Category Archives: Fine & Performing Arts

Heroic

by Caren Altchek Pauley '62 and Holly Alderman '67

The truth, looking back now in the mirror of time, now, is that most of the teachers seem heroic in their own ways – all hard working women, very conscientious, and kind.  In current culture, the general kindness of our classrooms seems a profound blessing. — Holly Alderman.

Some weeks ago, as we prepared a special Northampton School for Girls feature in the Williston Bulletin, I asked a few alumnae to name adults whose presence during those formative and formidable ‘Hamp School years had made a difference.  We couldn’t use every response.  But two of them, from Caren Altchek Pauley and Holly Alderman, were special enough to deserve publication.  Here they are, with thanks to the authors for allowing us to share! — RT

Dagmar Abkarian
by Caren Altchek Pauley ’62

Dagmar Abkarian (left), with teacher Viola Hussey and housemother Katherine Weller. (If anyone has a better photo of Ms. Abkarian, please contact the Archives!)
Dagmar Abkarian (left), with teacher Viola Hussey and housemother Katherine Weller. (If anyone has a better photo of Ms. Abkarian, please contact the Archives!)

With a comforting presence, Dagmar Abkarian ruled the  pristine two-room Northampton School for Girls “infirmary,” located on the upper floor of Montgomery House.  During my tenure, 1959-1962, she was a formidable presence, dark, round and with an unusual lumbering gait which seemed to separate her legs when she walked. She wore an immaculate white uniform, nurse’s coif, sensible white shoes, and a name badge.  She was unlike any other teacher or faculty member at the school.  Her coloring was like mine.  It separated her and me from nearly all the other  faculty, staff members and students  who were mostly light eyed blonds and fair skinned.  She was also a bit garrulous and although a mature woman, rather girlish at the same time.

I was a frequent visitor to the infirmary, as every bout of homesickness, math test, science test, and athletic competition caused me to seek consolation in her peaceful domain.  Before school counselors became de rigueur, it was the school nurse on whom we depended for advice on “how to survive”.  She took my temperature, and then usually pronounced me OK, to my utter and complete disappointment.  Then she discussed the challenges of that moment, before nearly squeezing me to death in an affectionate hug.  With her sympathetic endorsement, I knew I could make it through the morning geometry exam and even the afternoon field hockey game, although in my heart of hearts I knew I had little talent for either and thoroughly loathed both. Continue reading

Un-Alma Mater

by Richard Teller '70, Archivist

Happy new year from the Williston Northampton Archives!

Not long ago someone asked about school songs.  She was a bit surprised that Williston has had several “official” alma maters1 — that would be almae matris for the Latin purists among us — over the last century or so.   Many of us recall “God Preserve Our Alma Mater” (insufficiently secular for today’s Williston, and with a controversial tune), “Arise, Sons of Williston” (we’re fully coed; are our girls supposed to sit?), “As We Put Long Years Behind Us” (from Northampton School; includes the line “Our Girlhood Days Are O’er”), and a few others less memorable.  Today’s anthem of record is “O Williston,” also known as “Hail to Williston Northampton.”2  The traditional and ageless “Sammy,” of course, remains ubiquitous.  Long may we cherish it.  Him.  Whatever.

Richard Gregory
Richard Gregory

All these songs share a kind of sentimental reverence.  Well, almost all.  Back in 1966, when Williston Academy was celebrating its 125th anniversary, legendary music teacher Richard Gregory, no doubt cringing over the mawkish encomiums such events tend to inspire, penned the following lyric for the Caterwaulers.  The piece became one of their signature tunes during the sixties and into the seventies.

We need no songs about your Founder.
We mourn no matriarchal elm.
The mists of time that rise around her
Somehow fail to overwhelm.

Five hundred cynics, all austerely
Unsentimental every one.
We’d rather die than speak sincerely,
But when all is said and done,
We do confess we love you dearly,
You old relic, Williston!

The 1966 Caterwaulers
The 1966 Caterwaulers

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To taste her bunkum joys . . .

By Rick Teller '70, Archivist
Cartoon from the 1878 Caldron, a senior class yearbook.  (Click all images to enlarge.)
Cartoon from the 1878 Caldron, a senior class yearbook. (Click all images to enlarge.)

There was a time, before the advent of radios and recordings, and long before the current era of individually headphoned, asocial music, when everyone sang.  Sang together, without coercion, for the sheer joy of singing.  (Anyone who sings will tell you that it is a marvelous means of community-building.)  Williston Seminary students were no exception.  There were, of course, many singing-societies and glee clubs, but any occasion or activity, from football games to debate meetings, was a cause for music.  Student letters describe athletes and spectators riding the train to away games, singing all the way.

Many of the tunes were from well-known songs of the time, but often with words unique to Williston.  Some were borrowed from college songbooks, notably those of Yale.  To disseminate the lyrics, student organizations printed song sheets and songbooks.  “Sammy,” by Pitt Johnson, class of 1905, and still ubiquitous today, made its first printed appearance in a song sheet from that year.

Detail from "Williston School Songs," 1905.
Detail from “Williston School Songs,” 1905.

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Barry Moser’s Theater Posters

Barry Moser at the press
Barry Moser in 1972, adjusting the second of Williston’s two printing presses. By 1969 the Castalia Press was producing broadsides and other fine printing from its home in the old Easthampton railroad depot.

Some of this is necessarily in the nature of a personal reminiscence.  Barry Moser spoke at Williston Northampton’s Commencement on May 25th.  (Listen here!)  Today he is recognized as an artist of international preeminence; in September 1967, for this writer and about 400 other once-young men, he was a rookie faculty member taking over a visual arts program that was, quite frankly, on life support.  Its transformation was swift and spectacular.  And those of us fortunate to have been in Barry’s classes were transformed as well.  Ever the iconoclast, he challenged every assumption any of us might have had about art, not to mention literature, music, psychology . . . all the while demanding that we see, not just look.  Any student from his 15 years on the faculty will tell you that his were lessons for a lifetime.

In the late sixties the Williston Theatre was entering one of its golden ages under the direction of Ellis Baker and Richard Gregory.  Barry was soon involved as a set designer.  He also began to produce handbills for the plays — visual miracles for which the word “poster” is possibly inadequate.  Often the central images were executed in the intricate and sometimes unforgiving media of woodcut or etching.  Here are a few examples.  (All items are by Barry Moser for Williston Academy or The Williston Northampton School; reproduced with the gracious permission of the artist.)

John Brown’s Body, Spring 1969.  “I tried for something that looked like a wanted poster.”  (Click all images to enlarge.)John Brown's Body Continue reading