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)

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