Corrections or additions?
This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the May 29, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Musical Reunion for an Exceptional Class
A fortnight before Princeton’s Reunions Weekend, a
contingent of 758 persons associated with the Class of 1952 was registered
for the event, the largest group ever to attend a 50th reunion. The
band draws from three generations — alumni and their spouses,
children and spouses, and grandchildren. They will renew informal
connections while they share a set of pre-planned events. Just think:
In Iceland an urban community is defined as one with a population
greater than 250.
The highlights of the program that attracts the Class of ’52 cohort
to Princeton include mind-stretching forums, tours of the Princeton
University Art Museum, an architecturally-oriented walking trip, golf,
tennis, rowing, fireworks, and the famous P-rade of every class wending
its way through the campus on Saturday, June 1.
Most remarkably, the program includes a full-length concert program
in Richardson Auditorium on Friday, May 31, at 2:30 p.m. In a telephone
interview from his Westchester home, concert organizer George Newlin
says that he knows of no similar reunion concert where the class members
were also the performers. Though he made his career in law and finance,
he has found music an irresistible lure since childhood.
The deftly-arranged concert has multiple meanings. Most obviously,
it is an agreeable way to spend an afternoon — at least to any
members of the Class of 1952 who choose to attend the concert rather
than the architecture tour, the museum tour, or the golf tournament,
all taking place that afternoon. In addition, it is a tribute to history,
honoring professors emeriti Milton Babbitt, 86, and Edward Cone, 85,
who were present at the creation of the Princeton music department;
their compositions are part of the program. Looking forward, the event
brings young members of the Class of ’02 into the tent of the Class
of ’52; soprano Monica Millan and pianists Efstratios Minakakis and
Aaron Jackson perform Babbitt and Cone’s pieces.
Focusing on the occasion for the concert, members of the 50th reunion
Class of ’52, Wells Huff, baritone, and Newlin, a pianist, join the
musicmaking. (Cone himself accompanies Huff in his "Dover Beach."
Newlin plays Schubert’s Impromptu Op. 90 No. 3 and Brahms’ Variations
and Fugue on a Theme by Handel.) Exerting an emotional pull, the concert
is a memorial to Robert Miller and Stebbin (Steb) Tooker, both members
of the class who died when they were 50. It may not be pushing things
to consider the event a metaphor for life, touching on the living
and the dead, the old and the young, the new and the familiar.
Newlin’s tribute to Miller and Tooker comes from his personal experience
of loss. "There were six or seven music majors in our class and
the three of us were pianists," he says. "Princeton had no
practical music presence when we were undergraduates and all three
of us studied with Mathilde McKinney, a local piano teacher. At the
end of our freshman year we gave a joint concert together. Two of
the three of us have died. Miller died of cancer at 50. Tooker died
at the same age from multiple sclerosis, which attacked him soon after
"Cone and Babbitt were on the faculty when we were there,"
he says. "They taught all three of us. They’re both alive and
had birthdays in May so we’ll sing `Happy Birthday.’" Cone was
Newlin’s thesis adviser.
Newlin’s contribution to the May 31 program is a well-founded choice.
"The Schubert Impromptu has an elegiac quality," he says.
"I played it in memory of Howard M. Fish, a lacrosse star in our
class who died of heart problems, and the piece is very much associated
in my mind with a memorial service." In the complex composition
a slow-moving melody floats above a constantly moving pattern.
"I chose the Brahms to honor the occasion with Cone and Babbitt,"
he says. "I wanted to play a piece that was pure music, that had
the essence of music." The Brahms "Variations on a Theme by
Handel" consists of 25 recastings of the basic theme, each one
of them fresh and unexpected. The piece ends with a fugue occupying
almost a third of the 23-page score. "The fugue is an absolute
monster," Newlin says. He says he plays the entire piece by memory
and hits all the notes. The notoriously difficult chords are too dense
for small hands to reach everything that Brahms wrote.
Newlin grew up in Scarsdale, New York, where his maternal
grandfather was a co-owner of the New York Telephone Company and a
commissioner of the Bronx River Parkway. His father was a tax lawyer
at White & Case in Manhattan, and was not musical. "The family
mystique is that I got my music from my father’s father, a Kentucky
church organist who was self-taught." He started piano at six.
"I did my first piano work sitting on my mother’s lap," he
remembers. "She guided my hands. She started piano study at about
the same time I did. Pretty quickly I was playing works that she could
never play. But it wasn’t competitive."
