Frostiana: A Legacy at Williston

Manuscripts are important. Manuscripts are valuable. From Shakespeare’s Folios to The Gutenberg Bible, there is nothing quite like the first printing, or an author’s manuscript copy. These originals give scholars and researchers further insight into an author or artist’s intent, among other benefits. Manuscripts are important.

Randall Thompson’s “Frostiana” was premiered at Amherst Regional High School in 1959. I gave a background on the piece’s history in my previous blog, and if you do not know the history of this piece and it’s relation to the Pioneer Valley, I invite you to check it out. Conductors usually have a lengthy bucket list of pieces they want to conduct in their life time, and the sad part is, there’s so much music that we may never finish crossing off our list of pieces. All seven movements of “Frostiana” have long been on my personal bucket list. Last summer when I was deciding on the choruses’ repertoire for the year, I realized that there was no better time to study and conduct these pieces than while I was living right here in the Valley! I hoped that, being in such a prime location, perhaps there could be some other connections that might arise with the piece and the area’s history.

Little did I know what I would stumble upon!

At lunch one day in the Birch Dining Commons, I was having a conversation with Williston’s Archivist and Librarian, Rick Teller. I mentioned to Rick that we were working on Frostiana, and would be performing it in its entirety with orchestra in May. Richard Gregory, long time conductr of the Caterwaulers would frequently program the two men’s chorus movements, as well as performed on their European Tour in 1968. Also in our conversation,  Rick casually let slip that his father also had sung in the premier of the piece.

As in, the first time it was ever performed, in Amherst, in 1959.

This, of course, got me asking questions about his knowledge of the piece and its history. At the end of our discussion, Rick mentioned that he still had his father’s score that he used in the premier performance. Not only that, but it was signed by the composer, Randall Thompson, and the Amherst poet, himself, Robert Frost. I eagerly requested if he could find it and bring it into our classes to share with our students this extremely exciting score.

Frostiana Score 1 Frostiana Score 2 Frostiana Score 3

Henry Teller’s score is a copy of Randall Thompson’s manuscript, and has markings and scribbles that Teller (whom Teller Chorus is named after) wrote into the score during rehearsals. In the score, you can find wrong notes, misspelled words–all the common errors that pop up in a first draft. As a conductor, it is thrilling to compare this first score with my current modern day score. This is why manuscripts are so important!

The Williston Northampton School enjoys a rich history here in this valley. I had no idea something as cool as Henry Teller’s premier performance score would become available to our students and myself when I selected to do this piece, but I am all the more thankful I decided to program it more so now than I had been before.

I hope you will join us on Tuesday, May 19 at 7:30 p.m. In the Phillips Stevens Chapel on campus as we continue Frostiana’s legacy here at Williston Northampton.

Archivist Rick Teller shows The Widdigers Female Concert Choir his father's score used at the premier of "Frostiana".
Archivist Rick Teller shows The Widdigers Female Concert Choir his father’s score used at the premier of “Frostiana”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *