Suite in Four Movements
a musician’s Autobiography
by Pasquale J. Spino
Copyright 2021 Pasquale J. Spino
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations: 3
1st Movement; Part 1 - July 1942: 21
1st Movement; Part 2 - Adolescence: 25
1st Movement; Part 3 - Development: Grammar School: 45
1st Movement; Part 4 - Coda: 62
2nd Movement; Part 1 - Chorale; High School: 71
2nd Movement; Part 2 – Toccata; College: 82
Year One: 83
Year Two: 87
Year Three: 89
Year Four: 97
3rd Movement; Part 1 - Exposition: 100
3rd Movement; Part 2 – Development: 103
3rd Movement; Part 3 – Recapitulation: 136
4th Movement; Fugue: 140
Appendix A – Partial list of compositions and arrangements: 172
Appendix B – A few words to the student of composition: 180
Appendix C - Divergence: 184
Appendix D - America, The Decline of a Democracy: 186
Appendix E – Getting Underway: A First Attempt: 198
List of Illustrations
The Author, circa 2000: 5
Ellis Island: 6
The Author editing one of his compositions: 8
President F.D.R., December 8, 1941: 21
143 South Street, Newark NJ: 25
Jimmy Buffs, 14th Avenue, Newark NJ: 28
1950 NY Yankees World Baseball Champions: 29
Oliver Street School: 31
A steam powered peanut vendor’s cart: 33
The Ice Man: 35
Mrs. Wagner’s Pies: 38
Typical 1950’s TV set: 39
Elvis Presley 1st appearance on Ed Sullivan show: 40
TV end of day broadcast pattern: 40
Typical 4’ x 8’ Lionel train set up: 41
Adams Movie Theater: 44
Saint Columbus School and Church: 45
The unique boy scout salute: 50
Typical altar boy garb: 53
Lincoln Park, Newark NJ: 56
Catholic Priest: 58
Island Beach State Park: 62
The Boardwalk at Wildwood NJ: 66
Seaside Heights NJ: 69
The Jersey Shore (4 Pictures): 70
A Catboat sailing on Barnegat Bay: 70
Arts High School: 71
Carol Frankovsky: 80
Pat & Carol; Pat’s Prom: 81
Buntz Hall, Glassboro State College: 83
Glassboro Summit Conference: 86
Hollybush, Glassboro State College: 87
John F. Kennedy gravestone, Arlington Nat’l Cemetery: 91
Lynden B. Johnson: 92
Festival of Contemporary Music program copy: 96
Pat and Carol wedding (3 pictures): 102
Pat and Carol Honeymoon: 103
Symphony in Three Movements – first score page: 114
313 Gordon Avenue: 122
A Prophecy – first score page: 130
Lament – first score page: 131
Overbrook H.S. championship jazz band: 134
Overbrook H.S. marching band: 135
The album cover for MAGIC JOURNEY: 155
Nicole Spino H.S. graduation photo: 158
Kenneth Spino H.S. graduation photo: 159
Lisa Spino H.S. graduation photo: 160
Ron and Nicole Mosley family photo: 163
Lisa Ann Spino -R.I.P.: 166
My tribute to Lisa: 167-8
Ken and the boys: 170
LegaSea sailing vessel: 203
Prelude: “an introductory performance, action, or event preceding and preparing for the principal or a more important matter”- Merriam-Webster
Throughout the early years of my life, prior to 1956 when I entered Arts High School in Newark
New Jersey, I was identified by an incorrect given name by everyone I knew, including my family.
The possibility of such an incongruous occurrence is more common than might be suspected,
especially in the United States where foreign names often become “localized” by several
processes. 1st among them is the immigrant him or herself, who is desirous of becoming
Americanized as quickly as possible and adopts a more familiar name. Additionally, frequently
many surnames have often been knowingly or unknowingly altered by misspelling or outright
abbreviation by the Ellis Island official responsible for processing the new entrant to America.
Vivaldi becomes Aldi, Spinoza changes to Spina. Amoscato is altered to the more conveniently
spelled Scott. Given names such as Giuseppe becomes Joe; Antonio transforms into Tony; Donato
to Dan or Don, and, in my case, Pasquale becomes the more easily pronounced Pat or Patrick.
My given name followed the Italian tradition whereas the firstborn male was called after the
paternal grandfather: a tradition I abandoned as I grew to have children of my own. However, my
family always referred to me in the more American version of “Pat”. That name was reinforced
by the nuns and lay teachers who taught in the Irish catholic grammar school I attended, and
anyone asking for my name was given Patrick or Pat.
The somewhat humorous circumstances when I discovered that I knew myself by the wrong
name are chronicled later. Once learning of the error, I questioned my parents while seated at the
dinner table one evening – where 95% of family interaction occurred. With slight smiles on their
faces the name Pasquale, along with the reason for it being given, were explained to me.
Suddenly I was a different person! Since that day forward a gradual transformation began
whereby I would use my correct given name whenever a signature was required. I was to be
known as Pasquale officially, although I continue to use Pat informally. It is an unusual name for
a born American albeit one I am proud to display.
Intrada: “A piece of music that serves as an introduction” – Wiktionary
I commence writing my autobiography, not from any sense of self-importance, nor any desire for
immortality – indeed I more often subscribe to the implausible possibility that we should leave
this planet without a trace – but more so out of the simple, though unlikely thought, that others
might be able to glean some valuable information from the experiences and ideas that will
follow; particularly my offspring, who most likely view me from a perspective which I cannot
possibly understand. They see me, as most members of the younger generation might describe
their elders, as an old guy who knows nothing of value or relevance to today’s culture and who
has trouble remembering simple things such as the name of some something or other, and whose
difficulty in coping with current technology and social media platforms is cause for humor and
sometimes even ridicule. Being young and inexperienced they do not have any perspective, nor
do they seem to have any interest in things past. Events which are responsible for their
environment, if not very being. Pitfalls that can be avoided in the future if only they would see
the relevance of past occurrences and seek out the knowledge and opinions of those who have
experienced and learned from them. Hopefully, upon growth and maturity, our descendants will
come to realize the necessity of acquiring that knowledge and an understanding of our history.
When I think about my maternal grandfather, James Aldi, who owned the house I lived in until
the age of 16, I am astonished in recognition of the events his life was witness to. Earth-
shattering events he and I never even talked about and of which I had no consciousness until
much later in my life when he was long gone. He was born prior to 1900. A list of the
technological advances that were invented or developed during his lifetime is amazing – medical
technology, cars, airplanes, mechanization of war, rockets, moon landings, telephones, electric
power availability, submarines, flush toilets, hot and cold running water, natural gas heating and
cooking, etc. During my lifetime, upon reflection of so-called progress, I question the wisdom of
some of these advances and wonder if there should not be some conscience in play to ask
questions such as, “is this development something we do because it is a valuable step forward for
humanity or is it something we do just because it is possible, without any consideration of
potential detrimental effects on us or our environment”. I am reminded of a science teacher I
worked with some years ago who likened the effect of our environmental carelessness to that of a
jar of pond water. When first collected and placed on the windowsill the life in that jar thrives
and explodes to the point that its own waste completely pollutes the environment ultimately
smothering all life contained within. One cannot help but notice the similarities taking place on
We are at the threshold of some frightening realities. Artificial intelligence, genetic alteration,
cloning and the automation of war are examples of developments that will have unimaginable
consequences on the future of the human species as well as planet Earth. From the perspective of
75 plus years living on this beautiful jewel hurtling around the life-giving sun. I am
extremely concerned about what lies ahead for my grandchildren, and indeed, all of
humanity. This concern is exasperated by the horrific political environment evolving and
enveloping the United States. The casualness many of our elected officials address, or not
address, these pressing issues are most disturbing and suggests that our political system has
become so partisan as to be completely ineffective. The social climate after the inability
of our politicians to work for the common good is transforming our nation into one divided by
dogma resulting in opposing blocks incapable of reason, compromise, and effectiveness
exasperated by the allegiances and disloyalties developed over years of holding a political office
without term limits. In view of that environment, a look back at human history is frightening and
begs the question, “is the purpose of the human species destructive and parasitic or one of
enlightenment and nobleness”. The query begs to be answered by future generations.
I recall early on that Dad was employed for a time by LaCross surgical instruments in a capacity that I am not able to recollect. Prior to that I have a vague but uncertain recollection of him working for Public Service of N.J. as a laborer shoveling coal. During the later years of my elementary school education, he somehow switched tracks and became a sales/collection agent for the Metropolitan Insurance Company in our “down neck” Newark neighborhood. I’m sure the white-collar job was deemed a windfall by my parents. Metropolitan had a large building in downtown Newark which was his base of operation. This was a time when such agents were required to walk their assigned area, called a debit, to sell insurance policies and collect customer’s life insurance premiums which came due monthly. Such collecting resulted in the necessity of carrying considerable amounts of cash. As a neighborhood resident, he never encountered any difficulties while collecting premiums in the seedier areas of down neck. After a promotion which took him into an office, his replacement - a non-resident - was summarily accosted and relieved of his client’s collections on more than one occasion. Dad was apparently quite successful as I recall, and a member of the millionaire’s club for having sold over a million dollars of insurance on several occasions, and he and mom were rewarded with a variety of trips paid for by the company.
My dad’s outlook on life was partially, and to a large degree, shaped by the influence of the great depression of 1929; the effects lasting at least to 1935, notably with the farmers being particularly hit hard long term. Being raised during such trying times would have, to varying degrees, a strong and life-long influence. A common outgrowth of such disruptive events is the adoption of a viewpoint whereas job security assumes an important role in occupational choices. Dad was so affected, and his influence over my desired occupation was understandably predictable. While I wanted to concentrate on musical composition dad was of the belief that the security of a teaching degree was of paramount importance, especially for a family man. This outlook resulted in my attending Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) to secure a music teaching degree.
I came to resent this decision which cost the acquisition of the contacts necessary for an aspiring composer and spent most of my professional life trying to overcome the unwanted impediment. The Glassboro choice also resulted in gaps in my musical skills, notably in ear training, resulting in a weakness plaguing, to an increasingly lessening degree, the rest of my life. Coupled with mediocre early piano study, I always had great difficulty with this aspect of a musician’s training and was unable to understand how to “fake” as a keyboardist with pop bands. Faking is a skill whereby the performer can play songs without ever having played – or even heard them previously. It is partially built upon the aural skill which I lacked from the start of my musical education along with a concentration on classical music.
Later in life, I came to not only understand my father’s obsession about security but to appreciate it. While the teaching profession was an impediment to my professional aspirations it was beneficial to my ability to provide security for my family despite the wretched pay and to allow a worry-free retirement via health care benefits and a well-deserved pension. Dad had a number of colorful expressions at his disposal, and I remember one in particular being frequently bestowed on my partier brother, who lacked any professional ambition. It went something like “what, do you want to dig ditches the rest of your life?” Undoubtedly the expression resulted from him having to do just that early in his life.
