JM: May I have your full name please?
LC: Lee Collins.
JM: Where were you born?
LC: Manchester, Connecticut.
JM: Your birthdate?
LC: January 19,1941.
JM: How did you come to this area?
LC: I grew up in the Connecticut River Valley, in East Windsor. After I got my bachelor’s degree in music education, I came back to Connecticut and was offered a job in Bristol, Connecticut. I taught in Bristol for 8 years. Barb also had graduated from Gettysburg College with me and she came to teach in Bristol for 8 years. I wanted to go from a city type school system to a smaller, more rural type system. There was an opening in Region 1 and I got the job and we both moved up here in 1970. I spent 21 years teaching in Kent and Cornwall elementary schools. We bought a house in Lime Rock. We have lived there for the past forty plus years.
JM: How did you get involved in the Salisbury Band?
LC: Well, I was a music teacher, not in Salisbury, as I say, I was in Cornwall and Kent, and they were looking for a director. So, they came after me.
JM: That’s always nice.
LC: Yes, 1 did direct the band for a short time in the early 70’s and then took over as director in 1980 for the next 15 years.
JM: Were there bands in the area before Salisbury Band?
LC: Quite a few of them, actually. The Salisbury Band started in 1928 but it was composed of people who had played in other bands over the years. Quite a few town bands started up after the Civil War. When the guys were mustered out, they took home a lot of equipment, quite legally; the government just gave it to them. Rifles and muskets and musical instruments, and so, in the late 60’s a lot of town bands sprung up throughout the East and the West. Although we don’t have any record of anything that early in Lakeville and Salisbury, when you look at some of the pictures taken around the turn of the century, you can see that some of those instruments were definitely Civil War vintage. They were old, but well-made and well used. The earliest one I’ve seen, pictures of or record of was the Barnum and Richardson Band that was associated with the iron company in Lime Rock. They had a stalwart bunch of guys. One picture there is probably about 20 or so people there. Interesting, a number of them are Mediterranean types with big cigars and mustaches. Probably came from East Canaan from the quarries, or the quarries in Salisbury. Barnum and Richardson shut down in about 1920,1 believe. 1923 is the date is sometimes given for the last operations in Lime Rock. Lakeville Grays began, I don’t know when they began, but probably they overlapped or at the same time. They were a handsome bunch of guys; we have a photo of them in their gray uniforms.
JM: Is that why they were called the Lakeville Gray’s?
LC: I presume so, although there is a famous band called the Washington Grays and I don’t know why they were called the Gray’s. Sometimes the Gray’s came from horses, gray horses were quite distinguished and classy in those days. There were other bands in the area, the Cornwall Coronet band. A friend of mine, who has since passed away, Dorothy Heiniger, who was a Chamberlain, used to remember the Cornwall Coronet band practicing in their kitchen when she was a girl. They would sneak down and listen to them around the corner; they were all men, of course. There was the Canaan Citizen’s Band. There is a photo of them posing on the steps of some building, I don’t know who, but there were probably 14-15 men in that photo of the Canaan Citizen’s Band. It’s interesting to look at the old photos too because you can see the same man, the same player, the same players, I should say, in different groups. You can see them age a little bit. One guy, what’s interesting, he plays trumpet in one band, and he plays drum in the other band. Each time when he’s posed he has always has a cigar sticking out between his index and middle finger. A half smoked cigar, so it’s easy to trace him.
JM: Oh, it would be!
LC: Again, my information about the Salisbury Band comes from Jim DuBois who was one of the first members of the band. He remembers dates pretty well. He thought the Lakeville Grays were disbanded in the ’20’s. He at that time would have been about 16 years old. He played the fife in the Hubert C. William’s fife and drum corps which was a group that lasted a half a dozen years or so. Harry Eggelston, who was a trumpet player and had played in several of these bands, he and a half a dozen guys got together and said well, we ought to have a town band. The Lakeville Grays were gone and they wanted something besides the fife and drum corps, so they got together and formed the Lakeville-Salisbury Band, it was called then, in 1928 and we are still going on today.
JM: Terrific! Tell me a little bit about the instruments that came from the Civil War.
