Editor’s note: This is an extended version of the story that appeared in the January/February 2022 issue of Evansville Living magazine.
In 1939, two years after the great Ohio River flood, the Evansville Press was still printing, the bridge linking Evansville to Henderson, Kentucky, was less than a decade old and didn’t have a twin yet, and the University of Southern Indiana didn’t exist.
That same year, 7-year-old Philip Hagemann took his first piano lessons in his native Mount Vernon, Indiana. More than 80 years later, on Oct. 18, 2021, the renowned composer and conductor visited USI with Murray Rosenthal, his longtime friend and co-owner of the Broadway production organization Hagemann Rosenthal Associates, to reveal his latest musical contribution to a small group of local media.
Posed in two vintage wooden chairs by a fireplace in the John M. Lawrence ’73 Library in USI’s Liberal Arts Center, Hagemann and Rosenthal announced the former’s leadership gift of $2 million to USI. As is common with seasoned friends, their stories often overlapped and interrupted each other for the sake of additional anecdotes. But through the decades of memories, their intentions were still clear.
“I love music,” says Hagemann. “I think everybody should have the opportunity to experience music. If I can do something to increase those opportunities, I’m happy to do it.”
“Music is such an important part of life — allow young people to participate,” adds Rosenthal, a dentist by trade who simultaneously invests in and produces Broadway plays and operas. Together, he and Hagemann have won three Tony awards for their shows “Red,” “Pippin,” and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.”
Formally debuted on Oct. 19, 2021, prior to a concert of Hagemann’s works at USI in his honor, the $2 million award established the Philip H. Hagemann Music Program Fund, which will remain open for future community donations. While USI’s Performing Arts department within the College of Liberal Arts currently offers a music minor, Hagemann says he hopes that the gift will eventually aid the establishment of a full music degree at USI.
The fund will spur the improvement and expansion of music courses, classroom spaces, scholarships, and more. USI is also christening the Philip H. Hagemann Performing Arts Department; archiving all of Hagemann’s published compositions; and continuing sponsorship of the Hagemann Award for Musical Performance, an annual high school competition in New Harmony, Indiana.
“We are immensely grateful for the generosity and leadership of Dr. Hagemann,” says USI President Ronald S. Rochon in a press release on Oct. 19. “This gift will provide the foundation for our students to begin pursuing their musical education, that may enable USI to inspire future composers, performers, and educators to follow in Dr. Hagemann’s footsteps in igniting others with the power of music.”
Hagemann received an honorary doctorate of humanities from USI in 2016, but when it was founded as Indiana State University-Evansville in 1965, Hagemann was 32 years old and had long since left of Evansville.
Attending high school in nearby Mount Vernon, Hagemann drove into Evansville for piano lessons at the University of Evansville. At the same time, he played the alto saxophone in his high school’s marching band.
The alto saxophone would lead Hagemann to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where he played in the marching band and majored in music. He was drafted into the U.S. Army toward the end of World War II; his first permanent assignment after completing basic training was in Salzburg, Austria, as part of the band training unit.
After the war, Hagemann attended Columbia University Teachers College in New York City for his master’s degree. Teaching lead Hagemann to Rockland County, New York, where he taught high school choral music and conducted the local adult community chorus for the next 50 years.
Retiring from the position in 2020, Hagemann’s work won him honors from the Council of Arts in Rockland and acted as the spark for his lifetime of composing.
“It was a fabulous experience,” he says. “I conducted many choral masterpieces while I was there. And I grew as a composer from the experience of conducting that chorus and those works.”
His first composition was a humorous piece based on Ogden Nash’s poem, “Christopher Columbus.” Over the years, he has published more than 75 choral compositions, 10 one-act operas, and two full-length operas, including “The King Who Saved Himself from Being Saved.”
At 89 years old, Hagemann still resides in Manhattan, prefers listening to symphonic music over contemporary rock, can’t choose a favorite piece of music or composer — an act he likens to “asking a parent to choose a favorite child” — and visits the Tri-State about once a year.
Hagemann continues to contribute to the music industry by working on a new short opera based off a New York Times op-ed, “Date with a Neanderthal” by Teddy Wayne, and, with gestures like his gift to USI, creating opportunities for young musicians.
“I don’t have children and I was able to make a considerable donation to the school, and it’s a mutually agreeable thing,” he says. “I think it’s already showing some signs of progress.”