Perhaps the most significant impact on my life was my dad’s involvement in music. He played the trumpet and led his own band for most of his life. His big band during the 50’s consisted of excellent players, many who attended high school with him, and they performed difficult arrangements made popular by the big band era. Dad was one of 4 siblings, an older sister, Carmella, and two brothers, Anthony, and Joseph. Both brothers were on-and-off members of the big band; Uncle Tony played the bass while Uncle Joe played the drums.
Dad died “under the knife” during a heart bypass operation at Bet Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey. My two regrets are 1) I was not able to tell him that his pressure to secure a teaching degree paid off later in life and that he was correct in his insistence on securing the degree; and 2) that I should not have abandoned my development as a keyboard player for the sake of composition since, as he always pointed out, continuing to perform would lead to contacts to be exploited as a composer/arranger. To paraphrase Mark Twain; when I was 18, I couldn’t believe how dumb my father was, but when I turned 22, I couldn’t believe how much he learned in 4 years.
Rose Spino (Aldi) 1921 – 2018
Born to James and Jennie Aldi, “Rosebud” was one of 4 sisters, Margie (DeLuca), Catherine (Salerno), and Marie (Riccardi). Her mom Jennie was of the Amoscato’s. As was agreed upon by all, Rose was the apple of her father’s eye, perhaps because she was a very frail “preemie” who later evolved into a strong independent woman who was encouraged to become a police officer by her detective father. I cannot recall mom as a working woman until later in my childhood when she worked as a seamstress in a clothing factory. She had a very definite talent for that line of work, and I can remember her sewing drapes and curtains for the house, and clothes for my sister and I during our developmental years.
She and dad met through music and she was a singer in his band for a while. Every gig saw dad play their song, Stardust, as a trumpet solo and mom would at some point during the night mount the stage to sing “All of Me”. As often happens, birds of a feather flock together, as the saying goes, and the primary social events saw weekly meetings of several band members and wives for drinks and eats with rotations being taken at everyone’s house.
Mom and dad eventually moved to a bungalow on Chadwick Beach Island between Seaside and Point Pleasant and then on to a home in a seniors only community, Silver Ridge Park, in Toms River. There were quite a few relatives who relocated to that area and there was considerable family interaction which was beneficial to mon upon dad’s demise. Additionally, my Sister and brother lived nearby with one in Brick and the other in Normandy Beach, while Carol and I were further away near Philadelphia. We had a sailboat on Barnegat Bay which afforded us a geographical and frequent closeness to mom and dad that would otherwise not be possible.
The unfortunate time was in mom’s final years when she developed dementia and then Alzheimer’s. It sadly progressed to the point where she was institutionalized and did not know who anyone was when we visited. On one occasion, when my son and I went to visit her, she proceeded to berate us for becoming criminals, accused of us carrying guns, associating with the worst people, and would have us arrested. Mom died at the age of 98 and, except for the last 6 or 7 years had an exceptionally good life. Mom and dad’s graves are in Tom’s River at Gate of Heaven cemetery.
Mom considered me to be a “good” boy, and my sister would not hesitate to point out that I was deemed to be “king” by her, most likely resulting from my not being so open about my escapades. It must be noted that the real king was my brother who came along more than a decade after me and sis. I was struck with the unfamiliar (to me!), albeit necessary, patience mom and dad displayed with him, despite his frequent unorthodox behavior.
One of my valued memories is how open our home was to any of the myriad relatives who would frequently visit. Visitors, weather announced or not, family or friends, were often and welcome, and there was always a snack, drink, or meal available to them. This openness even extended to my friends. Christmas was a time of unceasing activity, both exciting and unforgettable, which will be related later in this essay.
Bernadine Spino (Kelly) 1946 –
Bernadine was 4 years my junior. She looked up to me when we were young and insisted on changing schools from South Street Elementary School to Saint Columbus to be with me. As with any siblings there was some minor conflict but for the most part things were amicable. I recall an incident which I think of as being humorous. One day mom asked that I give Bernadine a piano lesson to get her started in something musical. I spent the better part of an hour teaching a first lesson. At the lesson’s conclusion I asked if she understood everything to which she replied “yes” but that she had one question: “what are those black dots on the paper?” That question was more of a comment on my teaching ability then it was on her teachability! It also ended her music career.
She was also a bit of a “tomboy” and I recall an incident when she made her first communion. The Elementary school, a block away, would lock its gates during the days when school was closed. It being a Sunday, I would climb up about 12 feet of the surrounding 18-foot chain link fence where there was a space between the fence and brick wall just wide enough for a kid to squeeze through to gain access to the field below for some ball playing. This was something that all the neighborhood kids would do since the only other alternative was to play in the street. Well, as you might imagine, here was my sister in her communion dress climbing that fence to play with the rest of the kids. She was soundly berated by mom when she returned with her heavily soiled communion dress, as was I for allowing her to do so.
Bernie will freely admit that she was dominated by mom through the traditional Italian role of the female’s place in society. Bernie had career aspirations, which interfered with that roll. For one, she always wanted to be an airline stewardess. This desire was soundly criticized by both mom and dad, which Bernie never forgave, and rightly so. She wanted to go to college which, once again, mom and dad thought to be a waste of time for a girl. If there be any fault on her
end, it would be that she allowed herself to be shaped by such archaic thinking in her refusal to make the necessary break with mom and dad, a break from which I and my brother never shirked. My sister has regrets voiced many times that she was never allowed to develop her ambitions. Eventually, after some adventurous relationships, she married a fine Irishman, Thomas Kelly, who treated her very well. Unfortunately, Tom died of cancer that metastasized to his brain and passed at a much too early age.
Bernadine (as well as Tom) is a wonderful and generous person, possibly generous to a fault. She has frequently been there with financial help for my brother who has frequent difficulties related to his somewhat seasonal occupation. Healthwise, it would seem that Bernadine was the recipient of the family’s “bad” genes. She developed diabetes, a serious debilitating condition that took Grandpa Aldi. Her diabetes resulted in the loss of a toe and a heart condition. She has a defibrillator implanted in case it is ever needed, which has not been the case so far. Currently we are attempting to get her to become a snow birder and come to Florida for a couple of months during the winter.
Nicholas Spino 1957 –
The one defining circumstance explaining Nick’s and my relationship is the disparity of years between us. This, more than any other single element, is responsible for the difficulty between us: I could be his father rather than brother. Couple that fact with my being away to college, followed by marriage and the resulting responsibilities, did not leave room to develop any relationship or frivolity. That word, frivolity, should be my brother’s middle name, and is partly the result of the era in which he developed.
Nick was raised during a time of much civil disturbance and unrest; a time of outlandish, by my standards, music, and social interaction, as well as disrespect for authority which, in many cases, was well deserved. A time represented by an attitude of “you don’t like what I am doing, then fuck you – I don’t really care what you think”. A time of illicit drugs being readily available, and pot in wide use by the younger generation, Nick being no exception. There is a lot to be said for that freedom of thought which I was only able to develop to some degree much later in life.
To make matters worse, he is intelligent. Unfortunate because being so gives him the ability to justify his actions, many of which were self-centered, to be seemingly acceptable. Now that he is older, he readily admits that he “fucked up” his life. One reason was his belief that planning for a rainy day was stupid. As a result, he realizes that there is little to show for his efforts and is unable to stop work despite his declining physical condition.
Nick developed into a terrific carpenter doing work that has basis in our dad’s oft repeated expression, “If you’re not going to do the job right, don’t even start it.” There is an aesthetic which he brings to his work beyond just plain skill. It is a creativity that is artistic. I am proud to tell anyone who sees the work he has done for me “my brother made that”.
He also inherited the music gene and studied drums. He played with various bar bands and had a great time performing. I employed him on several occasions, being a bit reluctant because of his heavy rock bent, but he worked out well and was able to rise to the occasion.
I relate one incident to illustrate the differing worlds we evolved from. When mom and dad purchased the bungalow on Chadwick Beach Island, they had tons of stone delivered to be spread out over the property in place of grass, a common sight at that time on the Jersey Shore to eliminate the unwanted necessity of caring for a lawn. We were visiting along with my sister and brother-in-law Tom and saw it our duty to free dad from the back-breaking job of distributing the 9 or 10 mounds of stone in an even layer around the house in near 100-degree heat. As we started the chore and commenced sweating profusely, out of the house comes my 13 or 14-year-old brother with a fishing rod slung over his shoulder and a smirk on his face. “Where do you think you’re going” was followed by the obvious answer. By this time, I was fuming and walked up to within inches of his face and said “put that fucking rod down and grab a fucking shovel and start fucking shoveling fucking stone” which to my surprise he did – ONE STONE AT A TIME!!!! We regularly relate this story at gatherings accompanied by much laughter followed by my brother’s admission “I was a little prick.”
Thank the powers that be, we get along much better now that we are both more mature and trying to get into heaven. It is even possible that he spends time as a “snow birder” in Florida, something Carol and I readily welcome.
There is a salient point about our family, most families, of the time, which is all too regrettably diminished, if not absent, today; we were close. Both geographically as well as emotionally. I am not just referencing my parents and siblings, but include aunts, uncles, cousins, as well as more distant relatives. There was always someone nearby that one could count on being available to help if a situation warranted it. As my children grew and had families of their own a variety of circumstances dictated they relocate hundreds of miles and many hours away by car. During a recent conversation with my son about our current culture he remarked that our generation lived during the best of times. I must admit, although recognizing that things were far from perfect, he was correct.
Although this is not a political treatise, I would be remiss by not expressing the belief that our society is paying an extremely high price for our involvement in the Vietnam war, during which time the American people came to realize that our government commonly lied and misled them, and cared little for the citizenry, as well as the soldiers who were putting their lives on the line, an insolence and arrogance culminating in the Nixon administration. Personally, I cannot come to grips with how poorly our population mistreated the returning Vietnam vets, who unfairly shouldered the brunt of the country’s hatred of our government. It was a disgusting time in American history – not the first nor the last. A perspective can be had by researching the incident at Kent State University in 1970, when American national guard soldiers fired on, and killed, American university students who were protesting the war. My generation could never have considered that event as being a possibility or ever repeated, that is until some of the events during the Trump presidency. Yes, my son’s comment was absolutely correct!