LC: Well, instruments were fairly well developed by that time. Clarinets, flutes, they may have used fifes too. Drums of course, were fairly basic. Brass instruments were still getting developed. The thing about brass instruments is, well, let me put it this way, the instruments you play with all your fingers, the reeds, woodwinds, have got to be reachable and they were fairly set in their configuration although the fingering system has changed a little bit, so clarinet was pretty much a clarinet. Brass instruments, though, because you are only using 3 or 4 of your fingers for valves, they can be made in any configuration and the interesting thing about the Civil War instruments were so many of the big horns faced back over your shoulder, the bells, instead of being out front like they are today. You can look at the pictures, Gardener, Matthew Brady, a lot of photographs. They are marching along, they in the front, of course, so the soldiers can hear the music. The bells face over their shoulder. They are extremely rare today, you hardly ever see them because they were melted down for scrap, I suppose, because when you are playing for an audience, you don’t want the bell over your shoulder. Some of those were fairly crude, but they would last. They lasted and so, I’m sure, some of the instruments that we saw those early photographs of the Barnum and Richardson were Civil War horns.
JM: You said that the band started in 1928, and I believe you said that Harry Eggleston was the first director?
LC: Harry Eggleston was the man who ran the McNeil Insurance Agency. I guess it wasn’t Wagner- McNeil then, but it was McNeil, that’s the way Jim phrased it. He had no real training as a director, but he was, evidently, a fairly imposing man. He was fairly stern and he had a good sense of humor, but you didn’t trifle with him. What he said went,.which is always valuable for a director.
JM: Absolutely! Who were some of the other directors after Mr. Eggelston?
LC: Fairly few. Harry led the band from 1928 to after the war. During the war, the band was probably fairly tenuous. Jim, himself, Jim DuBois himself, served in the Army for a few years. I don’t know what the activity was. After the war, they evidently re-grouped the band, re-organize the band but it was kind of on its last legs and they were simply ready to disband because no one had the energy to keep it going. A new band director came to Housatonic Valley Regional High School and that was Bill Meder. The way Jim described it; they had a dinner over at the Inn in Falls Village. I forget what he called it. The Inn was a going place and that was a place to have a dinner, and they invited Bill Meder, who was the new director, and they kind of put the arm on him, and said “Ok, you can take over the instruments, you can take over the finances, you just please come and direct the band”, and Bill said, “Yes”.
LC: Yes, it was! It was a real boost. So, Bill did it from about the late ’40’s, maybe 1950, somewhere in that area to the late ’60’s, probably about 20 years. As a high school band director, the band really grew; it thrived in those years because he had a lot of kids from the high school. It became a sizeable group.
JM: By sizeable, how many?
LC: He would have had 40 people in there.
JM: How many members do you have now?
LC: Well, it varies. We shortened the name, when I took over as Director in 1980; we shortened it to the Salisbury Band instead of the Lakeville-Salisbury Band. In the early days, there was a lot of competition and pride between the two villages. You were either from Salisbury or Lakeville or Falls Village or Taconic or Amesville. I mean, the local village was your home, and there was no way that they were going to have the Salisbury Band composed of a lot of Lakeville people without having Lakeville in the Band. Today, it’s not as much of an issue, but anyway. What was the question?
JM: I asked you how many members are in the band now.
LC: We are one of the few town bands remaining; one of the very few. There is the Florida Legion band in NY State, there is the Ghent band, and there is none that I know of in Connecticut that is really a town band or in Massachusetts, certainly in our area.
JM: We are unique!
LC: Yes, we are. We also play concerts and parades.
JM: I was going to ask you about offshoots from the Salisbury Band.
LC: The Salisbury Band always played concerts and parades. We still do today. When you have high school kids, you can get a lot of them on the street. When you have a band, and today, we are mostly adults, we have a fewer percentage of those people that want to be on the street. We now will have for a parade, we will have 15 or 18 people, maybe 20 marching in a parade. On the 4th of July, which is probably our biggest concert of the year, we will have close to 40 people. There will be people who come in and play concerts. We purposely have the quality, I shouldn’t say the quality, the difficulty of the music is such that a good musician can come in and maybe come to one rehearsal or even sight read because we have people coming in from Massachusetts and from towns in New York State who are beginning to make this a regular thing. They will come and play with the Salisbury Band. They won’t rehearse with us, but we have a core of people who will carry us and so we have maybe twice as many people for a concert, maybe three times as many as we have on a parade.
