Friday, October 10, 2008

Who is Dick Gregory? Part 2

Folks, I want to direct your attention to the COMMENTS for the post entitled Who is Dick Gregory? (Link here, then scroll down.)

If you recall, Mr. Gregory is the author of the original spoof "The 12 Days of Christmas," since covered (and expanded) by Straight No Chaser. There's been a really nice response to the blog post on Mr. Gregory from his former students.

Brad Davis '71 writes: "I was the scrawny kid who, at Williston in the late 60's, never managed to make the grade at Caterwauler auditions but attended rehearsals anyway—sitting way back in the shadows—just to hear those dozen guys sing. What a thrill the day the group, with Dick's (I'm guessing) reluctant nod, invited me to sing with them. Looking back, I number those two years as among the very few highlights of my high school experience. Dick's generosity, heart, and straight-shooting probably saved my wee life. Thank you and congratulations, Dick!"

I encourage you to read more. The notes are heartwarming!


Anonymous said...

Quoting from your original blog, Richard Gregory might have said:

"One of the Caterwaulers—the person who was the so-called music leader, the one who blew the pitch pipe—went to Princeton and joined the Nassoons. And he took that song with him. And the Nassoons have been calling it their arrangement ever since. They put it on a phonograph as their arrangement. It was strange for them to learn that I had written it."

As the "so-called music leader" in question, I have to point out that as far as I know, this story about the Princeton Nassoons is not true. The Nassoons very well knew that the arrangement was by Richard C. Gregory, for that is what it said on the sheet music I left with them. Furthermore, the only recording of the song made by the Nassoons, that I am aware of at any rate, was the 1976 LP, two years after I graduated, where the liner notes indicate "The Christmas Song / Arr: Gregory / Solo: Porterfield". Admittedly, that isn't much of an attribution, but it is there in print; then again they even mispelled my name on the same album.

There was at least one other Gregory arrangement included in another Nassoon album. "Lazy Day" appeared on the 1974 LP I directed, attributed to "R.C. Gregory". Also the Princeton Katzenjammers, the mixed ensemble I helped start in 1973, inherited an arrangement by Mr. Gregory, adapted to SATB by me: "Try to Remember," which is still sung upon occasion. So yes, Gregory's music remains alive at Princeton, even though he was a Yale man. I was his student at Williston, and I cherished that connection with the tradition. If his name was stripped from the Christmas Song, it must have happened after my time at Princeton. In fact, I think it is very likely that the piece "went viral" not through
distribution of sheet music, but through recordings. I suspect that partly because I once heard the piece sung by a local campus a-cappella group. They had no idea who arranged it, and in fact they had no sheet music, and never do! They sing by ear, and of course, music travels a lot quicker via recordings than on the page. I think that is how the
Christmas Song took off.

Why it took off is the other question. Of course, part of the reason is that it uses songs everyone knows and loves. But the combination of them is the clever part. What is interesting about this for me, is that good counterpoint remains good counterpoint, and is
recognized as such even today, when music is rarely seen on the page by the people performing or hearing it. But this arrangement started life on the page, worked out in detail by someone who understood what good counterpoint is. Notated music, i.e. the classical tradition, is "not dead yet," to quote Monty Python.

-Peter Urquhart, Williston '70,
Assoc. Prof. of Music, Univ. of New Hampshire

Pitch Perfect said...

Peter, thank you for this. I'll amend the blog entry.

Tony Esposito said...

Just picked up 74 lp with at least 8 signatures any value