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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

graduation.

"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

notes.

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,"

he says.

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

Concert Celebration, Richardson Auditorium, 609-258-3000.

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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