JM: What’s the “Quick-Step Hotshots”?
LC: Oh, the “Salisbury Band Senior Quick-Step Hotshots”! We started those in about 1984, maybe, something like that. There were occasions; there still are occasions where we got asked to play for something, not a concert as much as background music. And, so we have a group of musicians, which is fairly fluid, and we play out of a standard book just like a dance bands will. We play for things like the CROP walk at Regional High School, we play for the Salisbury Fall Festival, we have the band wagon from the Rotary Club, we play there. We will play background music that adds festivity. We play for the Maplebrook School for an occasion down there. The music is fast and loud but the players aren’t. We have striped jackets and the straw, the plastic, Styrofoam boaters. We have a lot of fun. We don’t rehearse. Again, we play the same stuff and it works. People like us.
JM: And then there is the Brass and Hot Chocolate Society.
LC: The Salisbury Band Christmas Brass and Hot Chocolate Society. That was started at the request of Barbara Eddy, Art Eddy’s wife who worked for the Lakeville Journal. She wanted to have a carol sing. What’s the old building where they used to be?
JM: Pocketknife Square?
LC: Pocketknife Square, that’s right! She wanted to have a carol sing and she wanted to have some brass instruments. Of course, Bob Estabrook played in the band and so we got together a group of oh, probably about 8 people and we played Christmas carols out in front of that building, the Pocketknife Square, the brick building.
JM: It used to be Holley Manufacturing.
LC: That’s right, Holley Manufacturing. It was cold. I remember the first time it was freezing cold, but we had a good group of people and there was enough light and we had a good time. I remember my daughter, who was playing the French horn; she simply had to go inside the Journal building to let her horn thaw out. The French horn has rotary valves…
JM: I used to play a French horn.
LC: ….and they freeze up fairly easily. She was kind of coming in and out and I thought she wasn’t feeling good or something, but Barb said that her valves were just freezing up. We did that for several years. We then went across the way to the Bianchi’s, to K&E, they had a cafeteria downstairs so we went there and had cookies and hot chocolate afterwards for a couple of years. That’s how it became the Salisbury Band Christmas Brass and Hot Chocolate Society. Then John Harney got wind of this and thought it would be great to have a similar gathering and light up the tree at the White Hart. I think for a couple of years we did both, but then I think we simply stopped doing it. Bob Estabrook was the one that suggested we move the whole thing and not have two things. So, we started playing for the tree lighting at the White Hart. It blossomed to the point so that we were going to Canaan for tree lighting, to Cornwall, Sharon, Litchfield and Morris. When I stopped directing in 1995,1 did not continue and have not kept up with them today, but they are still going to these different tree lightings in which according to their terms have become real festive affairs. John Harney used to invite us inside afterwards for cookies and hot chocolate at the White Hart. Today, it’s turned into Hometown Holidays with light parades, you know they decorate the fire trucks, the Chamber of Commerce is involved.
JM: It’s a big deal.
LC: It’s a big deal. It all started with 10 or a dozen of us standing out by that….and trying to read our music by the light of the Christmas tree. You know, the trouble was we couldn’t start playing our music until they lit the tree, because we couldn’t see the music. They said it would be nice if we played ahead of time, but we said we can’t play until you light that tree.
JM: When did you have rehearsals and where did you have rehearsals? LC: In the old days, the band rehearsed in the town hall. Upstairs, in the old town hall, there was quite a nice, what you call a ball room.
JM: A very large room.
LC: Yes. It had a stage on the end. In fact, the Oblong Valley players put on a couple of plays there. My wife and I were both a part of. So, the band rehearsed there. When it came marching time, we rehearsed in the Salisbury Central Parking lot and then the Salisbury Central School lower building because Jim DuBois was the custodian at Salisbury Central School and he had the keys. We were actually able (this was in the ’70’s) to rehearse there. Then, we went to the Town Hall and rehearsed, and then the Town Hall burned in 1985. Then, we went to the Library, and I say, “We”, I was involved actively in 1980 and we rehearsed upstairs in the Library, in the kids room, in the children’s wing. We had to haul those folding chairs upstairs from the basement and then down every Tuesday night. We rehearsed Tuesday nights. Then, the new wing was built probably about 1990. I don’t know, I can’t say that for sure.