SUITE No. 1
Suite: “a modern instrumental composition in several movements of different character” – Merriam-Webster
Part 1; Principal Theme: July 1942
“Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives: Yesterday, December 7th, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan……With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph—so help us God. I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.” – FDR December 8, 1941
July 1942 was a month of monumental occurrences, most of which center around the
increasingly deadly 2nd World War. The aggressiveness of the Axis powers consisting of
Germany, Italy, and Japan could no longer be ignored by world leaders foolishly hoping for
sanity to prevail. Their intention for world domination was clear for all to see, and the bombing
of Pearl Harbor by Japan sent shock waves around the world. That attack and resultant entrance
of the US into the foray understandably caused some understated jubilation in England. Until
December 7th, 1941 America was a non-combatant participant limited to the roll of support for
the Allied forces, in particular, England. Convoys of US ships would brave an Atlantic Ocean
patrolled by German U-boats intent on preventing the war materials and humane relief, in the
form of weapons, food and medicine grown and manufactured in the US, from reaching its
destination in the British Isles. Our convoys suffered devastating losses with countless merchant
seamen killed and many thousands of tons of shipping lost forever beneath the waves of the
North Atlantic. However, it wasn’t until the Pearl Harbor sneak attack that the United States,
under President Franklin D. Roosevelt was forced into the conflict.
It was a very discouraging 1st year with many servicemen killed or captured throughout the
Pacific Islands and in Europe with very few Allied advances. The outlook was bleak with little to
cheer about. The awakening might of the American industrial community was slowly changing
that outlook, with unheard of production numbers. All of America was asked to sacrifice for the
common good. Gas and food were rationed with acceptance, almost uncomplainingly,
by all Americans. Even our currency was affected with the one cent piece made of copper now
replaced by an inferior metal in order that the copper might be used for production of war
machinery, communications equipment, and weaponry. There are numberless accounts recorded
during this historic time, both in film and book form, available for anyone possessing the
curiosity to view or read. Predictably, death notices from war casualties increased to
unimaginable numbers with hardly a family unaffected. My wife, Carol Frankovsky, lost her
father without ever having known him; senselessly killed by a land mine in the Sicilian
During the month of July in the year 1942 – early in the war – horrific events unfolded.
The partial chronology that follows is taken, with liberties, from:
- The 4th of July saw the very first American bombing mission over enemy occupied Europe by combined British and American forces which included the 8th Air Force. Twelve Boston (A-20) aircraft were dispatched to bomb 4 German airfields in Holland, 6 of them crewed by American airman. This event, though of minimal effect, resulted in the loss of one US aircraft and cost the life of 1 or 2 of our airmen. Of great significance, the air raid marks the beginning of the United States’ air offensive against Germany.
- The premier performance of the Hector Villa-Lobos composition CHOROS and Ian Flemings graduation from a Canadian training school for spies occurred on the 5th of the month.
- The Ann Frank family goes into hiding July 6th in After House, Amsterdam.
- July 10th saw Heinrich Himmler order the sterilization of all Jewish Woman in Ravensbruck Concentration Camp for woman, located in Northern Germany.
- Monday, July 13th; Nazis execute 5,000 Jews of Rovno Polish Ukraine and German occupiers imprison 800 prominent Dutch hostages. German SS troops kill 1,500 Jews in Josefov Poland.
- July 16th French(!)(emphasis mine) police arrest 13,152 Jews in Paris and Jews are transported from Holland to German extermination camps.
- On July 17ththree feet of rain falls on Pennsylvania. 15 are killed in the resulting floods.
- The first test flight of the jet powered German Messerschmitt Me-262 using only its jet engines occurred on July 18th. It should be noted, contrary to popular belief, during this early juncture of the war both Japanese and German war weaponry far outclassed that of the Americans in both design and effectiveness. Fortunately, over the next few years this trend would reverse.
- The NBC Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Arturo Toscanini premiered Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony – The Leningrad Symphony – in a broadcast heard nationwide on July 19th. On that same date German troops confiscate bicycles in Rotterdam and The Hague.
- On July 22nd the 4th Soviet army is formed with 80 tanks. Gasoline rationing begins in the US using government issued coupons. 300,000 Warsaw Ghetto Jews are sent to Treblinka Extermination Camp. Adolf Hitler issues Directive number 45 ordering the German army to advance on Stalingrad.
- On July 26th Dutch bishops of the Roman Catholic Church protest the spread of Judaism.
- Two days later, July 28th, Nazis liquidate 10,000 Jews in Minsk Belorussia Ghetto. FDR signs a bill creating the woman’s’ Navy auxiliary agency popularly known as the WAVES.
- July 30th was a particularly gruesome day that saw German SS troops execute 25,000 Jews and gas 1,000 more in Minsk, Belorussia
Arguably, the singular truth defining the global terror that crippled the world for the next several years, unlike all previous wars, is that World War II is often defined as a conflict between the forces of good and evil.
Of far lesser consequence, but critical to this narrative, Pasquale Spino was born to Nicholas and Rose Spino in Newark City Hospital located on Fairmount Avenue in Newark, New Jersey on July 7th, 1942.
1st Movement Part 2; Secondary Theme: Adolescence
143 South Street in Newark – pronounced NORK by residents - was a typical three-story house
on a busy street in what was commonly known as the “down neck” section of the city, so named
because of its location on a bend in the Passaic River. “The Ironbound” is the more recognizable
name probably so named because of the location of the Balbach Smelting & Refining Company,
the second largest metal processing company in the US until its closing in the 1920’s. South
Street is the dividing line separating north and south Ironbound. That section of the city was
home to a working-class multi-ethnic mix, and the South Street neighborhood even more so.
Residents could trace their lineage to a variety of locations throughout Europe and Africa. The
great advantage of growing up in an area with such cultural diversity was our acceptance of all
colors and nationalities as equals. Ethnicity had little if anything to do with the interactions of the people inhabiting the area who were proud, hard-working, and tolerant. My friends and I had no issue playing ball with anyone, regardless of point of origin or religion. As with most children
the important consideration was that we had a pal with whom to play catch – unfortunately, a
tolerance and acceptance of others all but forgotten by many adults.
I recall with a smile on my face the daily routine, especially during the warm seasons. Prior to
the invention of air-conditioning windows were required to be left open with the myriad sounds
and smells of daily life clearly heard and sniffed. Across the street so-and-so was having a
disagreement with a neighbor about which automobile was superior while somewhere a radio
broadcasting the day’s baseball game was filtering through the air. The sound of a passing trolley constrained by iron rails embedded in the cobblestone road and powered by overhead electric lines, with the accompanying ozone odor, temporarily overwhelmed all others.
A few doors down the street stood Joe’s barber shop which was host to a non-stop card game in the back room while Joe cut hair with a perpetual acrid smelling Italian stogie sticking out of
his mug. While in the process of giving me a haircut on one summer day two middle aged
woman walked by the shop’s open door. While passing, one made a comment to the other, at a
volume intended to be loud enough to be heard in the shop, about how disgusting it was to be
smoking a cigar while cutting the hair of a young boy. Joe flew into a rage and angrily flicked
the cigar out of the door while spewing forth a dictionary of expletives beginning and ending
with the standard “bah fungoo”. He then proceeded to light up new cigar. I hated to get a haircut
but looked forward to getting one at Joe’s because I loved the aroma of those cigars.
A drug store, Goldstein’s, on the north-west corner of South and Herman, boasted a terrific soda fountain and ice cream parlor in addition to supplying the medications required by doctors who made house calls. A few paces from our front porch was the neighborhood tap room. My
grandfather, a detective with the Newark police department, was a frequent patron on weekends
and I looked forward to occasionally entering the establishment to say “hi”, knowing full well
the benefit that followed. He would put a couple of pennies into the bar’s pistachio dispenser and provide me with a handful of those delicious nuts in shells that were thickly coated and white with salt. Next to the barber shop was what today might be labeled a luncheonette – Tommy G’s place. A second card game was forever in progress in the back of the store, most likely in partnership with the one taking place in the barber shop. Tommy G was missing his right arm at the shoulder which gossip said was due to a mishap while trying to hop a freight train. We never found out the truth and it is very possible that it was the result of a war injury.
Tommy G’s was a hangout for the kids in the neighborhood with the obligatory, never at rest,
pinball machine and juke box, filled with the latest hit 45rpm records. It was a time of transition
in popular music and the juke box offered a strange mix; big bands such as Stan Kenton, Woody
Herman, Harry James, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw as well as selections by the Platters, Dion
and the Belmonts, Sonny Boy Williams, Johnny Ray, Frank Sinatra, Fats Domino, Dave
Brubeck, Nina Simone, Buddy Holly: on and on - arguably, one of pop music’s greatest eras!
While listening to the jukebox or playing the pinball machine, for a meager 25 cents you could
purchase a sandwich that was a meal to itself. Your choice of the best deep fried or grilled hot
dogs or Italian sausage I have ever tasted in my 75+ years stuffed into a pocket created from half a loaf of Italian “pizza” bread (a round flattish bread with a hole in the center, similar to, but
more substantive and far tastier than today’s Pita bread)) with grilled peppers, onions, potatoes,
and tomatoes. This famous Italian hot dog recipe was introduced by Jimmy Buff, a name
synonymous with the delicacy to anyone of the era who resided in the city. Philadelphia cheese
steaks are a distant second to Jimmy Buff’s creation which became imitated throughout the
Everyone was consumed with baseball, truly the national past-time, especially in that section of
the country. New York City boasted being home to 3 of the nation’s top teams – Yankees,
Dodgers, and Giants. A daily endless argument consumed the conversations of all neighborhood
boys expressing their choice of which team was the best. Those discussions reached fever pitch
whenever the teams played against each other. And if any two of them made it to the world
series, which was a common occurrence, the event surpassed any “less important” global
happenings. Legendary players would make appearances at local establishments and freely
provide autographs and allow photos to be taken with fans. I can recall a clothing store on Broad
Street – American Men’s Clothing might have been the name – inviting some of baseball’s
greatest players to come to the store so patrons would pay a visit to see them, talk with them and perhaps buy a shirt, suit, or tie. I have a vivid memory of my dad taking me there to see Yogi
Berra. I’m quite sure these players were somewhat reimbursed for their time in either cash or
merchandise and there was no thought of charging a fee for the privilege of giving a fan an
“The original Newark Bears were a team in the International League from 1926 to 1949. They played their home games at the former Ruppert Stadium in what is now known as the Ironbound section of Newark” – Wikipedia
A stadium, locally known as “Bear Stadium”, was a pleasant mile or so walk from my house
and we would often go there for a “pick up” game – a game played by anyone who wanted to
participate, no matter the numbers, as were 95% of our games – in the dirt parking lot. If we
didn’t have enough bodies for a regular ballgame, we would make one up. Wall ball, half ball,
hose ball, stick ball, along with games that had no name were common alternatives. The choice
depended upon the number of participants, the availability of equipment and the locale. If a ball
could not be had, we would use a piece of rubber garden hose and the absence of bats would see the readily available broom stick in its place. If someone was fortunate enough to own a ball,
chances are it was unrecognizable due to daily use on less-than-ideal surfaces – gravel, cinder,
concrete, asphalt – eventually causing the stitching to abrade to the point that the cover would be lost. A simple solution was a roll of electrical tape – much more affordable than a new ball.
