Richard Vreeland Interview
This is File #6, cycle 4. This is Jean McMillen. Today’s date is Dec. 4, 2018. I am interviewing Dick Vreeland who is going talk about his career in singing with the Kent Congregational Church, the Kent Singers, Crescendo, the Lakeville Methodist church and the Housatonics and anything else he wants to talk about. But first we’ll start with the hard stuff.
JM:What is your name?
DV:My name is Dick Vreeland
JM:You said that you were born in Ithaca, NY. How did you come to Kent?
DV:We can blame all that on my father. When I was born, he was interning or doing a residency in veterinary medicine in Cornell where he got his degree. Lo and behold this was after he and my mother came back from California, having eloped to Elton, Maryland and being disowned by both families. They ran to my great uncle’s ranch in Pasarolls, California: I carry his name because of that. They came back and after his stint in the Marine Corps in World War II. Then he had to finish his high school because he left The Gunnery to go to fight in the Marine Corps. After finishing high school he went to Cornell on the GI Bill which he claimed was the smartest thing that the United States Congress ever did. Lo and behold I came along and was born in Thompkins County Hospital in Ithaca, NY. After he finished his residency, he wanted to go where it was rustic to we moved to Coos Bay, Oregon. I can remember looking at the stars through the windshield in the car. We drove and drove and drove. Oregon has very few sunny days and my mother being that way she is said that she was not living here anymore. So we came back. He knew the Housatonic River Valley very well because he was an avid fisherman, but he also had been up on Mt. Riga. A lot of Vreelands had been up on Mt. Riga from time to time. He followed the Housatonic River all the way down to almost New Milford on day from Cornwall. He loved it. We are talking back in the late 1940’s when he did that. He decided that he was going to settle in Kent. That is how I got to Kent from Ithaca. They bought a house and started the practice.
JM:Did he deal in small animals?
DV:He dealt with anything that came in the door. He was pretty well known as a very good large animal diagnostician. He did a lot of cattle at first because there then were a lot of dairy farms. I can remember there were 4 different dairy farms on the way to Kent and we were only 4 miles away. His love was really horses. I can remember him being very enamored with the foals in the spring. He got himself a pretty good name as a horse veterinarian later on in his practice. That was Kent. I did not start singing with the Kent Singers down there then. My singing down there was done in the Kent Congregational Church in the Junior Choir. I had friends through grammar school. I remember Gilbert Case was one of my school mates. Gilbert and I had young soprano voices and we could sing higher than any of the adult sopranos. It was great, but those days are gone. But it was great at the time. Then I never sang again for about 25 years. I came up here (Lakeville) after coming back from Massachusetts where I worked for 4 years. Susan, my wife, (See Tape 131A, Susan Gomez Vreeland) whom I had known even as a younger person because she had formerly been married to Mike Redmond whose brother
Patrick I went to school with. Once we got together, I know it was at an ambulance dance. History was written then and there. We got married not even a year after that. So I have been in Lakeville for the last 33-34 years. During that time Susan, my wife, was also rapidly becoming the church lady at the Lakeville United Methodist Church. She thought it would be a wonderful idea if I sang in the choir. But I had not done any singing in a long time. I did then at that point we got a new young pastor Herb Miller (1986-1990 ED.) Dick Widler was our organist. He said, “Let’s go sing with the Kent Singers and join them.” That was back to my home town of Kent. Yes, that sounds like it might be interesting. We went down there for about 3 years. The three of us went down there on rehearsal nights. It was a boys’ night out. We had dinner, usually a pizza or something, and then we would go to rehearsal for two hours. It was John Laflore who started it. He was glad to have us. We had some good times doing the Kent singers.
JM:What kind of singing did the Kent singers do?
DV:The Kent singers were primarily classical singers. They would do from time to time some secular work, especially around Christmas time. For the most part it was definitely classical choral. Nothing too grandiose, no double choir or anything like that because there just were not the numbers. We did motets and things along those lines we used to do. We tried to do madrigals.
JM:How long were you with the Kent Singers?
DV:I remember because I was always singing when sue was taking the kids to the Christmas Tree Lightings: that was always a concert evening. It was probably 12 or 14 years I was with the Kent Singers. Then along came Christine Gevert (See tape 137A, Christine Gevert). I imagine that was close to 16 years ago. This is our 15th anniversary of Crescendo. She started Crescendo. For the first years I didn’t do it, but the second year, again I have to give Susan credit, she said, “Why don’t you sing with them instead of going down to Kent?” “Maybe I could do both.” That idea was not well received! I went and auditioned for them and got the job. I have been singing with them for 11 to 12 years of the 15 years. I haven’t been singing for the last 2 years because my voice has gone south. We are working on that.
