Friday, April 24, 2009
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Saturday morning April 4, Mary Ellen and I got up early and had the buffet breakfast on the top floor of the Omni Hotel in New Haven, with a terrific view of the Yale campus. I ate a great deal more than my standard oatmeal. Afterwards, I had a scheduled three-hour rehearsal at Hendrie Hall, while Mary Ellen visited the Yale Art Gallery.
Hendrie Hall was built as the Yale Law School and looks like a Renaissance Venetian palazzo on the Grand Canal. Instead it faces the New Haven Green. The Yale Glee Club rehearsal room is on the second floor (I guess that’s really the first floor in the Italian sense.) In any case, all the main rehearsal rooms were locked, so we had to make do with smaller piano practice rooms on the actual fourth floor— or because of the size and volume of the other rehearsal groups— we ended up briefly outside and eventually in the main entrance hallway.
John Burke— who took over as pitchpipe from me, and directed two Florida Spring Tours, and then became pitchpipe of the Whiffs for 1972— drove up from New York and directed our smaller group representing the classes from 1964 to 1977. We were really short on basses, so some guys from other groups joined us for the jamboree in Battell Chapel, though they hadn’t rehearsed with us. A couple had to sight-read at the performance.
It was strange how some years were really well represented, and others were missing entirely. Nobody from 1967 through my original class of 1971 had come. 1965 was represented by Ken Bardach, who had been on the 50th Anniversary recording and was business manager of the ’Winks and the Whiffs. I had known his brother Cliff. We had driven together in his yellow VW bug to two of the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations on the mall in DC in 1969. When I enquired about Cliff, I learned he had died in 1976! I guess I always knew he was at risk, & had been afraid to ask. Still, why had it taken me so long to find out?
Our rehearsal ended a half hour early, so I finally located –and had to make do— with a large hooded Yale sweatshirt, then joined Mary Ellen for lunch at Freshman Commons (portrayed as the library in the recent film “W.”)
The table with classmates from ’72 was full, so MEB and I sat at the adjoining table. Afterwards, Baker, George and John Rouse came over to join us for dessert. Considering how some years weren’t represented at all, 1972 did pretty well. We had six…and five had come from California!
In case you were wondering, the parenthetical question mark after Spizzwink(?) is intentional. It’s such a weird name, that many people question its authenticity. Supposedly there was some kind of agricultural blight in the Mid-West in 1914, caused by a mythological bug, the spizzwink. Anyway, that’s the story. My actual metal pitchpipe has a sterling silver disk with my name engraved and a silver enameled black shield with a red ‘s’ and superimposed silver question mark. But over the years, the question mark has come loose and disappeared.
After lunch, we planned to join the various classes for a short performance in the rotunda adjoining Freshman Commons and Woolsey, the main concert hall. I went downstairs to use the facilities, and on my return heard the entire ensemble singing “Somewhere.” I started to join in, then decided just to listen. It sounded marvelous. Nobody from the newer classes used music. I was very touched.
From there we went to Battell Chapel for the 95th Spizzwink Reunion Alumni Jamboree. There were six groups representing the various classes. The late forties, fifties and early sixties were decently represented. Our group was the third to perform. It was a little shaky, but people liked us. We included “Somewhere” as one of the five songs representing our era.
Selected members gave short reminiscences interspersed between various vocal selections. Our oldest member, class of 1945, was very moving. George Hardy from ’72 delivered a terrific talk.
The best groups were the newer ones. They are really amazing and have fabulous arrangements.
Afterwards, we all joined in to sing Judah Adashi’s new arrangement of Cole Porter’s “Every time I say Goodbye” in memory of Spizzwink/Glee Club Conductor Fenno Heath, who had died last December 5th….the anniversary of Mozart’s death. I tried to find Carol Heath to extend my condolences, but there were so many people I wasn’t able to locate her.
From there we had to rush back to the Omni Hotel to get the chartered bus to the New Haven Lawn Club for a gala awards dinner… and of course, lots of singing. I sat next to Ken Bardach at dinner & continued our reminiscences. (Mary Ellen and I sat with him and his lady friend on the train back to New York on Sunday afternoon, after the 9:00 Palm Sunday family service at Trinity Episcopal Church on the Green.)