JM: No, it was done in the’70s’.
LC: The new wing? The back wing was.
JM: Yes, because I was packing books for the Library at that time and in the 90’s I was working there as a full time teacher.
LC: Well, why didn’t we rehearse down there? Oh, I’ll bet that back room was taken up with stacks.
JM: It was.
LC: That’s what it was. That’s right, that’s why it was. Okay, because when they moved those stacks out then we were able to rehearse there when it became a community room. We rehearsed on Tuesday nights, and Bob Estabrook was our baritone horn player. I think he was the only baritone player, and one time he respectfully requested that we might consider doing it Monday nights because he had to make up the Lakeville Journal on Tuesday nights and it made a real late evening for him and MaryLou. So, everybody agreed to it, so we rehearsed Monday nights, which, it actually worked out better because the Library is closed on Monday and we weren’t disturbing anybody if we got there early and got set up. Ever since, we have rehearsed in the community room and they have given us a storage room downstairs which is great. It just works out beautifully. We used to haul stuff up and down the stairs at the Town Hall, but all the bass drums and big horns, and all that stuff; it works beautifully at the Library.
JM: Who is the director now?
LC: F^IS c0Hermans. Well, I’ll put it this way. I stopped in’95 and Scott Heth, the head of the Audubon in Sharon, who had a double major in Forestry and Music, is an excellent trumpet player and fine musician. He plays keyboard, he plays all around. He is a fine musician; he led the band, for I think 9 years. And then,f/?T5ciHermans, who is the band director, excuse me, orchestra director, at Shepaug Valley Regional High School, he has led us for the past 6 years. Again, we go with high school band directors.
JM: Do you have anything else that you would like to add to what we have already discussed?
LC: Well, again, we are in, as always, a state of flux. We have seen bands around us fold. We play parades for the Lakeville Hose Company and other fire companies in the summer time. We may be one of two or three bands in the parade. Even in my memory, I remember bands in the ’80’s; there would be huge drum and bugle corps. There were just great big groups of kids. They have folded. They have gone out of business. The Lakeville-Salisbury Band, Salisbury Band I should say, still carries on. The number of marchers is getting less; the number of kids is getting less. We make a big pitch every year to involve young people and they are, if not less and less interested, they have more and more demands on their time. It’s amazing the activities the kids go in the summertime. The activities they have available to them in the summertime. We are continuing to hold our own, and we have to reconcile musically, music that is challenging enough for accomplished musicians, and accessible enough for people who are not as accomplished. This is a lot of double talk.
JM: It’s a fine line.
LC: Saying that you’ve got to please everybody and to make both the players and the public enjoy it.
JM: Thank you very much.
LC: It’s been my pleasure.
Narrator: Jean McMillen
Place of interview:
Date: February 7, 2012
Summary of talk: Lee Collins talks about the HousaTonics.
Date: February 7, 2012
Property of the Oral History Project
Salisbury Association at the Scoville Memorial Library
Salisbury, CT 06068
JM: What are the HousaTonics:
LC: The HousaTonics; well, I can give you the back ground; I can give you the history, the founding and what they began as. The official title is The HousaTonics Barbershop Chorus. Tonics with an “s”. The HousTtonics Barbershop Chorus. They are a men’s chorus of guys who like to sing Barbershop. That’s how we started out. I think today they have branched more into different kinds of music, but still it is a Barbershop format type of music.
JM: When did they begin?
LC: I believe it was 1986. Our church used to have what we called “progressive dinners”.
JM: This is the Congregational Church.
LC: The Congregational Church in Salisbury. We used to have progressive dinners. Those were dinners where it was arranged that anyone in the congregation who wanted to do it; and there would be 80-100 people maybe. It would be arranged that you would go to somebody’s house for hors d’oeuvres and a glass of wine, and then you would go somebody else’s house for the main course; you know, it was a different crowd. Then you went back to the parish hall, the Church parish hall, for dessert. It was very well organized and it was something people looked forward to. We did it every 2 years. There usually was some form of entertainment, there tried to be some form of entertainment at the dessert afterwards. This particular year, Julie Aller said to Al Sly, “Al, why don’t you get together a Barbershop quartet that would be fun to hear”. Well, Al didn’t.
