is also a favorite topic for the town gossips and the song Pick a Little, Talk a Little is a musical rendition of one of these gossip sessions. As they chatter away, the school board quartet joins in singing the song Good Night Ladies.

What is being expressed?

This song is such a great expression of the busybody attitude among some of the ladies (?) in town. As they chatter away, heads bobbing and tongues wagging, a group of nearby chickens seem to mimic their actions bumping into
each other as they scurry around pecking for scraps of food.The barbershop quartet seems to be gently mocking them as their song "invites" the gossips to disperse and head on home.

What techniques does Willson use to help us understand what is being expressed?

Wilson is a master at turning dialog into song. He uses no musical accompaniment. The women simply start "telling tales" one, then two at a time until everyone is involved and the group is chanting the "song" in unison: "Pick and little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little, cheep, cheep, cheep, talk a lot, pick a little moreà." As they babble on,
Harold solicits the help of the school board quartet to send them on their way home by singing "Good night ladies"
The timbre, is strictly vocal, with the beat created by the repetition of words and phrases.

What kind of structure or form does it have?

This piece has two parts: The first is made up of fast paced repetitive melody with an underlying beat (2/4) as the words "rapid-fire" from the ladies' mouths. The second part (sung by the men) is slower paced but follows the same underlying beat with the two parts creating a kind of harmony.

Part 1: A A B A A B A A B A A C
Part 2: A A A B

What does it sound or look like?

This has been explained above.See also my visual map of this piece.


  • DaCosta, Morton (Director). (1999). The Music Man [DVD recording]. Burbank,CA: Warner Home Video. (Original film produced 1961).
  • Silver Burdett Ginn. (1995) The Music Connection. Grades K-6. Atlanta, GA: Silver Burdett Ginn, Publishers.
  • Willson, Meredith. (1957) But He Doesn't Know The Territory. New York: J.P. Putnam's Sons.

Kinesthetic Maps:

1. Students will create the rhythm of the first piece (Pick a Little) by sliding their hands together, clapping on the musical syllables "cheep, cheep, cheep, cheep. Then divide the class in half and add the second part of the song (Good Night Ladies) by having the group march (or clap) to the underlying beat.

2. Divide group in half with one group taking the part of the gossiping ladies, and the other group taking the part of the barbershop group. Let the students make up their own interactive movements with the "ladies" in a group and the barbershop singers circling around them as each sings their part.

3. Students might also create stick puppets representing the "talkers"," pickers", "cheepers", and pictures representing "nighttime" and "leaving" etc. These could then be raised or moved at the appropriate times. (This would be both a kinesthetic and iconic representation)

Visual Map:

See attached.