Tuesday, May 7, 2013


        If this part of the Princeton Nassoons’ history is ever to be told, I realize that I’m the one who will have to tell it, as there are only two other living  members of the original twelve post-WWII Nassoons. I have spoken with my two fellow surviving ‘Soons, Jack Taylor ‘45 and Jack Pemberton ‘49, and while neither of them recalls too many details of that first year (1946-47), they do recall our having to face a major decision early that fall.
        We were proud of the fact that several of our members also had been or were currently in the Princeton Glee Club, including two stellar first tenors, Jack Pemberton and Steve Kurtz, who was President of the Glee Club that year. It was a tacit assumption that we would resume our affiliation with the Glee Club, and perform as a special added attraction at their concerts at home and on the road. This, of course, would work out well for those who were also in the Glee Club. We were already lined up to make our public debut at their joint concert with the Dartmouth Glee Club on November 22.
        We had hardly begun practicing, however, when we were invited to become the featured singing group in the Triangle Club’s first post-WWII production, “Clear the Track!” Having been involved in conversations with some good friends who were producing what sounded like a very exciting musical, with a great story-line and some wonderful songs, our Music Director Don Finnie and I were all for accepting the invitation, hoping our fellow Nassoons would agree. We realized, of course, that it would be a particularly tough decision for our Glee Club members, especially for Steve Kurtz, given his responsibilities with the Glee Club.
        So we faced a really tough choice between the Glee Club and the Triangle Show. There were strong feelings on both sides, and our newly organized singing group, which had gelled so nicely, was in danger of becoming divided over the issue. At the request of Steve Kurtz President Og Tanner called an “emergency” meeting to decide what to do. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be at that meeting, and I was most distressed when I was informed that the group had decided to go with the Glee Club.

        As Business Manager I felt there were important advantages to our joining the Triangle Club, but apparently no one had made the case sufficiently to persuade the entire group. While they recognized the opportunity presented by the Triangle Club, they were reluctant to sever ties with the Glee Club, especially after an impassioned plea by Steve Kurtz. Preparing for “Clear the Track” would demand extra rehearsal time and our availability to go on tour during the winter break. That would conflict with the Glee Club’s schedule. For those in the Glee Club, it was an either/or choice. There was no way they could do both. Steve ended his plea by telling the group he would have to drop out of the Nassoons, if we went with the Triangle show. That was the clincher.
        It was predictable which way the group would go. No one wanted to lose Steve or any of the other Glee Clubbers in our group, so they voted, a few somewhat reluctantly but unanimously, to go with the Glee Club. I pleaded with Og Tanner to call another special meeting and give me a chance to be heard. As Business Manager, I felt I deserved that opportunity, and Og agreed, though he warned me that the group had already made up its mind.
        Remembering how difficult it is to make a case in an open discussion, when everyone is interrupting and continually diverting the train of thought, I decided to write out my presentation. When you’re reading something, people usually are courteous enough to let you finish. That proved to be the case, as I presented all the reasons for our going with the Triangle Club. I wish I still had that hand-written speech, but I have no idea where it is. It could be somewhere in whatever files have been saved from that first year.  
        Be that as it may, I can remember the gist of my presentation. Everyone knew why I couldn’t attend the first meeting, and I began by thanking them for the opportunity to present my case and expressing my regret that Steve Kurtz, for a similar reason coincidentally, could not make this meeting. I acknowledged the difficulty of the choice with which they were faced and expressed my appreciation for their sensitivity to the conflicting obligations imposed upon Steve and the other Nassoon Glee Clubbers. I acknowledged the traditional relationship we had with the Glee Club and the enjoyment that the Nassoons had derived from that relationship.
        Then I proceeded to make the case for being in the Triangle show. The featured billing and the broad public exposure on tour would be tremendous assets in establishing ourselves as a separate and legitimate entity on campus. I and others had been working hard to obtain a charter from the University. I argued that going with the Glee Club was a step backward from becoming an independent organization. Before they were the Nassoons the original group had been a Glee Club octet. Such a relationship was quite different from being the featured singing group in a Triangle show.*
        I also appealed to their sense of obligation to those original Nassoons, who had selected us to carry on the tradition they had started, as the first close harmony, men’s a cappella singing group on campus. They had hoped we would be able to establish the Nassoons as a chartered organization. I acknowledged again the difficulty of their choice, but appealed to the Glee Clubbers to consider their relative value to the two organizations. The loss of three or four members would be much more devastating to the Nassoons than to the Glee Club. It would be hard enough to lose Steve, let alone anyone else.
        I didn’t have to tell them how much fun it would be to go on tour with the Triangle show. We had heard about the fabulous parties in the different cities —as one Triangle show veteran put it, "ten days of wine, women, and song!" I was appealing rather to their higher instincts! I urged them to rescind their previous decision and vote again. When I had finished speaking the group was quiet. I didn’t know what to think. Then someone broke the silence with words to this effect: “This puts a whole new light on the subject. I think we should rethink our decision.” Og Tanner, who ran our business meetings informally, invited comments.
       After some discussion someone said, “I think we should go with the Triangle show.”  Og said,”How do the rest of you feel?”  Everyone one agreed. They had done a complete turn around, and it was unanimous! There were eleven of us present. Only Steve Kurtz was missing. Someone asked, “Who’s gonna tell Steve?”
       “That’s my job,” responded Og immediately, “but I think you all should speak with him, when you get a chance, especially those of you in the Glee Club.”
        In my recent telephone conversation with Jack Pemberton he remembered having resigned from the Glee Club. Jack Taylor, though he had supported the decision to go with the Triangle show, recalled that he was under some pressure academically and felt that he could not afford the time to go on tour with the Triangle show. He dropped out at the last moment.
       So we had lost a second bass soloist and a star tenor, but there would be ten Nassoons singing in the Triangle show, and the remaining voices were distributed evenly enough to get the blend we needed. Steve Kurtz was very gracious about our decision, and he and I had a chance to rehash the whole process together. Steve bore me no hard feelings for having persuaded the group to reverse their previous decision, and I certainly understood why he had to remain with the Glee Club of which he had been elected President. One especially good thing that came out of our conversation was his promise to return to the Nassoons after our winter tour.
        So now the way was clear for “Clear the Track!” Everyone was thrilled with the songs we would be singing and the part we would be playing in what we were sure would be one of most popular Triangle shows ever.
        I’ll share the reasons why, as I continue the story in my next post.

*   It should be noted, amazingly , that one of our most helpful allies in that effort was Assoc. Music Prof. J. Merrill Knapp, who happened to be Director of the Glee Club! A member of the Yale Whiffenpoofs in his undergraduate days, Prof. Knapp had helped the original Glee Club octet get started, and he had a special place in his heart for the Nassoons. As I remember, he was also a member of the University's committee responsible for granting charters to non-athletic organizations on campus.      

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