JM: That was not his thing.
LC: At the time I thought, that was not his thing, and I said, “Al, why don’t you let me do it. This is something I’m interested in”. Now, in retrospect, I know that he did extensive arranging of men’s chorus music for at least two different; I think it was Brown University and maybe, I don’t know if this is actually true, but I know that Mark Capecelatro sang with Colgate group and that he may have had some experience with that too. I have seen the arrangements he did for, I believe it was Brown University, and they are fantastic choral arrangements. Anyway, at that time I said “Let me do that”. I’ve sung in a couple of Barbershop quartets that I sang in just informally in high school and had a lot of fun with that. So, what we decided to do was get as many guys as we can. And, so we will rehearse for about 4-5 weeks and, we will use music and, we are going to be done. I have found that over the years that if you tell somebody, “Ok, we are going to do this, it’s going to take a commitment for 4-5 weeks, and then we are done”. I find that it’s easier to get people when you do that, and so we did. We had 18 guys. We had 18 men and we sang probably 4 or 5 songs, and it was a great hit. Everybody loved it, it was fun, and everybody walked away; fine. The following fall, Eleanor Dorset, who was a teacher up in Massachusetts, she retired; I forget how it worked. I think she retired or she was moving, I forget. They lived in Lime Rock. She had had Bud West, who played in the Salisbury Band and sung in The HousaTonics, and since she lived right in Lime Rock; anyway, the upshot was that the Hotshots, the
Salisbury Band Hotshots played at the Grove, and we had the HousaTonics. “Ok, guys, we are going to get together for another 3-4 weeks and we are going to sing for Ella Dorset and then we’re going to be done”. And, so we did, and it was fun. We had a few more people at that time; I think we had 20 people. Then, the next spring something else came up, and I forget what it was. We finally said, “Look, why don’t we keep on singing. We are having a good time, and let’s just keep going”. So, that’s what we did and they have been going ever since. I directed them, I think until 1994. I think ’95 somewhere in there, ’96?
JM: Who took over from you?
LC: Let’s put it this way, there have been a succession of director’s, some of whom have worked out well, others didn’t. But, they have kept on and are still going on under…. At this point, Donald Sosin, directs them when he can. He did direct them for several years; somebody else took over and that didn’t work out, so he is back now with them.
JM: I do know that Christine Gevert did it for a while.
LC: Yes, she did.
JM: And, that was a very different style of music for her, but she enjoyed it.
LC: Yes, indeed. You see the thing is Barbershop music is a particular type of voice arrangement, with a mixed chorus for example, men and women, its SATB. You have sopranos and altos, sopranos, the highest part, often have the melody, Altos, Tenors and Basses have the harmonies. With Barbershop, you have Tenor, Lead, Baritone and Bass. The Tenors are the high harmony part, the second part is the Lead, they have the tune, the Baritones and the Basses, ascending down, and they have the harmony parts. So, with Barbershop music the melody is kind of in the middle, and the Tenors on top have the skyrocket part, they have the parts way up on top. They have pretty much kept that Barbershop format through the different conductors. When you get into men’s Glee Club, for example, and we sang some Glee Club tunes, then it’s first Tenor, second Tenor, first Bass, and second Bass and, the melody is in the high part as it would be with SATB. That’s the way the music is arranged. Barbershop has a particular flavor because of the different arrangement of the voices and where the melody lies. That’s how we began.
JM: Now, I took the names of the various people who were in the early, and I wondered why there were just two Tenors and 10 leads and, now I know why!
LC: Well, you have to have strong leads, and the tenor is a separate animal altogether. Some guys actually sing falsetto and they do quite well at it. Their speaking voice is just as much as anybody else’s, but they have a falsetto that they can sing fairly strongly.