JM:What was your voice?
DV:Truthfully I had a range from first base, to second tenor so I could do base work, baritone work, or second tenor. That was not discovered until Christine got ahold of me. She said that I could sing higher. I could but I didn’t usually. Then I became a tenor with Crescendo. Everyone looks for tenors.
JM:What kind of singing does she do?
DV:She is a classical, but almost always from the Baroque Era (1600-1750 ED.) she is forever finding unpublished works sometimes by known composers of the day, but just found. We did a work called Totentanz or “Dance of Death”.
JM:That was a fabulous concert.
DV:That was a good concert. That piece was found in an old burned out, not even a church, but a small building. It was depicted in a mural that went around the inside wall of the church. It was reproduced on the program on a large screen. It started with the head of the church dancing with a skeleton all the way around the whole church down to a tiny little baby dancing with a skeleton. Every other figure was a skeleton. The off ones were people from different walks of life, all especially in those times were the same faith. That was the Dance of Death. It was a multi-cultural presentation. We had dancers from Jacob’s Pillow, and Dwayne Estes was basically God, or perhaps he was the Devil. He could have been either, I can’t remember. We had personalities from the town or surrounding towns that took the part of each human figure in the mural.
JM:I remember that distinctly as it was so outstanding and so different.
DV:I think that is what Christine tries to do, especially with the unpublished things. We have premiered in the United States at least three works. I was President of the board for three years; I was supposed to commit these to memory and I haven’t, but I do remember doing them. Although I do not have perfect pitch I have a good musical memory so I can hear something and remember, “Oh I have sung that,” I can’t look at a G on a staff and sing it. Once started I can go on and then follow along. I can read music, but it is unpracticed so I have to count and start from what I know. I go up the staff to the one I am trying to figure out. Two lines above the staff throw me off every single time.
JM:You said you were treasurer of the board for three years.
DV:I was treasurer: that is what got me on the board basically. I went in as treasurer. When I joined the board, Jo Loi was President. (See 127 A&B< Jo Loi). Maybe there was one year without being treasurer, but very shortly thereafter. Bill Kellett was the treasurer at the time. I remember distinctly him coming to my house and talking to me. He basically passed the torch, and commenting on my furniture and that took more time than passing the torch. I was treasurer for three years and then there was a bit of a mix up in the hierarchy on the board and the artistic side. The next thing I knew I was going to be the President. We worked hard and tried to smooth thing over and get things back on track. It seems that it has been successful. After three years of being President, I said that was enough. It is important that you change and pass that torch. You don’t want to get stuck in a rut so now I am a spear carrier and just one person in the chorus.
JM: I like the part about the spear carrier. Do you know what the future plans of Crescendo will be?
DV:I think because of what was attempted and what the majority of the board didn’t really want to do that it is going to stay pretty much as it is. You have to understand where we are in the world is not a huge market for unknown Baroque works. I think with Christine’s talent and her way of presenting things, plus she will do a very educational talk at the beginning of a concert and telling exactly why she chose it and what it actually represents and what it meant during its time which I think is very important for people to know. Otherwise it is just very nice music.
Back then in Crescendo we did not have half the orchestra or semi-pros that we have now. Our concerts now are put on expressly for the ensemble. They are very good and we have a lot of musicians that come back and want to work with us. Some of them are pretty well known like Nicholas Tamagna who is known basically throughout the world. He is a counter tenor as well: I always wonder where the sound is coming from when I hear him sing. The last concert that he did for us as soon as he was done, he ran out of there after I had given him his check because that was my job then, his next stop was Newark Airport and after that he was in Europe to sing for about 6 weeks. I think he is presently back in the United States, but he will be off again soon.
JM:When did you go into the Housatonics?