Whenever anyone hit the jackpot and acquired a new baseball it was revered as if a holy icon.
Possession of a baseball was rare, and its value was incalculable to the point of danger. I recall
one of the countless games being played in the South Street Elementary School playground
during which someone hit the ball onto the three-story school roof where it became lodged in the brass rain gutter. Without a second thought, one of our more daring players shimmied up the
downspout to retrieve the valuable prize in order that the game could continue, and its outcome
could not be contested.
The school’s playground, on the southeast corner of South and Herman Streets, was a stone’s
throw from my house and it was the central focus in my life. Just about every day would see me
there playing ball, checkers, chess, boxing, dominoes, or just arguing with anyone in attendance
having an opposing view about the topic of the hour – which was just about everything. On
weekends and school holidays the playground, surrounded by an 18+ foot-high chain link fence.
like that pictured around the Oliver Street School, was locked! Understand that it was the
primary, and often the only means of both entertainment and social intercourse. Often both boys
and girls would climb 12 feet of the fence to where a space between one of its support poles and the brick wall of the school allowed for a kid to squeeze through and climb down the inside to the “playing field”. At some point somebody with a pair of wire cutters opened a small ground-level breach in the rear portion of the fence on Thomas Avenue allowing a far less dangerous entry into the padlocked dirt and crushed stone field. No one could determine who was the responsible party, but that hole would magically reappear immediately after any repairs were undertaken. It must have been one of the parents in recognition of the importance of providing a safe location the neighborhood youngsters could have available to them during the two days of the week where it was most needed. Eventually, out of frustration or perhaps recognizing the uselessness of their efforts, they stopped attempting repairs.
A few years older than my circle of friends was Raymond, a colored (the common less offensive
term of the day) who lived on Thomas Street across from the playground. Raymond was a
member of the Dodger’s farm team and he was, indeed, a far superior ball player – and may have
been, I suspect, the owner of the wire cutters. I recall a day he joined a few of us – not enough to form teams - and took the mound for batting practice throwing a variety of pitches to me that I never saw coming! Any aspirations I had of becoming a professional ball player increasingly
evaporated with each pitch. Raymond did not hesitate to assume the role of teacher and was
responsible for honing any ball-playing skills that the neighborhood boys possessed.
There was no comprehension that we might be considered poor, by today’s standards, because
everyone had the same financial difficulties. It was common for us to be provided a single pair of
high-top Converse sneakers each year. At some point the shoe’s sole would develop a hole which was “repaired” by the insertion of a piece of thick cardboard, which of course required daily if not more frequent replacement. There were no school buses, and everyone walked to and from their school regardless of weather conditions. Today’s standing “old person’s” legend of having to walk miles to school, uphill, in the snow, barefoot, is loosely based on actuality.
A city block away, sandwiched between McCarter Highway to the West and New Jersey
Railroad Avenue to the East, roars the Pennsylvania Railroad’s regularly scheduled run from
Washington to New York and beyond, pulled by a huge steam engine belching smoke from the
coal-fired boilers. How I loved the mixed odor of that super-heated steam, ash, and smoke as it
drifted over my house. And the sound! – that sound cannot effectively be described to anyone
who hasn’t experienced it.
A couple of miles away as the crow flies could be heard the countless landings and take-offs at
bustling Newark Airport. Aircraft of the recently ended World War II were stationed at the
airport and I vividly recall watching P-51 maneuvers high overhead while sitting on the front
porch – “stoop” we called it. As if it were yesterday, I see in my mind’s eye these fabulous
aircraft practicing dive bombing to the east over the less populous section of Newark. Amazing
vertical dives were common sights with the accompanying screaming sounds of the wind and
engine dominating the audio canvas of the day. Before sleep set in each night there would be a
concert of sounds dominated by the commercial aircraft taxiing or warming up on the airport’s
tarmac. I was often able to name the model of plane based on the sound of its engines.
Every few days or so could be heard a high pitch whistling emanating from the approaching
peanut vendor’s pushcart with its wood-fired little oven serving the dual purpose of roasting the
peanuts, shell and all, and supplying the power for its identifying whistle. The smell of those
roasting peanuts demanded the purchase of a small nickel bag or two.
Often, I would awaken to the sound of the Coppers Coke delivery of coal for our steam boiler
located in the dark mysterious basement. The subterranean coal bin would be accessed by a
street-facing window just large enough to allow placement of the truck’s ramp, or chute. The din
created by the coal rushing down that metal chute was another of those sounds forever etched
into my memory.
On a summer afternoon about 1950 I recall an earth-shaking explosion prompting the entire
neighborhood to exit their homes to see what had occurred. To the Southeast could be seen fire
and smoke rising high into the sky from a series of explosions; perhaps storage fuel tanks were
afire. The location must have been some miles away which did extraordinarily little to diminish
the heat and the sound. I never really discovered any of the details and can find nothing about the incident on the internet. The only reference to fuel tank explosions in Newark that I was able to find took place in 1983. However, I came across the following 1949 account in Perth Amboy NJ, the only incident that would fit the timeline and general direction of my recollection.
PERTH AMBOY, N. J., EXPLOSION TAKES THREE LIVES.
Perth Amboy, N. J., June 24 (AP) -- Three men died -- two of them buried alive under flaming asphalt -- as a crackling series of explosions destroyed a $500,000 asphalt plant here yesterday. The shriveled, tar-covered bodies of two volunteer firemen could not be recovered for several hours after they were blown into a pit of boiling asphalt. A third victim, a workman, died of burns later. Eight others were injured, two critically. Black, greasy smoke rose hundreds of feet into the air over the ruined California Refinery Co. plant. It was visible as far away as Manhattan, 25 miles to the north. The first explosion let go at 2 p.m., and fire spread rapidly to adjoining stills and storage tanks. Then a 10,000-gallon asphalt tank blew 50 feet into the air, spewing its blazing contents. Dead in the blast were Volunteer Firemen LAWRENCE DAMBACH, 50, father of four children, and HOWARD ADAMS, 36, who leaves a six-year-old son. MICHAEL TONAWAY, 64, died of burns last night in Perth Amboy General hospital.
Having no refrigeration, let alone freezer capability, required the regular delivery of large blocks
of ice to be cut into smaller blocks needed to keep food chilled in the icebox. Every few days a
huge burly guy would tramp up the three flights of stairs carrying a great big ice block on his
shoulder which was padded with a burlap cloth and secured by a huge set of ice tongs.
Regular, if not daily trips to the neighborhood butcher and grocer were necessary for meats and
other supplies. The Walmart, Shop Rite, Costco, and BJ’s type of merchants were not yet a
concept and would not be for some time. Such marketing was dependent on the development of
more effective methods of food delivery, preservation, and refrigeration.
Like the peanut vendor, peddlers of fruits, vegetables and household items would make regular
weekly visits to the area hawking their wares with a defining vocalized cry which is depicted in
the Gershwin operetta “Porgy and Bess”. Everything from knife sharpening, food, clothing,
repair services, hardware, etc., were available from carts, many of which were horse-drawn with
the characteristic clopping sounds the cobblestones caused as the shod feet met the ground. The
milk man made pre-dawn daily deliveries to each house with un-homogenized milk in glass
bottles. The cream would migrate to the top of the bottle and could be integrated into the rest of
the liquid by vigorously shaking. Often, on occasion when I arose early, some of the rich
cream would mysteriously go missing sometime before the mixing stage. Directly across the
street were the hardware store and the shoemaker’s shop, each with its unique identifying aroma
upon entrance. To the East on Thomas Street was the slaughterhouse with its not so pleasant
odors on days of killing the animals.
Milk and soda bottles, along with bits of metal scrap or cast aside electrical wire had a return
value at a time when everything was recycled. Several times a week we would scrounge around
for these treasures which represented the primary method of securing a few coins to jingle in
one’s pocket. Coins used to purchase life’s essentials such as penny candies, a fountain soda, or a roll of electrical tape to keep the sorry looking baseball in play. Occasionally, we were able to
gather a wagon load of old newspapers to wheel to the scrap yard in exchange for the going rate
thus affording another means of supplementing our “income”. Someone had the great idea of
hiding a hunk of metal in between the stack of papers to add weight to increase the payment not
realizing that the metal was worth more than the paper! The scrap-yard owner would display a
knowing smile when we approached with our little red Radio Flyer wagon overflowing with
Mr. and Mrs. Wagner began baking round individual serving fruit pies for neighbors in Ocean
Grove, NJ in the 1870’s. It wasn’t too long before they began offering the pies for sale. The
unquestioned delectability of her pies was most likely because ALL ingredients were fresh,
having no chemical or artificial components. Plenty of eggs were used in place of starch to
thicken the fillings, and the fruits were delivered fresh daily as was the milk. Mrs. Wagner’s pie
crust was light and flakey most likely due to the large amounts of pig lard incorporated into the
dough. Mrs. Wagner’s pies popularity expanded to national prominence with locations in New
York, Newark, Toledo, Detroit, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Chicago, and Atlantic City. Newark’s
plant, which became the home base, was located on Johnson and Herman streets, a mere three
blocks from my house.
It was not uncommon for several of the guys to pool what few pennies were gleaned from the
day’s bottle collection to purchase a tray or two, each containing 6 of the revered pies. The real
bonus being these pies were “seconds” that could not be offered for sale and might have broken
or crushed crusts. They were offered for 10 cents per tray whereas they sold commercially for 10 or 15 cents for each pie! My mother could never understand, nor would I offer any explanation, why normally possessing a healthy appetite, I severely curtailed my food intake during the evening meal on the days of our pie feasts. Recalling the freshness and naturalness of the food and the environment, it’s no wonder there are so many mental, physical, and psychological. health issues plaguing us in an era of foods processed with chemical additives to enhance flavor and increase shelf life, genetic manipulation of crops and artificial coloring.
Television was a newly invented entertainment that few could afford. When finally, my dad
consented to purchase one, it had a lasting effect on my life, as with all of society. I recall that
monstrous 1st TV set as being the ugliest device in our house. The cabinet was huge and had an
alien looking set of “rabbit ears” antenna for receiving the broadcast signal and the view screen
was tiny by comparison with a convex very thick glass ovoid screen. The heavy wooden console
contained countless vacuum tubes and other electronic components required for its operation and it seemed to me that the real purpose was not the acquisition of the broadcast signal but the heat being produced.