JM: I went to one of the singing suppers at Salisbury School, and we’re talking gentlemen from in their 50’s to almost 100, and did a doo-wop song. They came with the dark glasses and the shirts rolled up, and one of the men, and I don’t know who he was, did a P :> song with a falsetto, and it was wonderful. It blew the audience away. It was just so good. I know it was one of the ones that Christine had directed. The second one I went to, they did songs in chronological order to show the difference of that. I happened to be sitting at a table next to Bob Estabrook, who physically wasn’t able to stand, but he was singing his part, and it was in stereo.
LC: Yes, Bob was one of the first ones. It’s interesting; we started those serenade suppers at the Salisbury Congregational Church because, of course, that’s where I was. John Harney catered it. We had several people who actually did the dinner. It was interesting that during the dinner, of course, the guys were the waiters, we would sing in amongst the tables as we waited on tables. I’d blow the pitch pipe because it’s all done a capp^lla.
JM: Oh, yes!
LC: We would sing and I think that was….and then after the supper, we would go on the stage and do a show in effect; we’d sing. The singing in amongst the people, I think, became the most popular part of the evening. I often thought, you know, we’ve put so much thought and planning into the stage part afterwards when I think what they enjoyed most was the informal, being right in the middle of all the singers. And, it also put the guys on their metal because they were spread out throughout the room; they weren’t necessarily right next to somebody singing their own part. Which is a way that some choruses, in fact, are, some performing choruses are mixed up. They don’t have a section and a section, they mix.
JM: So that you have to be strong in your part.
LC: Related to that, in 1989 we made a tape. In those days, of course, it was tape. We went down to Paul Leka, at that mansion, the old Colgate mansion down in Sharon, and he made it into a recording. He had been a producer of different recordings; I never knew exactly what it was. Anyway, we went down there one Sunday afternoon and made a tape. The whole editing process, which I was involved with, took several goes, but we actually did the taping in one shot. One Sunday afternoon we did everything because I knew that we would never assemble all those guys in the afternoon again. So, that worked well, and there are still a few of those tapes around. We did well, it sounded good. The same year, four of us did “The Music Man” at Sharon Theatre. It wasn’t SCAT, it wasn’t Sharon Creative Arts Foundation at that point, it was Ray something from Pine Plains and his wife, not Robinson, I forget what his name was, and he was the director. It was a community job. They had two, the leads were Actors Equity singers, and they were great.
JM: I think I went to see that.
LC: Marshall Miles was the anvil salesman.
LC: Yes, that’s right.
JM: He did “Shipoppi” and Jeanine Coleman was Mrs. Paroo.
LC: Let’s see, the Barbershop quartet was me singing tenor, Jack Rogers singing the lead, Howard Reid singing baritone and Alan Beaumont singing bass. We did a good job. It was fun. We had thought should we include something on the tape with the four of us and we decided not to, it was going to be the group effort; the chorus. A couple of years later I was in a Barbershop quartet at the Mahaiwe Theatre in Great Barrington with a group that did “The Music Man”. That would have been in the early ’90’s. No, it would have been later than that, because it was after I was with the HousTtonics. It was afterwards, I was not with the HousaTonics then. What I’m around to, getting back to is the singing informally business, this is just a steam of consciousness here. We put it on in the Mahaiwe Theatre with the lady from Berkshire School, I forget her name, she directed. And, it was good. We rehearsed at The Berkshire School, and then we put it on actually at the Mahaiwe. We were good, it went off very well. We wore in both productions the red and white striped jackets and the boaters from the Hotshots. They were Hotshot jackets. But, at the production at the Mahaiwe Theatre, after the last curtain call and everybody was congratulating themselves and clapping and shaking hands and hugging each other, we went out the back door, and we came down the alley beside the Mahaiwe, and as people came out, we came around in front and sang at the front, kind of a reprise. I can remember we can, I forget who did it, we would take a woman and sit her on one of our guys knees and sing “It’s you in the sunshine, it’s you in my cup”. You know, that was a hit, they would just love that. The idea of just getting off the stage and singing in front, again, was one of the real fun and one of the successful parts of that.
JM: Did you ever do competitions like the Sweet Adeline’s?
LC: No, we never did. We were not members of, and they don’t like to say this, it was the SPEBSA. It’s like the fraternity people don’t like to be called “frat”. You don’t say “frat”.
JM: Oh, yes.
LC: SPEBSA, is the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Singing in America. You can become affiliated with them, you can get music from them, and you can do all kinds of things. We never went that route; we never did affiliate with them. I am not really a competitive kind of guy.
JM: Do you find that there is still the interest in getting new members because the group is still going.
LC: The group is still going, it is reduced in size. At most, we had 42 guys.
JM: That’s a big group.
LC: That’s a big group. I don’t know how many there are now, probably between 15-20.
JM: Yes, I think that’s about right.
LC: Yes, the older men are the ones interested in that kind of singing. You don’t attract too many young people because they just aren’t interested really in that kind of music. Because it’s a fairly stylized format, if you stick with that, it’s going to sound like Barbershop, no matter what kind of music you sing, it’s going to sound like Barbershop. But, that’s ok, it’s all good. We find that with the Town Band we have fewer young people, fewer kids joining because they are not as familiar with that type of music and they aren’t attracted to it as much. Older people, who have been through different kinds of music, and their taste has matured and they say, “Ok, this is what I like to do.” Same with guys, you get people, put it this way, there were people who came to rehearsals and found that they just like to sing, and they’d like to have a sing-along.
JM: That’s different.
LC: Yeah, that’s different. And that was no big deal, ok, this is not what they were looking for and they stopped coming, and that’s ok. I think the appeal is to somebody who likes to sing and who wants to sing better.
JM: Now, when did you have rehearsals?
LC: We rehearsed on Thursday nights.
LC: At the Congregational Church parish hall because we had choir Wednesday night and we had HousaTonics Thursday night. I can remember we got together because we didn’t have a name. We didn’t have a name for it. So, we had a spaghetti dinner at our house. I don’t remember just why we had it out house, it was going to work better or something, I don’t know. I can remember we took big pieces of paper, and we wrote down all the different names. You know, freezer paper on the walls, and we wrote down different names. Everybody could suggest as many names as you want to. We walked around and I think you put down 3-4 names on a paper and we went through, (This is the way my family and I picked a name fora dog.) You put down 4 names and the higher the score, and it could have been everybody’s second choice, but that’s the way it worked), and it satisfied everybody. And, it came out to the HousaTonics with a capital “T”. And, that’s the way we selected the name.
JM: And, that’s clever because of the river and the tonics, gin and…..
LC: Yes, right! What else? We had a lot of fun.
JM: It sounds it.
LC: We had an Irish night. We had Irish songs, and we did that for several years.
LC: Around March 17. We had, in fact I may still have the kazoos. No, Barb used the kazoos at Kellogg school when she was teaching music. McNamara’s band, you pulled the kazoos out of your pocket, and Al Thurgesen, this big booming base. You knew him?
JM: Oh, I worked with him!
LC: Yes, he had this great base voice, and he sang the second, “My name Uncle Julius and from Sweden I have come to play in McNamara’s band and beat the big bass drum”. He sang that as a solo.
JM: Oh, that would be marvelous.
LC: Yeah, that was cool. Kent Kay sang “Danny Boy; bring tears to your eyes. We did that several times and that was a big hit. We also did combinations with the NorWesTones. NorWesTones is a group in Torrington that went on for years. They started before us. They were directed by Neil… I forget his name, a guy who had been a music teacher in Torrington. They were good. They were a lot more oriented towards the Barbershop Society. They were members of it, they were strictly Barbershop, and they were good. They were older than we were actually. They were lessening in membership. We did a show at the high school; we combined with them for a show at the high school.
JM: Yes, I saw that.
LC: And, we went to the Warner Theatre, and we did one of their shows at the Warner Theatre. That was at a time when it was the thing to do. Up until a couple of years ago, the Barbershop chorus in Waterbury put on an annual big show like that. I don’t know if they exist anymore. The NorWesTones don’t exist anymore. There are still big choruses in bigger cities. I think in Manchester, the Silk City group is still going. 1 think the one in Hartford is still one going. You can see on YouTube, you can see these huge choruses in the Mid-West, you know a chorus of 100 guys which are just fantastic. That’s where the music traditions, particularly bands and Barbershop, are Mid-West.
JM: Yes, they have moved from the East coast to the Mid-West.
LC: Yes. The huge marching bands out there and big choruses. You know, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir wouldn’t happen in New England or California. It would be in the Mid-West. So, that’s where Barbershop still thrives for the most part. They still have the competitions for the quartets and for the big mass choruses. And for the women, what do they call them? They used to call The Sweet Adeline’s.
JM: They still are.
LC: But, it’s different, it’s Harmony International or something like that.
JM: I have a friend from college who sings in the Sweet Adeline’s, and they do competitions. That’s why I asked you about that.
LC: There was a chorus in; I think it was Waterbury, a woman’s chorus. They were good. There were two ladies when I taught at Kent Center, there were two ladies that were on the faculty that sang with them. Or, was it Torrington? I think it was Waterbury. Anyway, it was a fun time. We had a lot of guys who really enjoyed singing. Remember Ray Haungs?
LC: He was an aide, I think.
JM: Yes, he was.
LC: An aide in kindergarten or something. He was a character. He lived in Lime Rock, and he called himself a “tin-knocker”. He was a tinsmith. He made that beautiful copper hood over the Salisbury Church kitchen stove which is worth a lot more today than it was then. We had our uniform. The uniform that we supplied was the tie. We had a red tie with blue with red and white stripes which was very tasteful. In fact, you really had to look close to see that it was red and white, but it was very nice. We ordered 4 dozen or something like that, and the guys had to supply their gray slacks and a blue blazer. They still do that. Well, I had some of the older guys who couldn’t really tie a tie very well. I mean we’re talking guys who were old. In fact, when Evan Rashkoff, the surgeon at Sharon Hospital, came to town, he saved the HousaTonics in some respect. Because, I’m looking at the HousaTonics and I’m thinking how many hips and knees have been put in by Evan. Really! You know, these guys (If it hadn’t been Evan it would have been somebody else), but, these guys would be in wheelchairs. Anyway, we had some old guys. Ray Haungs, for example, was somebody who couldn’t tie a tie. And, Jim DuBois, well he had trouble with it.
JM: Yes, his hands didn’t work.
LC: No problem. They came up to me privately when we got these ties and said, “I can’t tie a tie”. I said, “Don’t worry. We’ll have some guy tie it”. So, anyway, we get to a performance and Ray Haungs comes in with this tie. He’s all dressed, you know, but he’s got this tie. He says, “I can’t tie it, can you tell me how to do it”? Al Thurgesen said, “OK, Ray. I can do it. Lie down”. Ray says, “Why do I lie down”? “Well”, Al says, “I used to work for an undertaker and this is the only way I can tie a tie”. Well, Ray started to lie down and Al says “No, no, Ray, I was just kidding”!
JM: I can see him doing that with the straightest face!
LC: I’m just thinking about those days. It really is almost criminal how good guys can sound after a couple of rehearsals. When you have a mixed chorus you don’t the natural blend of voices. You have to work to get a blend with the two different timbres of voices, but with men and you get them together and if they know that part…
JM: It comes out strong.
LC: It was at that first progressive dinner. I was blown away by how good we sang after a couple of rehearsals. I thought, my gosh, you guys really sound good and, the guys knew it.
JM: And, that’s important.
LC: Now, at that first performance we sang from books. Well, when we sang the next one, I said, “OK now guys, we’ve got to do this right, we’ve got to memorize it”. “Oh, I can’t do it”.
JM: Sure, they could.
LC: These tape recorders, we had 4 of them, and we sat around Alan Beaumont? dining room table. Each of us had a mic in front of them. I would blow the pitch pipe and we would sing a song, and what we did was to make practice tapes. I think it was the four of us in the Barbershop quartet in “The Music Man”. If you were a baritone, we made 8 tapes, and you took that one, and that was Harold Reid singing it.
JM: You practiced.
LC: You practiced that. I had the tenor and Jack Rogers had the lead and Alan Beaumont had the bass. You heard everybody, but you could hear your own part. That was a big boofty That was a great thing to do. That’s where these tape recorders came from. And, they are still working.
JM: It still is. Is there anything else you would like to add?
LC: I’m sure I will think of something a half hour from now, but, no; I think I’ve given a good picture.