DV:That was kind of a whim. I can remember walking in there the first time. They said what part do you want to sing? At that time I didn’t know that when you have all guys it is different from a mixed group of voices alto, soprano, tenor and base. With just guys ii is tenor 1, tenor2, baritone and base. I said, “I can do base.” At which time Charles who was the President at the time said, “What we need is leads.”” Well I can try to sing that.” As it turns out leads sing mostly melody, and most of the songs I knew anyway. Somethings I wanted to do, For instance my grandfather’s favorite song that he would be caught singing from time to time if he thought he was alone was called “Just a wearying for you” which was a very beautiful, almost a love song with fairly close harmony. To be quite honest I think it was too sweet for most of the guys to do. It is close to my heart because of my grandfather and it was most melodic, most wonderful close harmony thing I have heard in quite some time. I hope we can do sometime. What they do is a lot of barbershop favorites, and for a time Christine came for 2 or 3 years anyway to direct us. This was totally foreign to her and she went home and studied it because when she came back the next week, we were all singing dominant sevenths. She would start us somewhere and we would have to complete the chord for the dominant seventh. Once we got used to that then she told us that a dominant seventh chord is one of the most favorite chords in barbershop singing, simply because of the seventh. Up to that point it is pretty predictable and then you hit that and WOW! What was that? She learned a lot about that and she did a pretty good job, but she was more inclined to do her Baroque work.
JM:Who is the director now of the Housatonics?
DV:The Housatonics are headed up by Donny Sosin. He prefers to be called Donny or Donald, he does not like Don.
JM:How many men are in the group?
DV:I think there is about 16-18.
JM:it is a large catchment area that they come from; they are not all from here.
DV:We have some from Gt. Barrington, and Housatonic, Massachusetts. We have people from Lakeville, such as myself. They all come to sing. I should emphasize that if I wanted to learn music, and
learn technique, and learn how to sing the right way I sang with Christine. When you want to have fun you sang with the Housatonics.
JM:That is absolutely true.
DV:For years the Housatonics did the same thing. Recently we did a big sing-along. People did not want to leave. Normally our concerts were three sets of music and then we had a great dinner at Salisbury School. Those guys put on a great meal. There were two of them: one was Saturday night dinner and the other was Sunday brunch. We always had a better crowd at Sunday brunch. I think it was the variety. We had a large housefull for both of those performances. Everybody had fun, but I did notice that when you ask people to sing along, they did so wholeheartedly.
So we did a big sing along and it was a sellout, SRO (standing room only). The parish hall at the Congregational church was full. We had a projector set up and projected the words up on a screen. It was almost like the new churches nowadays.
JM:That was fun. (May, 2017, Ed.) Where do the Housatonics practice?
DV:We practice at the Congregational Church in the large room behind the sanctuary on Thursday nights @ 7:00-9:00 with time out for cookies. Every guy takes a turn furnishing the cookies.
JM:It used to be at Rotary that they had a bake sale and the men had to do the cooking.
DV:Interesting. Rotary used to meet in our church (Methodist) for quite a while, right?
JM:48 years Adeline Fitts talked and Marion Haeberle talked about it, and Emma Pollock. What are the future plans for the Housatonics?
DV:WE will hang on as long as we possibly can. We are always on the search for younger people. I think the average age of the gentlemen is somewhere in the 70’s. Roger from Canaan was singing with us at 96 years old. He was a bridge player too. If you still have a voice any age is fine. They will find a place for a new man: I know they will. You get to sing next to each other and before you know it, you know the songs. We have a typical solidarity song which is a song from the Society for the Preservation of Barbershop Singing, a very hug and labored acronym.
JM:Lee Collins started it (See tape #135 B, Lee Collins) in 1986. Who followed him?
DV:I should do some historical work and figure that out for you. Lee was there for quite some time. (Lee directed it until sometime between 1994 and 1996. Ed.)Monty Stone did it for a while. Then it was Christine Gevert. Then we had that young Canadian girl who was very good. I can’t remember her name. She was unfortunately brief because she was not allowed back into the country. Then I think Donny Sosin did it for a while early on and then he came back recently, as a second wind so to speak. He is just a master of the piano. If for some reason people don’t know who Donald Sosin is, he is also in great demand as the piano player for silent movies all over the world,
He can play a piano as well as you can whistle. It is just that easy for him. I am sure it came with hours and hours of practice. There is a lot of nature talent.
JM:Is there anything else you that you would like to talk about as far as the singing is concerned?
DV:For myself we have covered my singing career which was not something I was trying to do. It was something I did because I liked it. When you like something, you study it better. I learned a lot more about music than I did with piano lessons at the age of 11, 12, and 13. The one thing I would say about singing, if you have any doubts about it, but you like it, GO DO IT! You’ll feel a lot better.