Programming was sparse, not particularly good, and in black and white with shades of gray. The
beginnings of this phenom were quite innocuous with the preponderance of programming being
cliff-hanging serials like Buck Rodgers and comedic programming such as The Abbot and
Costello Show, Milton Beryl, Cid Caesar, Ed Skelton, and variety shows like Lawrence Welk,
Arthur Godfrey, and the iconic Ed Sullivan. About 11:00 PM each night the star-spangled banner
would be played while showing a film of the American flag blowing in the wind, after which
broadcasting would conclude and the ugly picture tube would be filled with a test pattern
accompanied by a never-ending high-pitched single tone. I recall the first shocking Ed Sullivan
broadcast of Elvis Presley’s introduction to the America of a far less provocative inclination.
Very few people witness to that media development could have imagined the earth-shattering
impact it would have on a comparatively unsophisticated culture – for better or worse.
On Saturdays several of us would walk to the theater – The Adams – and watch 25 cartoons and
3 Three Stooge pictures for 25 cents. The cartoons were classics like Bugs Bunny, the Road
Runner, Felix the Cat, Looney Toons, etc. all of which are condemned today for their
violence and replaced with the incredibly realistic violence of explicit video games also
containing highly suggestive sexual content. The cartoons were a fantasy which kids knew and
understood were not real, and not once did they encourage anyone to perform any of the
ridiculous “violent” acts portrayed on the screen. Not so with today’s video games; games that
teach the art of violence – the product of a very confused and misdirected society.
Christmas was of monumental importance to Christians the world over, especially to the Catholic Italian American. Of course, as might be expected, the children anticipated its arrival long before the actual event. Every Christmas morning, I would awaken to the sudden appearance of a 4’ x 8’ Lionel model train layout underneath the live, excessively decorated tree complete with Plasticville buildings, road signs and little model villages creating a mini panorama of some imaginary country vista. I do not know how my mom and dad accomplished the task, but
construction of that layout, erecting and decorating the tree along with all presents neatly
wrapped and labeled, magically appeared where no evidence existed the day before. As I
advanced in years, and finally accepted the knowledge that Santa Clause was non-existent, my
dad and I, in a continuing effort to improve the Lionel set-up, would make a trip to a hobby shop
on Springfield Avenue to purchase another addition to the train set and fake village that made a
yearly appearance for a week or two during the Christmas holiday.
The most vivid memory evoked by this time of year is the amazing family interaction, a tradition
unfortunately, long lost. Commencing on Christmas eve, and continuing throughout Christmas
day and evening, we were host to a non-stop inundation by family – aunts, uncles, cousins,
distant relatives who were seen less often, friends, and occasionally even one of the parish priests – all invited to sit down and partake of a cup of coffee and cookies baked by mom, or a taste of something a bit stronger. I recall my dad and uncles taking turns each Christmas eve dressing up in a sorry looking Santa outfit to visit as many relatives as possible, proving to the youngsters that Santa was a real person. As might be expected, an adult beverage was offered at each house visited and later that night the group of 4 or 5 had difficulty navigating the stairway home.
Later Christmas day, usually around 2:00 PM, an actual feast would begin and continue unabated through the evening. At the immense table, in Grandma Aldi’s dining room, would be seated the family which extended to aunts, uncles, and cousins; at times as many as 24 people. However, there was always room for anyone who happened in. As was tradition in the Italian household the holiday repast consisted of two complete meals: one being the typical Sunday pasta feast expanded with seasonal delicacies followed by the traditional American turkey dinner complete with all the trimmings. What followed was an unimaginable array of homemade pies, pastries, cookies, and other desserts in such numbers enough to stock a bakery.
About 7:00 PM, following the banquet, the large table would be cleared of cups and dishes to
make room for the obligatory holiday card game which continued unabated far into the night. Of
course, the food was forever present in the next room just in case anyone might want a bite or
someone new rang the doorbell, while drinks of all varieties were freely poured.
Later, when I became and altar boy, I would serve midnight mass which provided the
uncontested excuse to remain up far into the A.M. Doing so allowed fascinating conversation
with my Uncle Nick C who was an overnight guest with Aunt Tess every Christmas eve. He
served aboard square-rigged sailing ships earlier in his life. My unexplainable fascination with
sailing vessels of old was fed by his tales of seamanship. One gift I received was a wooden ship
model kit of an old pirate brig by Ideal. Looking over the complex set of plans together Uncle
Nick suddenly asked for a pencil and proceeded to correct the plan’s rigging errors!
Looking back on that time of my life I am filled with a nostalgic longing. Those times, as well as
the people, were more pleasant, far less complicated, kindlier, more helpful and accepting of
other viewpoints. Of course, as always, there were conflicts, fist fights, bullying and the presence of just plain “bad” people. I lived during a period of Italian, Irish and Jewish crime syndicates having a rich, inglorious history in Newark. Many members of my extended family where on opposing sides of the law. Despite the not-so-nice things about that era, it has been suggested that my post-war generation may have experienced the best of times. I believe that statement to be of absolute truth.
Part 3; Development: Grammar School 1947 – 1956
Either stemming from a recognition of the low-income status of the parish residents, or in
recognition of an undesirable philosophical view – too esoteric to be likely for a dogmatic
institution such as the Catholic Church – uniforms were not required by St. Columbus
elementary school. In place of uniforms was a dress code which required boys to be attired in
shirts and ties while girls should be properly dressed in dresses or skirt and blouse. One of my
earliest memories involve the school’s interpretation of this mandated dress code.
I was young, perhaps in the 2nd or 3rd grade, when my parents purchased a cowboy get-up
as either a Christmas gift or a Halloween outfit. Being enamored with several of the televised
cowboy heroes of the day – Gene Autry, Tom Mix, The Lone Ranger, et al - I was overly excited
to wear the clothing and equally so to show it off to my school chums, minus the set of holstered guns and “ten-gallon” hat. Arriving to class in boots, saddle stitched pants, fringed shirt, and string tie, to mine and my parent’s way of thinking, conformed to the school’s dress code. Immediately following the morning ritual of flag salute and prayer I was directed to the
principal’s office, a first but not last visit, where I was berated by Mother Superior for having the
audacity to wear such unacceptable, individualistic, and flagrant clothing. I was then sent home,
having to walk the intervening mile or so in rainy conditions, to change my attire. Looking back
on that twice daily walk I now realize there was a very real danger not obvious to me at the time.
Students making that trek had to cross two of the busiest roads in the city, McCarter Highway
and Broad Street, at a time when there were no crossing guards. I was now made to undertake
this walk alone in a somewhat questionable neighborhood. Imagine how such an ignorant and
uncaring decision by any school would be received by current social standards.
To further illustrate the danger of that mile or so walk I relate an incident occurring in the early
years of elementary school. Though my mind is too congested with nonsense to recall the
specific age or grade level I would guess it to be 2nd or 3rd grade. Several of us were returning
home from the school day and were horsing around, as usual, chasing each other in a kind of tag
game. I was chased into the traffic laden and very wide McCarter Highway just in time for the
light to change against me. I was struck by a car that was, lucky for me, just beginning its
acceleration. I was knocked unconscious, ambulanced to the hospital and my parents summoned.
I must have had a concussion and have no memory of any pain, the accident, the hospital, the
recovery, or of having missed any school.
My experiences at the hands of the Catholic Church, although not all negative by any means, are
partially responsible for unacceptance, rather abhorrence, of religion in any form. Some of the
nuns at that time exercised a power over us students that most likely reflected some serious
personal issues. I recall an incident in grade six involving one of the few nuns that I, until then,
considered to be one of the more pleasant. The class was returning from the daily playground
“exercise” period walking silently in single file. As we approached the classroom door, wanting
to be helpful, I broke ranks and shot ahead to hold open the door. Sister approached me while the students were entering the room and instead of the expected approval for helpfulness, I was
without warning or reason, roundly slapped across the face. I wouldn’t dare cry no matter how
hard the slap, despite the enthusiasm with which it was delivered, but my inability to understand
what had just occurred was adding to my developing encyclopedia of anti-religion sentiments.
Grade five was taught by two teachers, one a lay teacher preferred by students, the other by the
most strict and notorious nun in the school. It was a year filled with apprehension due to the
fearsome demeanor of this person who was surprisingly diminutive in stature. Her slight
countenance was likely one of the reasons for her ferocity.
Salvatore and Peter B were brothers who were as unfortunate as I to be assigned that class. I
recall a day that Sal did something to cause Sister’s ire to raise to a level of uncontrollability.
Now everyone who knew him would agree that Salvatore was a problem, no doubt, but his
infraction was relatively minor and certainly not cause for Sister’s extreme response. She called
Salvatore to the front of the room and in a crescendo of rage began to slam his head against the
slate chalk board to the point of drawing blood. We were mortified, in a state of disbelief, and
more importantly, impotent to do anything. Salvatore went home and later that afternoon saw the predictable appearance of his mother, who was an equally diminutive tough old Italian lady who would not shirk from any confrontation. I don’t remember the words but do recall the fully
warranted ferocity of this woman’s verbal attack on Sister. I never saw this woman before or
since, and I did not even know her name, but she was quickly added to my growing list of
Unfortunately, as could be predicted by those who knew him, later in life Salvatore became
rather notorious and I subsequently found out that he was sent to prison for having killed his
brother Peter. Salvatore and family resided on Avenue C and we were friends. Several other
classmates achieved “thug” status later in life and I knew that Salvatore was a bit different but
was shocked by the implausible depths to which he had fallen.
For a second time, early in my school years, I was once again summoned to the principal’s office
without explanation. Apprehensively, based on previous appearances, I passed into her domain
not knowing what to expect. Immediately upon entry I was confronted by a girl about my age
and her mother, both whom I had never previously encountered. Before I could close the office
door I was accosted with “he’s the one” from this girl I had not known. With a perplexed look on
my face mother superior commanded me to assume a kneel-down position in front of the throne
on which she sat. While on my knees I was accused of throwing rocks at the child from atop the
Pennsylvania Railroad embankment previously mentioned.
