Monday, January 3, 2011

Greening of the Masque

Hello 2011!  New Year's Eve (NYE) found me at a couple different gatherings filled with holiday cheer and great conversation.  Somehow a long standing obsession of mine was brought up at both events and discussion ensued.  Fancy that! Which obsession?  No... not Tiki, not Hello Kitty.... but "Masque of the Yellow Moon."

[caption id="attachment_734" align="alignright" width="150" caption="First program for Masque of the Yellow Moon (1926)"][/caption]

Recently the Masque was mentioned in Phoenix Magazine’s 1920‘s issue under its first year, 1926.  The Masque ended in 1955 having run for almost 30 years, except during World War II.  What was the Masque of the Yellow Moon?  At its height over 3,000 high school and college students performed for two nights in front of an audience of 15,000 people.  Compared to Mardi Gras by LIFE magazine, it drew a statewide audience.

There were newspaper articles that mentioned holding tickets at the door for Prescott Valley residents. The best description I heard was that it was like a Super Bowl halftime show, including the marching bands, sets, costumes, dancing, and skits.

[caption id="attachment_735" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Montgomery Stadium, Phoenix, AZ"][/caption]

You might be wondering were the event took place?  It had to be somewhere that could accommodate the crowds both on the stage and in the stands.  The event was mainly held at Montgomery Stadium on the campus of Phoenix Union H.S. (where the University Public School at 7th Street and Fillmore is now situated).

[caption id="attachment_736" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Art Deco inspired Aztec costume from Masque of the Yellow Moon"][/caption]

Why was it called Masque of the Yellow Moon?  The event was based on a Pima legend about the Sun God who, during the spring, would give his rays to warm the Earth making it a golden yellow.  The version that the pageant was named for was written by Charlotte Hall, who is said to have started the event back in 1926.  I came across a huge treasure trove of resource material thanks to the Phoenix Union H.S. Alumni Association.

[caption id="attachment_733" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Masque of the Yellow Moon program (1949)"][/caption]

I was shocked to discover the alumni association has a few original costumes from the 30’s.  The costumes were typically sewn by parents or Home Economics students.  This Art Deco/Mayan dance costume was used in the 1937 Masque.  Imagine a field full of them!

The PUAA organized a meeting that allowed me to meet and hear from direct sources about the Masque.  The sets... OMG they were huge!

[caption id="attachment_738" align="alignright" width="150" caption="One Masque set"][/caption]

I spoke with a gentleman who, with friends, would take parts of a set to someone’s backyard and create plays!  That must have been some yard!  Look at the scale of these sets.

[caption id="attachment_737" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Score for Ferde Grofe's “Valley of the Sun Suite”"][/caption]

Now about the music: Besides marching bands, the event was so well-known that famed composer of "Grand Canyon Suite," Ferde Grofe, was commissioned to write a piece called "Valley of the Sun Suite."  Its third movement is called "Masque of the Yellow Moon."  My friend Jenny, knowing my obsession, dug through a pile of papers at someone's estate and found a photocopy of the original handwritten score.

[caption id="attachment_739" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Creating one Masque set"][/caption]

"Green" and adaptive reuse are current buzz words in architecture, historic preservation, and community-building circles, but how about our own history?  Masque of the Yellow Moon rolls off the tip of my tongue at the drop of a hat to anyone who will listen.  There have been several discussions with members of the Arizona Centennial Commission about interest in reviving the Masque in the spring of 2011 and growing it into a statewide event thereafter.  So instead of paving over our history, we create new celebrations that highlight our communities and history by repurposing a forgotten event steeped in a whole bunch of Arizona history.

I don’t make resolutions, but how about a toast to having the rays of the Masque of the Yellow Moon gracing our communities... again?!


  1. oh wow! this is the sort of thing i find fascinating! i love that costume and those flyers. i need to ask my uncles if they ever went to see it. sign me up to help in whatever way possible if it does become part of the Centennial celebration!

  2. [...] Check out my new post at Vanishing Phoenix regarding the Masque of the Yellow Moon [...]

  3. Marshall, I don't know how I missed this post when it was originally posted but I love the idea of reviving the Masque.

    I'm far too young to remember it, even my Step Father in his 70s missed out on it as he moved to Phoenix in 1956.

    From what I can gather from information I've found online and the PBS Series "Arizona Series" do you think it would be fair to classify it as a far less creepy/sinister version of North Koreas Arirang/Mass Games? Here's a video link if you're unfamiliar with them: