Sly, Al

Interviewer: Jean McMillen
Place of Interview: 45 Dhatfield Drive
Date of Interview:
File No: 118A Cycle:
Summary: Hotchkiss 1950-1970, 1955flood Berkshire Hills Music & Dance. Youth concerts, Music Mountain, Congregational Church organist and Choir Master 1970-2015

Interview Audio

Interview Transcript


This is Jean McMillen interviewing Al Sly at his home at 45 Chatfield Drive, Lakeville, Ct. 06039, on June 28, 2011.

JPM:Al, will you give me your whole name.

AS:Albert Coy Sly

JPM:When were you born?

AS:October 6, 1923

JPM:You were born where?

AS:Flushing, New York

JPM:When and why did you come to Lakeville?

AS:I came to Lakeville in Sept. Of 1950, to fill in for a teacher who was going on sabbatical (to India). I was interviewed by the Head master (VanSantvoord) and Chuck DeMaris who was head of the Music Dept. at that point I was hired as a substitute for Malcolm Willis. Anyway I took over the choir and organ and taught piano. At the end of the year Mr. Willis decided that he did not want to be a Hotchkiss any more. So he went off to Yale, and I stayed on.

JPM:We are very glad about that.

AS:Thank you.

JPM:Could you describe what Hotchkiss looked like when you came in the 1950’s?

AS:It was mainly a wooden structure, except for the chapel and the dining hall. There was a long, long corridor that stretched between the chapel and what is now the site of the library. Off of it were various buildings. One was a multipurpose room which was used as a study hall, as a theater, a variety of things. Behind it was the post office and then classrooms on two floors, and dormitory above. In the middle of the long hall were the Headmaster’s Office, and the library, the old library which stretched back, offices and two floors of dormitories. Then you went along and there was a gym, not much of a gym, there was a swimming pool and a snack bar. What had been the dining room was used then for a study hall. Then you went on, on the south side was an auditorium where they showed movies, had assemblies, and we put on plays in there too.

JPM:Who was the Headmaster?

AS:George VanSantvoord

JPM:How many teachers were on the faculty then?

AS:Oh Lord a lot fewer than there are now. I am not sure exactly how many.

JPM:How many students were there?2.


JPM:That’s a lot.

AS:It’s now over 600.

JPM:Oh my. Were you here during the 1955 flood?

AS:I was indeed. Yes, I was giving a cocktail party at the Hotchkiss Boat House. We watched Sucker Brook unload all of its sand into the lake. We didn’t think too much about it, but it was raining quite heavily. At the end of the party I went and had supper with Jim and Paige Hyde. Jim was the Rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church. So I was there and went back to the dorm. The next morning I went in town, and water was everywhere. There was a real river flowing across Route 44 into the Rectory basement (on the far corner of Salmon Kill Road going north on Rt. 44). When I finally went to get into the Rectory itself, the water was up to the kitchen door.

JPM:Have you done any other musical endeavors besides Hotchkiss? Have you played anywhere else?

AS:Oh yeah, I resigned from Hotchkiss in 1970. Almost immediately went to work for the Congregational Church of Salisbury where I have been ever since. It’s 41 years. I had occasion to be part of musical groups. I was on the board of Berkshire Hills Music & Dance, which was formed in 1970 (by Dolores Schooley), and I became President in 1980. We had to disband in 1997 for lack of community support. I served also on the board of Music Mountain, approximately from 1974 – 1987.

JPM:So you have had a variety of musical experiences. How did the Youth concerts come about?

AS:That was 1981. Jo Loi who was a member of the Berkshire Hills board suggested that it might be a good idea to have something for kids. So we arranged to have local teachers, mainly piano teachers, at that point, but anybody who was basically local with a teacher in Connecticut or nearby Massachusetts or New York, could ask one of their students to perform. That was the beginning of it.

JPM:It is still going, is it not?

AS:It is still going. We added vocal students, and ballet, and a jazz band, and all kinds of things over the years.

JPM:You and Liz had a jazz band didn’t you?

AS:Not really, she played the drums; I played the piano. We had fun doing it.

JPM:Did you do parties and…

AS: No, no, not really.

JPM:Just friends. When you first came to live in a house, I know that you didn’t live here first. Where did you live before?3.

AS:Indian Mountain Road, next to Ayremont, not part of Ayremont but next to it. (Cadman Rd.) We bought a brand new house there. It was very nice, but our bedroom was on the second floor and the laundry was in the basement. It became too much for Liz to deal with. She wanted to be on one floor.

JPM:So that’s why you moved here. Do you remember what year you came here?


JPM:Then you are one of the first landowners.

AS:One of them.

JPM:I’m the other one. (Chatfield Hills is one of only two developments in Lakeville; the other is Robin Hill which came first.) Didn’t you used to play at “The Surrey’ in Lime Rock when it was a restaurant?

AS:For one winter, yes. I played maybe every other Friday night, cocktail stuff. I had a lot of fun.

JPM:I’ll bet, and I think you said it was 1956?

AS:Around then.

JPM:Do you have anything else that you would like to add?

AS: I have enjoyed being here. My wife and I both love Lakeville. She was used to prep schools because she lived in Wallingford, Ct. before we married. She was enrolled in Choate School. That’s how I met her, as a matter of fact.

JPM:Oh really?

AS:We had what we called the Five School Concerts at that point which were five boys’ schools: Hotchkiss, Taft, Deerfield, Choate, and Loomis. Every year we would give a joint concert at the Bushnell in Hartford. The conductor of one of the schools would go around; he chose joint music to be sung by all the combined glee clubs. So I went down to Choate to conduct their glee club, interviewing members. I was invited to dinner by their glee club director. He had invited Liz Taber to have dinner with us. She happened to be a babysitter for his family. So that’s how we met.

JPM:That’s a good way to meet. If you have nothing else to add, I will thank you very much for your time.

AS:Not at all.