Thursday, March 31, 2011

Silver Striking Crystal: The Harvard Callbacks Sterling Anniversary Jam

callbacks group picture

On September 1, 1986, according to official records, I founded the Harvard Callbacks along with Morgan London, then called Dawn Clark, two legal name changes earlier. Both voluntary, one by marriage. I, too, have had a legal name change. Involuntary. By adoption. That the two of us would join to found what can be described as a family and an a capella singing group is beyond serendipity.

I'm looking at some piece of memorabilia here. Probably the photo of us singing for the elderly at Neville Manor as seen below.

You see, the Callbacks saved my life. Saved Dawn called Morgan's life, too. I was probably the most depressed I've ever been in life during my college years. I get the feeling Dawn called Morgan was, too. And so our starting and participating in a group that defined our college years, that became a family we created for ourselves, literally saved our lives. And sustained them. Morgan Inniss, in changing her name from Dawn Clark, divorced herself from her biological family. Days after my birth, my biological family had divorced itself from me, then called Joseph White, till I found a home with a family as Craig Hickman.

The Paleo-Callbacks getting ready for our alumni set.

Debbie Steinbaum brought all the archival gems to pass along to the new generation. Here she holds a poster of the Veritones jam where we were invited as an opening act.

And so it was also beyond serendipity that Morgan and I would both fly to the Harvard Callbacks 25th Anniversary Jam from Florida; she from her home outside Jacksonville, me from a tennis event I was covering in Miami, where just the day before, I saw my birth father again for the first time since my 34th birthday in 2001. That her husband, whom I met for the first time at the jam but who seemed as familiar to me as the sun, would break down and cry during a performance of Sarah McLachlan's "Angel" remembering his father who'd died on Christmas day. That I had just visited my ailing mother in Milwaukee to observe the 4th anniversary of my father's death on March 14 before flying to Miami. And so it was no wonder at all that Dawn called Morgan and I would connect so profoundly back then, starting a family we never planned.

We just wanted to sing.

In Florida with my birth father, Frank. Photo by other half.

Our first president, Don Ridings, and his son Erik. This was the first reunion concert Don attended and I, for one, was ecstatic to see him.

When the dean of students wanted us to disappear, we persevered instead. We staged concerts in Paine Hall, Dunster House, and Leverett Dining Hall, among other places. No founding Callback ever hosted a jam in Sanders Theater. There were moments, at previous reunions, when I wish I knew the tenor parts of the songs the current group was singing. I would have jumped onto the stage and performed in the whole set just to say I finally got to do a whole show in Sanders. Instead, I remembered Paine Hall and hand-designed posters and tie-died banners. We had no budget. We had no vision.

We just wanted to sing.

We looked good and sounded even better.

Doing the poetry slam thing. Read the poem right here.

25 years later, what we created has grown and changed and changed and grown.

The current group of Callbacks, many of whom weren't even thought about when Dawn called Morgan and I stood before Holden Chapel in Harvard Yard and declared that we would start a group (we wanted to sing, damnit, and nothing whatsoever was going to stop us), signed a card for each of us and presented them to us after the Sterling Anniversary Jam this past Saturday night.

"Thanks for helping define my Harvard experience," wrote one Callback.

"I'm so happy you founded the Callbacks -- it has become one of the most important experiences of my life. I'm so glad I got to meet you," wrote another.

And then there are these:

"Thank you so much for creating this family of singers. The CBs have been so essential and important in my life. Thank you!"

"The Callbacks have been a wonderful experience and a great addition to the Harvard community. Thank you so much for everything."

"Thank you for all your efforts in starting the CB's. The group has become my family."

"The Callbacks have filled the last 4 years with amazing music and wonderful memories. Thank you for starting the group that has become my family."

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

I did well to get through the concert without blubbering. Not so hours later when reading the card just before bed.

After singing our signature songs "Old Irish Blessing" and "The Letter", Chris Heller, the current president, gave Morgan and me each a beautiful bouquet of flowers. After, when we embraced, in front of family, before fans and friends, Morgan confessed in my ear, "This is the proudest moment of my life."


With six generations of Callbacks standing in a giant horseshoe on stage behind us, who had just demonstrated how much college a capella singing has evolved over the last quarter century, who now applauded enthusiastically along with the audience while we embraced, it was hard to think of another moment in life when I was prouder.

There's nothing more important than family.

(All Callbacks photos by Callbacks progeny, Lila Cardillo and Erik Ridings.)

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Sunday With Ethel :: His Eye Is On The Sparrow

Song from the 1952 movie "The Member of the Wedding" With Ethel Waters as Bernice Sadie Brown; Julie Harris as Frankie Addams; and Brandon De Wilde as John Henry.