In addition to his piano accomplishments, Newlin developed considerable
skill as a singer before he entered college. His first vocal teacher
was Hugh Ross, organist in his Scarsdale church, who became renowned
as a choral conductor. "I was a boy soprano and a soloist,"
Newlin says. "When my voice changed Ross took me on."
"I chose Princeton because I wanted to be in the Triangle Club,"
he says. Freshman year, as a pianist for the Triangle show "All
in Favor," he played portions of Beethoven’s "Emperor Concerto."
Junior year he danced the Charleston and sang a solo in Triangle’s
"Too Hot for Toddy."
Newlin stopped his piano study after his freshman year, but stayed
alive musically by singing. He studied privately and was a soloist
in the Princeton Glee Club for four years. His vocal recital senior
year consisted of songs and excerpts from opera.
At Yale Law School Newlin continued to sing. He produced and starred
in full Gilbert and Sullivan productions. He also "inherited,"
as he puts it, a singing group, the Oversextet, from the Yale choir
director. Between his second and third years at law school, he studied
voice and piano at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria. "I had
my head turned," he says. He retired from the Oversextet, finished
law school, took the bar, and went to Vienna to study singing.
Newlin’s Austrian vocal career never took off and just before he turned
26 he returned to the United States to do his army service. "After
that I never considered a professional musical career any more,"
he says. "I could never let the music go, and it never let me
go, but I never thought I was a world class talent." Newlin continued
with voice and piano lessons as he shaped his career in law and finance.
In 1988, during a slack period in his musicmaking, Newlin initiated
a literary enterprise called "Windows into Fiction." He calls
the undertaking "a new kind of literary anthology, a `CIA,’ Concordance,
Index, Anthology." The unusual feature of his project lies in
the concordance being arranged by topics, rather than individual words.
By 1996 four substantial volumes — over 4,000 pages and 2 million
words — dealing with all Charles Dickens’ works had appeared.
A second multi-volume series, devoted to Anthony Trollope, is slated
for publication in 2002. Newlin envisages similar treatments of the
works of George Eliot and William Makepeace Thackeray and, as a culmination,
a conflation of all four investigations. Acknowledging that his literary
undertakings are not going to make any best seller lists, he says
that they are "labors of love, made possible by a modicum of success
in my venture capital work."
Newlin does his research completely on his own. No research assistants
for him. "It’s the only way to do it," he says. He knows his
material so thoroughly that he is expert even on the matters that
his subjects failed to treat. "I may be the only person on the
planet that can definitively say what Dickens didn’t say," he
Newlin celebrated his 70th birthday on February 14 last year with
a full-scale piano program for an invited audience of 260 at New York’s
Century Club (185 of them stayed for dinner.) "It was one of the
happiest moments in my life," he says. Married and divorced, he
has three children and six grandchildren.
We can expect that Newlin will trade anecdotes with
many of his 619 living classmates when they gather for their 50th
reunion. Though the breadth of his interests might seem unusual, he
is one among many, as the Class of 1952 is generally recognized to
be an extraordinary class.
Asked to characterize his graduating class Newlin refers to remarks
made about a year ago by Tom Wright, secretary of Princeton’s board
of trustees. Astrophysicists, said Wright, tell us that matter is
not distributed evenly in the universe, but aggregates in certain
regions. Using the universe as a model, Wright saw the Class of ’52,
with its unique skills and leadership, as an exceptional aggregate.
Newlin names a few ways in which his class is outstanding. As undergraduates
the class helped overthrow the discriminatory club system at Princeton.
Over 600 of his peers in the class of 838 signed a petition vowing
not to join clubs unless the entire class received invitations. "It
was a blow for democracy, and broke the way to co-education,"
Twelve members of the Class of ’52 have been trustees of Princeton.
They include such diverse luminaries as Richard J. Riordan, the former
mayor of Los Angeles; college football star and Heisman Trophy winner
Dick Kazmaier; Washington journalist Don Oberdorfer; and Broadway
producer — and McCarter Theater benefactor — Roger S. Berlind.
The Class of ’52 set a record, also, in giving to Princeton. As of
the end of April their contributions during this half-century year
totaled over $4.5 million. Previously they had funded the Class of
’52 lacrosse stadium.
Suitably, the class of ’52 includes a concert in their celebrations
this year. What could be more appropriate than an exceptional reunion
format for an exceptional class?
— Elaine Strauss
Class of ’52 reunions concert. Music department chair Scott Burnham
is host. Officially open only to the Class of 1952. Call 609-258-3000.
Friday, May 31, 2:30 p.m.
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