Several people were awarded the Spizzwink(?) medal. Among these was Bill Barnard class of ’72. He really deserved it for all the work he has done on several committees, and the hospitality he’s provided to traveling ’Winks over the years.
Then it was back to the main event of the evening, the undergraduate Jamboree at the United Methodist Church by the Green. They kindly delayed the concert by almost half an hour to accommodate our return on the bus from dinner at the Lawn Club.
The new group is fantastic! Such charm, wit and genuine vocal talent! I was moved when they sang my arrangement of “Somewhere” (fourth time for the weekend) and was genuinely surprised when they sang my second arrangement “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” which I’m sure hadn’t been performed in over thirty-five years.
(Back in the early 80’s, I was stunned when I went to a Yale Alumni dinner at the officer’s club at Fort Mason, and heard the touring Spizzwinks(?) begin a piece I recognized immediately. It was my very first arrangement “The Music that Makes Me Dance,” which had never been performed with my group. They found it in the archives and decided to premiere it.)
So as you can see, the weekend gave me a psychic boost on a number of levels. People I had never met, came up to me to thank me for some of my arrangements. Two different alumni and wives told me that my version of “Somewhere” had been sung at their weddings.
It is extremely gratifying that “Somewhere” has become a standard with the best undergraduate a cappella group at Yale. It’s been recorded nine times. One more to go and I will have reached the magic number for special recognition. But I think I’ve already received that. I’ve even learned that the Harvard Krokodiloes sing it.
And to think I spent my adolescence dreaming of being a Princeton Nassoon. I guess I did all right.
Friday, April 10, 2009
Last Friday I got up early and had coffee with Sheridan before he left for work, then went back to bed for a few hours. After a lovely, lazy morning with both Sylvie’s and the cat, Sylvie Prost Bell directed and accompanied me to Grand Central Station (preserved partly under the leadership of Jackie Onassis) to meet Mary Ellen and go to New Haven for the Spizzwink(?) Reunion. (Both Sylvie’s then left for the Morgan Library, one of my favorite buildings anywhere.)
I had been a little apprehensive about going back to New Haven for the reunion. My entire Yale experience and my time with the Spizzwinks(?) – to paraphrase Irving Stone – had been a source of my ecstasy and my angst. But the weekend turned out to be extraordinary!
The weather was frightful. But we were on the train, so no matter. The rain had paused by the time we arrived in New Haven. They had done a marvelous job restoring the old Railway Station. (One of my biggest disappointments ever was the destruction of Pennsylvania Station in New York City. It was built to last a thousand years….yet stood barely fifty. I saw it only once before its demolition in 1963. At least, it was the inspiration for the architectural preservation movement in the United States.)
We took a taxi to the Omni Hotel by the Green. We shared a pleasant room on the 8th floor. I had brought a bathrobe, and Mary Ellen had warned me to get earplugs.
Registration was in the Rose Alumni House on York Street, the former DKE Fraternity, of which George W. Bush had been president (was that his title? Would that had been his only presidency!)
After a quick visit to the old Yale Co-op— now a Barnes and Noble—to find a hooded Yale sweatshirt – for some reason impossible to find in medium— we joined the group for dinner at the Union League Café on Chapel Street. We had the banquet room on the second floor. I was surprised how many Spizzwink(?) alums came to this optional event. Altogether more than 100 alumni came for the weekend, and most seemed to be there for the dinner on Friday night. Mary Ellen and I both had lamb.
I sat next to a bearded Spizzwink from the 90’s, who now teaches Old Testament at the Divinity School. He said he’d look up my Dad’s picture on the wall for the class of 1937.
Mary Ellen sat next to John Rouse, a psychiatrist at San Francisco General, from the illustrious Class of 1972. That was my second class. I was originally in 1971. ’71 was the first class to graduate women from Yale College. ’72 was the last class to enter as all men. U.S. Attorney George Hardy and voice teacher/conductor Baker Peeples, both from California and the Class of 1972, were at our table. Psychiatrist Bill Barnard, also of ’72 and San Francisco, sat with his partner Jeff at an adjoining table.