That stretch of busy track defined the western border of north and south Ironbound and was
elevated on an earthen, stone, concrete, preformed block composite structure, thereby avoiding
any potential hazards to crossing traffic by the additional placement of overhead bridges
accommodating the unmodulated speed of trains approaching Penn station located in the center
of Newark’s shopping district. South Street was one of the roads that passed beneath the rails and it was necessary to walk under the overhead bridge on the way to school, as apparently was
required of my accuser, albeit in the opposite direction, while on her way to the South Street
I denied any participation in the incident and indicated that I had no previous knowledge of this
person. Sister’s response was a sharp slap in the face and a demand that I confess. My continued
denial provoked slap after slap accompanied with a raising accusatory voice insisting that I
confess. I was finally threatened with a fearsome punishment, the thought of which was fuel for
many nightmares for every boy and girl of that tender age. Following another of many slaps and
pointing to a narrow door in the wall next to her perch she yelled; “If you don’t confess, I will
lock you overnight in that dark closet”. Terrified, I therefore did what was required and prudent,
confessed to something I had never done. Predictably, my mother showed up, against my wishes, to insist that her son was known for his honesty and his vehement denial affirmed that fact. The result of her visit is unknown. What is known is what happened some weeks later. Mom was outside sweeping the front sidewalk and stoop when the public elementary school released its students at the end of the school day. Along came a boy who, according to mother, was my twin, and in both our minds, explained what was hitherto inexplicable.
Troop 78 of the Boy Scouts of America held weekly meetings in the basement of the church. As
soon as I was of acceptable age I joined and continued membership until attaining the rank of
Explorer and advanced to the envied position of leader of the Sioux patrol. The time spent
camping and exploring was priceless for any adventurous boy, and I earned many merit badges.
We camped in the mountains of the Oranges, participated in regional jamborees, and spent one
full week each year on an extended camping, hiking, exploring, and learning trip into the
beautiful Stokes State Forrest. Fun times! We would swim in crystal clear lake water, plan raids
on nearby camps, improvise mock war games, and in one instance, built a log bridge over a small
stream reveling in the ice-cold water. While on another excursion to Bear Mountain, we came
upon a brush fire high atop a cliff. Without giving a second thought we stripped off our coats,
mine being an envied “Eisenhower” flight jacket provided by my dad, a souvenir of his army
service, and used them to beat out the fire until sometime later when the arriving fire company
took over. Unfortunately, the jacket, one of my most cherished items of clothing, was ruined.
I recall one weekend camping trip in the Oranges when we had the unusual good fortune to
reserve one of the log cabins, a welcome alternative to pup-tents, especially since it was winter.
The cabin had a huge fireplace and hearth which we loaded with wood collected previously in
the surrounding forest and set a blazing fire where we cooked rabbit stew made from the 2 or 3
creatures we caught earlier in the day. Two unforgettable happenings took place that evening.
First was the effect of the huge fire on my sleep. Being a side sleeper, either my front or back
would be facing the blaze with an unanticipated result: the other side, not facing the hearth, was
freezing, while the fire facing side would be sweating! During the night I would repeatedly
awaken because of the discomfort thereby losing any sense of time. After several sleep/wake
cycles I left the bunk believing it to be early morning due to the brightness filtering through the
cabin window. Since I slept with clothing, I slipped my boots over my socks and looked through
the window to behold a magical vista, the appearance of an unimaginable wonderland. I have
seen countless snowstorms in the city but nothing resembling what I now beheld. The brightness was partially caused by the thick blanket of the still falling and trackless snow. One of my buddies, now awake, joined me and together we decided to exit the cabin. The scenery was surreal and one I have never since experienced. The sky was not black as would be expected but a predawn gray most likely the result of the low cloud cover reflecting and defusing the night’s man-made artificial illumination. The breeze was totally absent and in that absolute silent
stillness the unimaginably huge flakes of snow were floating down to the earth. The silence was
so intense that the flakes could be heard landing with a barely detectable fizz-like sound. We
were both transfixed by what we saw, felt, and heard as if we were the only two people on the
planet privy to the beauty around us. After several minutes, our scoutmaster appeared at the
cabin door reminding us that it was about 2 AM and we should get back to sleep. 65 odd years
later I am grateful for the discomfort of the fire that was responsible for allowing us to be a brief witness to such tranquility and beauty.
During my time in seventh and eighth grades I became an altar boy who assisted with Sunday
services along with special events such as weddings, funerals, and baptisms. Being an altar boy
was what one aspired to as a student in Catholic school, where priests were the role models to be admired and emulated by the young boys. These individuals were ostensibly the epitome of
morality, fairness, and honor.
Father E was the parish pastor at the time and served early – 6:30 am – daily mass, which I
considered myself fortunate for not being assigned. However, on one occasion he presided over a later mass for some unknown reason, a service I had been assigned. Father E was the eldest of
the priests and was known for his crabbiness, lack of patience, and the incomprehensible
monotone drone he employed while intoning the verbiage required by the mass rite. His whirring
was unintelligible with a similarity to the nasal monotone chanting one hears in some middle east
cultures. Becoming more and more musically inclined I was so adversely, albeit humorously,
affected by the sound emanating from his nose that I, as well as my companion mass server,
mimicked him during the required responses. At one point in the service, it is required that one
of the altar boys transfer the huge mass book from one side of the altar to the other, a duty that
happened to fall on me that day. Having completed the task, I stepped aside awaiting Father E to
approach and continue with the mass thereby tacitly dismissing me from that location. Instead,
he turned to me and impatiently asked, “is that where the book belongs?” This was a Sunday
service with the church filled to overflowing and standing room only being available to anyone
arriving late. I honestly did not know what he wanted me to do since it was a very mechanical
task that I performed countless times. Having no other recourse except for two possibilities I
pushed the gigantic gold leafed tome closer to him. He flew into a rage and told me to leave the
altar and get out of his sight. I had obviously chosen the incorrect option of the two. By that time of my development, I was becoming more and more questioning and had a difficulty, as is still the case, in understanding and accepting irrational behavior, of which this was a perfect example. Following the Mass conclusion. I paid a visit to Father in the sacristy, where he was engaged in storing his mass vestments, wanting to understand why such an incongruous event occurred. He would not talk to me and gruffly shooed me away. Before leaving I turned to him asking rhetorically why he was so mean and that none of the other priests were that way. Predictably, he flew into a heightened rage as I departed, causing great satisfaction in the certainty of knowing I would never have to serve mass with him again; or so I erroneously thought.
During school the next day, the nun in charge of the altar boys called me aside and with a
shocked look on her face asked, “what happened between Father E and you yesterday”. Not
wanting to prolong the incident, or perhaps not wanting to validate it, I responded that nothing of importance occurred. She then told me that, whatever it was, it caused Father to request I be
assigned to him as permanent altar boy and was now required to serve every mass that he lorded
over. I am to this day puzzled by his motivation, and more curiously, never another word passed
between us those intolerably long months of daily 6:30 AM masses, nor did he ever point out any fault or displeasure I may have subsequently caused.
Robert V was a classmate who sat directly to my rear in 8thgrade. He was a tough street-smart
guy who obviously was able to handle himself in a fight. Penmanship was included in our daily
lessons which required the use of ink and a wooden pen holder into which pointed metal writing
nibs would be inserted to dip into the inkwell, the purpose being to write in the exactness
required by the alphabet displayed in oversized cursive examples pasted above the classroom’s
immense slate chalk boards. For some reason not really clear to this day Robert forcefully
stabbed my seated ass with the pen causing an immediate automatic response. I shot up out of
my seat, turned around and, with closed fist and no thought of any consequence, struck him a
weighted blow to his starboard shoulder bringing tears to his eyes and shock to the entire class. I had a reputation of being a good boy and Sister was speechless in response to my aggressive
action. Finally, being able to vocalize her inevitable question, I explained with much anger, what
Robert did. To her credit, with apparent understanding, she asked if I was alright, and following
my affirmative response, asked me to be seated. At some point later in the day, with the
realization that I had invoked a terrible response from Robert, he approached me in the
playground, and with many classmates surrounding us, challenged me to a fist fight to be staged
a few blocks away in Lincoln Park the following day at the conclusion of school. I responded
with false bravado, not displaying my regret and fear, “I’ll be there, just be sure you are”.
As might be imagined, the word of the impending conflict spread like wildfire through the
student population. The entire eighth grade, and many others, were consumed by the prospect of
a potentially great fight between two of the biggest kids in the school, one of which was
considered to be notoriously tough. I spent the rest of the day, that night and intervening school
day consumed with regret and apprehension realizing that surely, I was going to get my ass
kicked. Mercifully, none of the kids would mention the impending pugilistic contest, at least in
my presence, and I can only assume that any wagering was not in my favor. Following the last
class of the day I walked to the agreed upon grassy arena which was thick with students
wanting to view the spectacle. I, and everyone else, could not believe what resulted. ROBERT
CHICKENED OUT AND NEVER SHOWED UP!
The next morning in the playground before school, I sought him out, naturally accompanied by
an unwanted group of students, asked why he never showed up and offered a re-schedule of the anticipated bout after school that day, while secretly praying that he would decline, which to my great relief and surprise he did, thereby ending the conflict in my favor. It was one of those non-events that bestowed me with the unwanted crown of “the toughest kid in the school”. The only reason I can think of for his refusal to engage in battle with me was the impact of the punch I threw in class, which had every ounce of my considerable weight behind it and brought
noticeable tears to his tough face.
Because of the everyday role model priests had on young growing boys in search of some
direction to life, I confided to Father C that I thought I may have a “calling” to the priesthood. As
might be expected his response was one of excited encouragement and we conversed several
times on the possibility and requirements of becoming an ordained representative of the church.
After several of those more and more revealing conversations it became evident that my
burgeoning interest in music and girls far outweighed any further religious consideration as a
way of life, which I now quickly dismissed.
I have delayed relating the events following the appointment of a newly transferred priest to the
parish, because of the considerable discomfort it evokes, especially considering the predatory
sexual behavior recently coming to light encompassing all levels of the Catholic Church. My
initial meeting with Father S took place in the altar boy’s dressing area, where, preparing to serve mass I was introduced to him by mother superior. I extended my hand in greeting which was met with a backhand slap to my privates. My surprise was at a level unsurpassed, and although the event was not actually witnessed by Sister, the shock on my face was. I now realize that her facial expression and body language was in acknowledgement of what had occurred, and that most likely father S’s reputation preceded his appointment to Saint Columbus.
Father befriended many of the boys, myself included, and I am at a loss to explain why I became
part of his entourage. Perhaps it was in recognition of his acceptance of our burgeoning sexuality and the fact that we had someone with whom to confide about matters that were otherwise taboo except among our inexperienced peers. Whatever the cause, Father ingratiated himself into our circle in several ways that were seemingly innocuous. He would frequently invite the boys out for ice cream or hamburgers or just for a ride to some event. He asked our 8th grade teacher to remove the girls from class for an hour one day a week for several weeks so he could teach lessons about sex to the boys, replete with drawings of the relevant organs on the chalk boards.
This was, as might be expected, welcome by the boys who thirsted for this information, and the
acceptable format in which it was presented, allowing us to discuss and have intimate questions
asked and answered. Unnoticed was the visible excitement these lessons provoked in Father S.
