I received a fascinating e-mail this morning from Eric Seidman, a 1984 alum of the Colgate 13 and the president of the Colgate 13 Alumni Assocation. It's a story that involves a cappella, football and a "borrowed" arrangement of "The 12 Days of Christmas." Read on!
Seidman writes: "In the fall of 1979, during the annual touch football game between the Nassoons and The Colgate 13 played the morning before the Princeton/Colgate Varsity Football game, one of the Thirteen's non-playing members entered the Nassoons' music room and borrowed a copy of 'The 12 Days of Christmas' or, as we knew it, 'The Christmas Song.' He went to the library, copied the music and returned the original to the Nassoons's filing cabinet so no one would know. The Colgate 13 sang that arrangement for many, many years delighting audiences around the country. While the SNC video on YouTube must be the most watched version, I would argue it is far from the most interesting."
Seidman continues: " In June of 1981, the Colgate 13 performed 'The Christmas Song' during its annual Graduation Concert. The group asked the father of one of the 13's graduating seniors (a baritone, by the way) to join the group on stage to guest conduct 'The Christmas Song.' Since the group almost always asked a guest conductor to join them for 'The Christmas Song' this wasn't unusual (the ever-changing lyrics of multiple Christmas songs with varying tempos and styles made for some very funny antics with a conductor willing to go along for the ride). However, this was no high school principal, father of the bride or college professor. No, this was, some might say, THE conductor of his generation because that baritone's father was Zubin Mehta."
Yes, Zubin Mehta, a legend, and a man who, at the time, was the music director of the New York Philharmonic. Fascinating story, indeed.
Further reading: On June 1, 1981, the New York Times printed a short piece entitled "Busy Weekend for Zubin Mehta and Son at Colgate."
That story reads: "It was Christmas in May, as well as commencement weekend for Zubin Mehta and his son, Merwan, at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y. With 14 members of the Mehta family in town for the event, the conductor received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree yesterday at outdoor ceremonies beside Taylor Lake on the Colgate campus. The senior Mr. Mehta's adaptability was put to the test Saturday evening when he was guest conductor for a concert by his son and other members of the Colgate Thirteen, the university's traditional men's vocal troupe. The piece de resistance turned out to be 'Christmas Song,' a diverse, quick-changing medley of holiday classics that is one of the Thirteen's year-round performance favorites."