Dinner was very good…and, of course, there was lots of singing. Bill asked if I would conduct my arrangement of “Somewhere” from West Side Story. I deferred since I hadn’t conducted it with my hands for over thirty-five years. In performance I had used my head. So one of the other pitchpipes, the brilliant Rick Westerfield, did an outstanding job. It was the first of four times I heard my arrangement that weekend.
Probably the high point of my entire Yale career was Singing Group Jamboree at Dwight Hall Chapel on the Old Campus in September 1969. I was the new director— “pitchpipe”— of the Spizzwinks(?) and we premiered two of my best arrangements at that performance.
The origin of my arrangement “Somewhere” went back to the autumn of 1965, my Upper-Middler year at the Mercersburg Academy in south-central Pennsylvania –close to Gettysburg and Hagerstown, Maryland. My roommate— Bruce something-or-other— was a pimply-faced, greasy haired Canadian, who introduced me to Sonny and Cher, and adored Tom Jones (that’s “What’s New Pussycat?” Tom Jones). Tom performed a really weird version of “Somewhere” that drove me to distraction. It made me long for the feeling of the original. So choral director Paul Suerken wrote a solo arrangement for me to sing with the Mercersburg Octet in the Spring of 1967.
(There’s always the question: what comes first, the words or the music? In most cases, I think it’s the words— but not always. George Gershwin was known to write the tunes, to which Ira fit his lyrics. In the case of “Somewhere,” Bernstein originally wrote the melody for a different song in a different show. The original lyrics went something like: “There goes what’s his name. Poor, lonesome…what’s his name.” Can you imagine that? But it partly explains the false acoustical accent on the second syllable of Sondheim’s lyrics. In the original, the leap was for an action verb, not on the article ‘a’.)
Two years later I was the newly elected pitchpipe of the ’Winks. That summer my third and fourth arrangements were a jazzy version of “I Will Wait for You,” and a restrained choral “Somewhere.”
For the Dwight Hall Jamboree at the beginning of the school year, I figured that unless we were first on the program, we’d follow a rousing closing by another group. So I wanted to start softly with “Somewhere.” There was voiced opposition to my decision by many members of the group, particularly my business manager, who was sure we should start with something big. Fortunately, music is a dictatorship and not a democracy, so I got my way.
Sure enough, we were third on the program and followed a forte ending. We sang “Somewhere.” Afterwards, there was complete silence for about three seconds. Then the room exploded with cheers, and applause, and foot stomping. Again, it was probably the high point of my years at Yale.
Then we sang a period barbershop Bill Harwood arrangement with a lame joke and ended with my jazzy “I Will wait For You.”
Four months later, I had my crack-up and dropped out of college. But I returned the following year to join the illustrious Class of 1972. That turned out to complicate Whiff tap that year. (Read my post on September 29, 2008.)
“Somewhere” was the first pop song sung by Chanticleer, as an encore to our third concert set. “I Will Wait for You” was on the very first Chanticleer recording. Both have since been dropped from their repertoire. But last weekend more than made up for that. (To be continued)
Thursday, April 9, 2009
I had a wonderful time last weekend in New York City and New Haven. I took the red-eye from SFO to JFK on Wednesday April 1 -- arriving at 7:00 a.m. I probably had only two or three hours sleep. My friend Mary Ellen met me at the Jamaica Station, and we took the train to Penn Station. From there we dropped off my luggage at my nephew Sheridan’s building in Tribeca, then went to St. John the Divine. We discovered there was no 9:00 a.m. service -- the next was at 12:15-- so we went for coffee near Columbia.
Years ago Mary Ellen had worked at a Jewish Student Center near campus and we stopped by to see the exterior of the building. Afterwards, we explored the campus. I was especially impressed with the domed McKim, Mead, and White main administration building. It was glorious, early spring day. Daffodils and tulips were in full bloom-- though leaves on the trees had yet to open.