His interaction with the boys became more and more provocative, suggestive, and sexual in
nature. Masturbation was deemed “dirty” by all of society but particularly the church which
required a penance, re-enforcing the unreasonable feelings of guilt and embarrassment foisted
upon the public, especially the youth, about such a natural, albeit private, function. Eventually
Father would gather several boys together for ice cream that turned into what was commonly
known as a circle jerk, where the boys would be urged on to see who would be the first to
masturbate to orgasm. Following my initial exposure to such an experience I discontinued my
participation in recognition that this was something that went, as the saying goes, beyond the
pale. Father S was deemed a pillar of society, a holy man, a representative of all that was good.
How could such behavior be understood, explained, and most of all, justified?
I supposed the boys viewed it as vindication of the confusion and guilt stemming from the
unavoidable “dirty” thoughts consuming us daily every time we looked at a pretty girl. I vividly
recall the stirrings in my body caused by Ruth and Patricia. And then there was Dianne, who
lived on South Street a block to the east. She was a year older, well developed and very pretty.
She was also a girl who had come to realize her physical assets were evoking a flattering
response from neighborhood boys. She wore the tightest imaginable blue genes made even more
provocative by being worn in the bathtub to shrink them even further, thereby leaving little
to the imagination. Her presence, either actual or imaginary, caused the predictable,
uncontrollable, hormonal responses. Alas, it seemed she never even knew I was alive.
Gratefully, Father S’s interaction with the boys never went to the point of anything physical, as
far as I know, and I viewed it for what I thought it was, an uncommon aberration of a misguided
human-being priest. I am appalled by the recently surfaced allegations illustrating the
unimaginable extent and commonality of such behavior among priests; disgusting behavior
accepted, actively denied, and intentionally hidden by the highest church officials. I am fortunate
that I recognized what was occurring, but what about the thousands of boys who were enticed to further experimentation causing real psychological damage by an institution purported to be the ultimate bastion of morality? Any other “business” – which is precisely what I consider religion - would be publicly condemned, boycotted, and held accountable. In this instance, incredibly, Catholics continue to support the church with weekly mass attendance and financial donations to what may be one of the wealthiest organizations on the planet. Unbelievably, recent accounts have surfaced implicating the same behavior among “holy men” of other religious sects.
As our eighth year sped to its inevitable conclusion student’s thoughts and conversations were
increasingly focusing on the next big hurdle facing us, high school. Somewhere along the line it
was suggested by parents and nuns alike, perhaps in complicity, that I apply to Saint Benedict
Catholic High School. Because of my increasing and overwhelming interest in music my eyes
were set on Arts High School directly across the street from Saint Benedict. I was becoming
drawn to the creativeness of writing music and managed to finish a first composition for piano,
Wind Song. However, I agreed, reluctantly, to take the entrance exam for the Catholic school in
addition to that required by Arts High.
I was anything but an outstanding scholar, a condition made worse by my obsessive interest in
music at the expense of academics. The exam given by St. Benedict was at an academic standard
beyond me, and I knew for certain that I would not be accepted. Several days later, and much to
my surprise, Sister announced to the entire class that I was to be congratulated for not only being accepted to Saint Benedict High School, but for having achieved the exceptional test score of 98%! I knew this to be an absolute falsehood and immediately surmised that the test score was a made-up number probably resulting from collusion between the elementary school and the high school. Upon hearing the absurd news, coupled with a much-increased questioning of church dogma and my intensifying interest in music, I made the decision, without consulting my
parents, to attend Arts High, having recently been notified of my passing their combined talent
and scholastic entrance test; with the talent portion obviously outweighing the academic!
Part 4; Coda
Coda: “the concluding passage of a piece or movement, typically forming an addition to the basic structure” – Oxford Dictionaries
There is a uniqueness to the Jersey shore on several counts, the nature of the sand being the first to come to mind. It is a clean sand as opposed to what one finds in Georgia, for example,
where the sand appears to have more dirt or clay in the mix. Obviously, there are many
outstanding beaches in Florida and other east coast locales that are gorgeous, but there is a
consistency of the sand’s character from Sandy Hook south all the way to Cape May, the state’s
southern terminus. I suppose there is a high silica content that may have something to do with the sand’s nature, be that as it may, it is one of the many reasons that so many people vacation in the Jersey shore.
Its proximity and ease of access to the densely populated northeast section of the United States
would also contribute to the shore’s popularity. Even before the Garden State Parkway was
constructed the beaches could be easily accessed via the heavily traveled US routes 1 and 9 from
the north, and Delsea Drive, route 70, the black horse and white horse pikes from the west.
Departing the highway, a visitor would drive east the short distance through the picturesque salt
marshes and over quaint bridges spanning the many protected bays and inland waterways before
reaching the beach of choice. And that choice was, and still is, extremely varied; from the urban
gambling mecca of Atlantic City, the playground atmosphere of towns like Seaside Heights,
Asbury Park and Point Pleasant to the pristine awesome beauty of Island Beach State Park, or
The ocean itself is a further enticement. The waters under normal conditions can be tumultuous
or benign depending on the state of the tide. Low tide exposes sand bars that provide tranquil
wading pools while high tide offers invigorating conditions which also allow surfing
opportunities. The ocean is cooling and refreshing with temperatures during the height of
summer in the mid and upper 70’s.
As a child, my family would undertake the long tedious drive from Newark to Wildwood Crest
hours to the south, during the last two weeks every August, when my dad would be rewarded
with his vacation. He had an army buddy who lived in Philadelphia, Scotty, who’s family owned
an immense white Victorian three story house on New Jersey Avenue a couple of blocks south
off the route 47 causeway into Wildwood Crest.
The house had an unforgettable majesty with a huge encircling porch where vacationers would
congregate for non-stop conversation. Inducing an even more fantasy-like atmosphere was the
steam powered railroad servicing the Jersey shore with the busy train station a couple of blocks
away at the junction with Rio Grand Avenue. Invariably, every day, usually while socializing on
that immense, awesome white and gray railing enclosed wooden porch; the engine’s bell would
foretell its departing for points south and its passing within yards of the house. I used to put
pennies on the rails to retrieved after the train’s passage as grotesquely flattened souvenirs of
what they once were. The children would be assigned tiny rooms high in the attic where all of
Wildwood and the Crest could be viewed from the high cupola.
My first vacation entertainment was a trip to the docks to gawk at the beautiful pleasure craft and the salty looking fishing fleet. Being enamored with boats, particularly sailing vessels it seems from the beginning of awareness, I was constantly drawn to such locations. On one of those visits I befriended a fishing vessel’s captain, who, after a time of familiarity, invited me to join the crew as an observer for one of those trips. Perhaps he visualized a future paid 1st mate in my enthusiasm. I was ecstatic at the possibility of bringing to fruition my desire to be among the fraternity of those who have witnessed the deep ocean and experienced an unobstructed horizon devoid of any evidence of urban civilization – to view the setting of the sun over the sea and perhaps even glimpse the legendary green flash so often talked about by seamen. With
anticipation I sped to the house and informed mom of the good news. Her vehement refusal was
a crushing disappointment, one that was understandable from my current perspective, but never
so at the time. Not sympathetic to mom’s reasoning I held that decision against her for the rest of the vacation and for some time beyond as a unique experience she denied me.
The beach at Wildwood was awesome and uncharacteristically expansive – today even more so.
From what I understand, the predominant movement of sand along the shoreline is southerly in
direction with natural cycles of erosion and replenishment assisted by the stabilizing effect of the sand dunes. Unfortunately, and not uncommonly, humanity’s desire to improve on nature
interfered with this natural cycle by the elimination of many sand dunes to make way for
waterfront vacationer’s housing, necessitating construction of groins and jetties poking out
perpendicularly from the beaches ostensibly to prevent the valuable sand from washing away. In
many places the actual effect was in complete opposition to that which was desired. However, in
Wildwood the reverse occurs in the extreme! I am told, or perhaps read in one of the valuable
Rutgers’s University environmental reports, that the beach increase is due to the placement of
such artificial jetties above and below Wildwood, while just a bit further south, Cape May has to
replenish the sand periodically conversely to what occurs in Wildwood despite similarly
constructed groins. The predicament is extreme in the southernmost part of the Atlantic facing
portion of Cape May where acres of land, roads, houses, and even the old train tracks are now a
considerable distance offshore due to this man-made erosion. Naturally, bureaucratic
human nature being what it is, the absurd solution to the dilemma caused by the unnatural
structures, was to create more of them. Therefore, during the storm season many beaches erode
severely, unable to be replenished and protected by the natural sand dunes, resulting in the very
labor intensive and expensive task of pumping sand from the ocean floor and other places back
to the effected shoreline to accommodate the next season’s tourist invasion.
Another prime enticement for a Wildwood vacation was the amazing boardwalk and the varied
night life. Full of diversions, the boardwalk boasted countless varieties of food, drink,
amusement rides, and games of chance which curiously saw few winners, all in a carnival
atmosphere. As far as I was concerned there were only two places worthy of my attention and
expenditure of the few coins I managed to save for the occasion, the target shooting gallery with
real 22 caliber rifles and the hobby shop at the southern terminus of the amusement section of the wooden walkway just before entering the Crest. The gallery because I liked the exactness of the target shooting and the hobby shop to gawk at the beautifully constructed wooden scale models of old-time sailing vessels.
Seated on that magnificent porch and conversing with the guests, who were all friends, was a
daily occurrence. One of my father’s friends had an unusual nickname, “Doc”. Dad told me the
name resulted from his practice of always having a basic medical kit on him. During one of our
conversations, he broached the subject of my interest in girls. I embarrassingly told him of the
beautiful girl I noticed at the community center informal teen social in Wildwood Crest where
the area youngsters would meet, interact, and dance to the juke box. When asked why I did not
ask her to dance I replied that I didn’t know what to say – I was shy, self-conscious, and
intimidated by girls. Doc suggested a “break-the-ice-phrase” to use. Now, this guy was a good-
looking, confident, outgoing person and at my youthful, inexperienced age his suggestion
seemed the perfect solution. That night at the social I eventually found the courage to walk up to
the girl of my dreams and blurted out “Hey snake, you wanna crawl?” She looked at me like I
was from Mars, turned and walked away without a word. I felt like I stood nude, alone in a
crowd; embarrassed and devastated. As I think back on this episode, I realize that if Doc would
have been in my place the result would probably have been totally different because of his
self-confidence and suavity.
Another unique and quite comical phrase was employed by my dad whenever I would say
something that was ridiculous, incorrect, or just plain unthinking – which was frequently the
case. He would laugh and say, “Don’t talk like a man with a paper asshole”. Now I ask you, what
the hell does it even mean? At my advanced age of 76 I have never heard anyone else use the
phrase or heard an explanation of its meaning. In this day of the internet one can find almost
anything explained, and so with this peculiar phraseology which apparently emanates from the
military. Here are some reasonable explanations:
“To quote my stepfather ‘you talk like a man with a paper asshole’ meaning that you have no conception of the shit you are talking about”.
