Category Archives: Williston Northampton School

Twelve Days

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

(Note: this article was originally posted on December 23.  In the ensuing five days, new information came to light, notably (see the comments at bottom) concerning the year “Christmas Soup” was introduced at Williston, resulting in this revision, posted December 28, 2017. — RT)

A couple of years back a comic arrangement of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” performed by a certain a cappella ensemble from Indiana University, had a sudden surge of popularity.  Apparently unbeknownst to them — despite the presence of the author’s signature on the last page of the score — the “Twelve Days of Christmas” parody was sung by the Williston Academy Caterwaulers of 1967-68.  It was composed by their director, longtime (1961-2004) Williston fine arts teacher Richard Gregory.  Dick founded the Caterwaulers in 1965, as an evolution from the former Double Quartet, long attached to the Glee Club.  The name is a play on the school’s “Wildcat” mascot, and a line from the English version of a once-popular Haydn vocal catch, “You caterwauling rogues, be gone.”

The Caterwaulers of 1967-68, the first civilians to sing “Christmas Soup.”

“Christmas Soup” (the real title of Dick’s arrangement) stayed in the Caterwaulers’ repertoire for nearly three decades.  Dozens of former Caterwaulers went on to college singing groups.  Many took copies of Caterwauler arrangements with them, well within the collegiate a cappella tradition that also brought arrangements by the Baker’s Dozen and Whiffenpoofs — Dick’s groups at Yale in the early 1950s — into the Caterwaulers’ repertoire.  “Christmas Soup” was actually performed and even recorded, with proper attribution, on multiple occasions around the country before Straight, No Chaser picked it up.  And to their credit, they now perform it (I am told) with appropriate acknowledgment of the author.

But, Dick Gregory points out, “Christmas Soup” didn’t originate with the Caterwaulers.  From 1957-1960, Dick was a lieutenant in the United States Navy.  For most of that time, he was stationed on Guam, where he created “Christmas Soup” for a group of his fellow officers.  Since they were members of a communications unit, they called themselves the “Seven Nicators.”  They stuck with that until three of their members were rotated out, and the remainder deemed the name inappropriate for a quartet.  Dick made some minor revisions for the Caterwaulers, but only the ending was new.

Dick Gregory, concluding his last Williston class in 2004.  He is retired and living in Easthampton.

Straight, No Chaser’s performance breaks off abruptly and segues into “Christmas in Africa.”  I once found this baffling, until I came across a recording by a group from Ball State University, also in Indiana, that shifts gears in exactly the same place.  Suddenly, all was clear: the copy of the music that was being passed around between Bloomington and Muncie was missing the final page.  And that’s why no one there knew that Dick had written it, or when.

At a Williston Alumni Reunion in June, 2009, a large gathering of former Caterwaulers got together to rehearse and perform “Christmas Soup” and a number of other favorites.  If the following video lacks the polish of more professional renderings (and I can’t help noting that it sounds pretty good for a bunch of underrehearsed old guys), it has the distinction, not to mention authenticity, of including several of the singers who originated it, and Dick Gregory himself directing.  You can’t get more authentic than that!

For the record, “Christmas Soup,” a.k.a. The Twelve Days of Christmas,” with the ending as sung in the preceding video, is copyright ©1967, Richard C. Gregory.

On behalf of all of us at Williston Northampton, happy holidays!

Summer Reading

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

June — the seniors have graduated, the underclassmen have finished assessments (which are what we at kinder-gentler Williston used to call “exams”), and a lazy green quiet has settled onto the campus.  Our parting shot to our returning students: “Goodbye, and don’t forget your summer reading!”  It has been so for nearly a century.

I have a confession.  Back in the summer of 1966, prior to my entering Williston Academy’s 9th grade, I was handed a list of perhaps half a dozen books.  Now, I loved to read, almost at the expense of any other summer activity.  And there was good material on the list, most especially Walter Edmonds’ Drums Along the Mohawk, which was an exciting story, although in retrospect, I don’t recall its subsequent mention even once in David Stevens’ English 9.  But also on the list: Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.  Now imagine yourself in 1966, as a 13-year-old boy who has recently discovered the works of Ian Fleming and is anxious to get back to them (albeit under the covers with a flashlight), but is faced with endless pages of prose about living in the woods and planting beans.  I tried.  I really did.  But I couldn’t do it.  And in the ensuing 51 years, I’ve tried several more times but, apparently scarred by my adolescent experience, I still find Walden barely readable.  I think of Thoreau as the guy who put the “trance” in “transcendentalism.”

A summer reading requirement at Williston appears to date from the 1920s.  No syllabi have surfaced from that early date.  However, we have a list from 1941, which is worth reproducing in its entirety.   (Please click images to enlarge).

Once one gets past the still-valid point about a “foundation for effective expression,” as well as whiff of testosterone, one notes that the requirement – a minimum of three books – isn’t especially onerous, despite a suggestion (“hearty cooperation”) that one attempt “as many as possible.”  Where something doesn’t appeal, students are encouraged to move on.  And nowhere is there even a hint of a test or paper in the fall.It is interesting to note what is, and isn’t, here.  So many of these authors have fallen utterly out of fashion, never mind out of the canon, that some names are unrecognizable even to a pre-elderly librarian.   And with few exceptions, almost everything is by American or English authors, the overwhelming majority of them male, and only one identifiable as an author of color. Continue reading

The Quotable Sammy

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

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[Looking for links to the posts cited in the Spring 2017 Williston Northampton Bulletin?  Please click “Ford Hall Turns 100” and “Worms.”]

Recently one of our better students asked me whether I knew of any good quotes from Samuel Williston that he could insert into a term paper.  “Don’t know,” I responded.  “What’s the paper about?”  “Doesn’t matter,” he said; “I’ll work them in.”  Suppressing my instinct to initiate a conversation about such pedantries as relevance, context, and provenance — the kid was, after all, in a hurry — I dug out a document prepared at the request of former Head of School Brian Wright back in 1991, and in reviewing it, realized that it was good blog fodder.  So . . . here is Samuel Williston (the fodder of us all), in his own words.

415_1125b LR“Whereas God in His Providence has bestowed upon me a goodly portion of this world’s possessions, which I ought to use for His glory, for the dissemination of the Gospel of the blessed Redeemer, and for the greatest good of my fellow-men — and, whereas, I desire to be instrumental in promoting the cause of correct and thorough literary and Christian education, and for that purpose have lately followed an Institution which is established at Easthampton, Massachusetts, and incorporated by the name ‘Williston Seminary’ […]”  Preamble, Constitution of Williston Seminary, 1845

(Williston founded his Seminary in 1841, but it took him four more years to publish his thoughts about what he was attempting.  See “The Constitution of Williston Seminary” for more detail.)

“Believing, that the image and glory of an all-wise and holy God are most brightly reflected in the knowledge and holiness of his rational creatures, and that the best interests of our country, the church, and the world are all involved in the intelligence, virtue, and piety of the rising generation; desiring also, if possible, to bring into existence some permanent agency, that shall live, when I am dead, and extend my usefulness to remote ages, I have thought I could in no other way more effectually serve God or my fellow-men, than by devoting a portion of the property which he has given me, to the establishment and ample endowment of an Institution, for the intellectual, moral and religious education of youth.” Continue reading

Ford Hall Turns 100

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

Williston Northampton is 175 years old this year.  But almost forgotten amidst the dodransbicentennial [yes, it’s a real word!] hoopla is another milestone: Ford Hall opened a century ago this fall.

Ford in 1916, with the original landscaping.
Ford in 1916, with the original landscaping.

After the Homestead, it is the first structure to have been built on the so-called “new” campus.  The Senior Dorm.  (Not any more.)  The Gold Coast.  (No longer.)  The Fraternity.  (Ditto — perhaps, perhaps not.)  Even in these unsentimental twenty-teens, some students — many of them the sons of alumni — will claim that to live in Ford Hall is to have arrived.  It goes without saying that their non-Ford peers might not agree.

Ford from the Quad, 1916, with newly-planted elm trees.
Ford from the Quad, 1916, with newly-planted elm trees.

But if any campus building can be said to embody Tradition, with a capital T, it must be Ford.  No doubt some individual traditions are best left unrecorded in a family publication like the From the Archives.  Alumni of various generations will recognize references to the Phantom, those “useless” fireplaces, the Bomb Sight, the Great Newspaper Caper, Couchie’s Carlings, and the mythical Kid Who Was Taught His Colors Wrong.  If you have to ask, you weren’t there.

Four decades since the previous picture, the campus was shaded by gorgeous mature elms. Sadly, by the late 1960s they had all succumbed to the Dutch elm blight and were replaced by maples.

On the other hand, readers who were there are invited to add their favorite Ford Hall stories to the comment form at the bottom of this article.  What, after all, is a history blog for?  Be advised, though, that publication is likely, unless you’ve forgotten that there is no statute of limitations on good taste.

Another early view. The water tower was removed in 1929, to make way for the Recreation (Reed Campus) Center.
Another early view. The water tower was removed in 1929, to make way for the Recreation (Reed Campus) Center.

It is hard to imagine that a structure so much a part of the fabric of Williston Northampton life was almost never built.  Samuel and Emily Williston’s estates had provided an endowment for the operation of the school, which was originally situated at the head of Main Street, on a site now occupied by two banks and a supermarket.  Emily’s will conveyed the Homestead and surrounding land — the present campus — to Williston Seminary, with the proviso that the school erect at least one new building on the property. Continue reading