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.

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