We returned to St. John the Divine and went to the 12:15 mass in the small chapel at the very end of the apse, behind the main altar. There were fewer than ten congregants. I mentioned the anniversary of Dennis’ death to the priest. He asked for volunteers to read, so I read the first lesson and Mary Ellen, the prayers of the people. My friend Jeffrey joined us after his class that morning. It was an appropriate way to commemorate Dennis.
From there we went for another coffee and cherry pastry at a Hungarian café nearby. Jeffrey lives only a few blocks from Columbia. He had to grade some exams so wasn’t able to join us for the afternoon.
Mary Ellen and I decided to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Jeffrey recommended taking a bus, which went by the top of Central Park and down 5th Avenue. It gave a marvelous view of 5th Avenue. I particularly wanted to see the newly reopened Greek and Roman wing at the Met. I hadn’t realized that the old one had been completely demolished and this was a brand new addition. It is absolutely splendid! The architecture, mosaic and marble inlaid floors set off the outstanding collection beautifully! Mary Ellen took my picture by a handsome bust of Constantine.
Then Mary Ellen treated me to a delightful lunch on the first floor restaurant near the French and Italian sculpture court. Nearby were several remarkable Canova’s.
Afterwards we returned to my nephew’s apartment and visited his charming wife Sylvie, their Swiss houseguest also named Sylvie, and their enchanting French cat (from whom I still have several flea bites on my hands.)
Sheridan and Sylvie live at a fabulous location on Park Place– just three blocks from City Hall, two blocks from St. Paul’s church, one block from the Woolworth building and three blocks from ground zero—the site of the old World Trade Center Towers. They are very close to most subway lines.
After a nap, I headed off to 23rd Street to meet Jeffrey before coming back to dinner at Sheridan and Sylvie’s. Jeffrey met me by a vitamin store and we walked the few blocks to The Players on Gramercy Park.
In 1888, Edwin Booth, America’s pre-eminent Shakespearean actor, and fifteen others including Mark Twain and General William Tecumseh Sherman, founded the Players. Modeled after London’s famed Garrick Club, The Players was the first American “gentleman’s club’ of its kind.
(So they say on their website. Though San Francisco’s Bohemian Club, of which I am a member, was founded in 1872. Its four pillars are Music, Literature, Drama, and the Fine Arts and we have lots of lawyers, doctors and architects as members.)
The purpose of the Players; “The promotion of social intercourse between members of the dramatic profession and the kindred professions of literature, painting, architecture, sculpture and music, law and medicine, and the patrons of the arts…”
The Players is located in a Greek revival townhouse facing historic Gramercy Park. Jeffrey checked our coats at the front desk, obtained a key to the park and took me for a tour with the statue of Edwin Booth in the center. Then thanks to reciprocity between the clubs, Jeffrey took me on a brief tour of the National Arts Club next door to The Players. It’s located in former Governor Tilden’s house. Samuel Tilden, of course, received the majority of popular votes in 1876, but --as in 2000-- was denied the Presidency.
One Thursday each month, The Players have a gathering for members, and I was fortunate enough to accompany Jeffrey on such a night. We had cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, while listening to fellow actors sing show tunes with an accompanist on an upright. Jeffrey showed me some drawers with a collection of plaster life and death masks including John Keats, Edmund Burke, Goethe & Schiller among several others. He also showed me the room on one of the top floors, where Edwin Booth died. Jeffrey will be co-directing a play written by a fellow Player to be performed at the National Arts Club in a few months.
My nephew Sheridan works nearby, so he joined us for a few minutes, while we stayed behind conversing with some of the distinguished elder members.
Then we scurried back to Sheridan and Sylvie’s apartment on Park Place to meet my friend Mary Ellen, my niece Allison Martin, nephew Matt Collins and his friend Jan. Sylvie had prepared many different hors d’oeuvres, which constituted an exotic and complete meal.
Late as it was, I decided to accompany my niece, nephews and friends to the Tribeca bar about seven blocks away where architect Matt acts as security doorman a couple nights a week. I had quick tonic and lime, then headed back to Sheridan and Sylvie’s to get a decent night’s sleep in their bedroom (while they graciously slept on an air mattress on the living room floor) to prepare for the journey to New Haven and the 95th Anniversary Spizzwink(?) Reunion-- the original purpose of the trip.