“Forgive me, but I think you’re speaking from ignorance, as you merely provide assertions and opinions without any apparent support. Translation: ‘You talk like a man with a paper asshole”.
“You sound like a man with a paper asshole. Think of the resonance. A loud fart amplified by vibrations caused by passing through a paper asshole. Lots and lots of noise, much thunder, but no lightning!”
I cannot help but apply this aptly descriptive statement to the fool we have mistakenly elected as president of the United States – Donald Trump.
Some years later we abandoned the long trek south in favor of the less burdensome drive to
Silver Beach, located between Seaside Heights and Point Pleasant. A couple of relatives
purchased bungalows there, of a simplicity rarely seen anymore, and often invited us for several
days at a time. Silver Beach allowed a more relaxed and less congested beach experience while
permitting, because of its proximity, the excitement of the Seaside and Point Pleasant carnival
atmosphere similar to that of Wildwood, along with an equally diverse nightlife. This section of
the shore was dominated by visitors from northern Jersey and points north while the beach towns of southern Jersey, Atlantic City, Ocean City, Wildwood and Cape May primary among them, serviced residents of south Jersey, Philadelphia, and surrounding areas.
The vacations spent at the Jersey shore are golden in my memory and cannot be recaptured if
only for the many technological changes occurring in the intervening years. The old expression
which is particularly meaningful to me today I paraphrase: you can never really return to your
home of old.
SUITE No. 1
Part 1; Chorale: High School 1956 – 1960
Arts High School was the nation’s first Art and Music emphasis high school, much on the order
of the recently popular musical/movie FAME (minus the dance and drama courses). Perspective
students, from any area within Newark city limits, were required to make application and pass a
performance audition to qualify for entrance into the music program, whereas all other city
public schools were populated by students who resided in that school’s sending district with no
entrance test required. Having already had 5 or 6 years of piano lessons and a father who was a
musician with his own band, it’s no surprise that my interest in music went far beyond the
casual. I therefore entered Art’s High School’s class of ‘60 as a “music major” with a college
The very first class I attended was Miss Abos’s English class. Naturally, the first order of
business was role calling, which was carried out in alphabetical order. When finally progressing
to the s’s I heard a surprising name called – “Pasquale Spino”. Looking around the room I
thought to myself “someone has the same last name as I do”. When no one answered, Miss Abos
called the name again stressing the “e” in Pasquale. Again, no answer. To this day I will never
understand how she knew that I might be the person being called, but she turned to me with a
slight, almost undetectable smile on her face, and asked for my name, which I gave as Patrick.
The undetectable smile transformed into outright, but un-mocking laughter, while she asked if
my name might not actually be Pasquale. I had no idea! I was embarrassed because I had no
idea. I cannot remember even hearing the name Pasquale before that day. What a strange way to
begin one’s high school career.
To get to the school, it was necessary to take public transportation via the number 25 bus from
the intersection of South and Herman Streets, across the street from my house, which was a
block away from the start of its run, to one of the stops on Market Street between Broad and
High Streets. The bus would then continue west on Springfield Avenue to its route end in
Maplewood. Along the way other students attending Arts would board and at the maximum there would be approximately eight or ten of us. The bus was made crowded by those music students having to bring their instruments back and forth to school. Being a piano player, I was not so burdened, at least for a short time. Such an oversight was corrected in short order.
Mr. Achilles DiAmico was one of the instrumental teachers who also conducted the Concert
Band. The band rehearsed after the last class of the day on the auditorium stage. During the day
however, in addition to the college preparatory track, music majors were assigned Music Theory
and Instrumental Lesson classes. My first day in instrumental lessons Mr. DiAmico ask each
student what instrument they played. When I answered piano he said that the band did not
make use of that instrument and that I should pick a band instrument to learn. I did not know
what to select, being surprised by the necessity of having to do so. He sized me up and down and concluded that I looked like a trombone player and immediately went to the instrument storage closet and emerged with a three plus foot long and strangely shaped black case with a cone like bulge on one end. I then had my first trombone lesson and was loaned the instrument until such time as I might purchase one, thereby burdening me in similar fashion as the other music majors on bus number 25.
Two weeks following that first lesson, Mr. DiAmico was responsible for another, more shocking
surprise. He said that I was to report to band rehearsal that afternoon and take a seat in the 3rd
trombone chair. This was laughable because I barely could execute the basic B flat major scale
with any kind of musicality. Mentioning this to Mr. D he passed it off as a minor impediment
that I will quickly overcome – with practice. I was completely overwhelmed that first rehearsal
but took the music folder and the trombone home every day to acquire enough skill to help me
pass as less of a musical idiot. I suppose it was akin to throwing a person into the pool to learn
how to swim; extreme but often works. Thankfully, Mr. D supplied me with the standard Rubank
Elementary Trombone Method, Book One. Daily instrumental class lessons, the instruction
book, a daily hour or so of practice at home, and some help from dad, who was a trumpet player,
I acquired enough facility to the point that I could play the required music for the first Christmas
Concerts of many more to follow during my life.
Mr. D was a very accomplished musician, and if memory serves me correctly, he was principal
percussionist with either the Newark Symphony Orchestra or the New Jersey Symphony;
possibly both. His confidence and outstanding ability resulted in a very relaxed approach to
music that was infectious. One day, during my sophomore year he asked me to stay after class.
While waiting to see what took preference over my Algebra class, in which I was having
difficulty, several other students who I recognized from band and orchestra practice as drummers entered the room. Mr. D finally joined us and started to distribute music to each of us. The sheet handed me was the xylophone part to a percussion ensemble composition. Everyone except me, went to their respective instruments prepared to execute a first reading of the piece. I told Mr. D there must be some mistake and that I didn’t know how to play the xylophone. He casually responded, “sure you do. It’s the same as the piano keyboard except you use mallets instead of your fingers”. With that statement we read through the piece two times, following which Mr. D told us that we were going across the street to Saint Benedict High School where he was to give a presentation on percussion instruments, to be concluded with the performance of the composition we would be playing for the third time.
I believe the incident previously described was a major factor in imparting to me a relaxed
attitude when under pressure, at least when it came to music, and I recall many occasions, some
of which will be related later when it served me well.
After a time, Mike Criscola, an excellent trombone player in my father’s band, took me on as a
student with weekly lessons added to my piano instruction. With his guidance I gained enough
facility to where I was appointed lead trombone in all the performance organizations, band,
orchestra, pit orchestra, marching band, and opera orchestra. You read it correctly – Opera
The talent at Arts was so advanced that we staged complete operas and operettas along with our
regularly scheduled frequent band, orchestra, and chorus concerts every year. Many of my fellow
students went on to successful careers, some in opera, others in Hollywood’s music scene,
symphony orchestras, music writing, and pop music performance groups like the Four Seasons.
Early in my high school education, one of the upper classmen put together a work-shop big jazz
band and I was asked to play my newly acquired trombone, on which I had little proficiency.
Playing big band jazz required a relaxed interpretation or “feel” difficult to explain or to teach.
Correct performance necessitated much exposure to the style through listening to recordings and seeking every opportunity to play, of which I possessed little of either. The very first chart to be played was Stan Kenton’s Intermission Riff. The preponderance of my instruction having been
classical, resulted in the embarrassing inability to execute the trombone part with the correct
“feel”, and the eventual result of being asked, understandably and without ridicule, to refrain
from playing and just listen. However, one positive outgrowth of this experience caused me to
seek out and listen to as many big band era recordings as I could get my hands on, thereby
infusing me with the correct performance “feel” required by less classical musical styles.
While attending Arts High I was developing a serious proclivity for composing and arranging
music. “Moonlight in Vermont” was my first, somewhat laughable attempt at arranging for a
workshop big band. As might be anticipated, there were many errors in mechanics as well as
creativity that proved to be an embarrassment albeit a valuable learning experience. Incorrect
transpositions and the desire to display every technique my brain absorbed by listening to
recordings became part of my creative attempt. The height of absurdity was reached by including
an incongruous drum solo in the arrangement of this beautiful ballad.
As much as my dad, as well as members of his band tried to educate me about the pitfalls and
difficulties of becoming a composer, he could not ignore my increasing, and uncontrollable
desire to write music. He arranged for me to take lessons with the successful commercial
composer/arranger George Stalter in his Elizabeth New Jersey studio. Dad would drive me there
every week for hour-long lessons that I looked forward to resulting in an encyclopedia of
knowledge that was enlightening and thirsted for. Under George’s tutelage I was made to both
play and write every possible chord, in every key, in a variety of voicings and in many different
styles. My first successful and notable arranging attempt was a piano rendition of “Manhattan” in stride-bass style, imitative of the great Teddy Wilson. The quality of that arrangement was
evident to both my dad and me and reinforced by the surprise registered by George’s facial
expressions and his effusive comments.
Also contributing to my enthusiasm and knowledge was the presence of dad’s big band, known
as the Nick Nichols Orchestra. Its instrumentation consisted of 4 saxes, 2 sometimes 3 trumpets, 1 sometimes 2 trombones, piano, bass, guitar, drums. As I grew into my teens, I would assist in setting up for the band’s performance in huge ballrooms for dances, weddings, et al, later that evening. Upon gaining more proficiency on my instrument of choice I would attend those performances with the welcome and very instructive opportunity of being asked to occasionally sit in, while the band’s piano player and my first teacher, Tony Sages, offered encouragement and suggestions. Unrealized to me at the time was the outstanding quality of that group of musicians, many of whom were associated with dad since his high school days. As I recalled later in my life when leading my own band, the difficulty and quality of many arrangements his band played, and the deft with which they were performed was unknowingly inspiring, until a look back from a later perspective. Truly challenging arrangements by bands such as Stan Kenton, Artie Shaw, Count Basie, Harry James, Benny Goodman, etc., were expertly performed. Amazingly, I have no recollection of that band ever rehearsing, despite the regular addition of charts of more contemporary material!
My first serious attempt at composing was a piano piece in ¾ time which became one of the
movements of a later composed Piano Suite. One evening my family was entertaining some of
my dad’s band members and their wives, a common occurrence, when I mentioned my
composition to the excellent 1st trumpet player, Sammy Malisi, my recently finished piano piece.
He asked to see it and proceeded to sing the melodic line and indicated by his reaction that he
was unimpressed and commented unenthusiastically, “Yah, so?”. I remarked that there was much
more substance to the music besides the melodic line and sat at the piano to play through the
entire piece. I will never forget his reaction and shock that registered on his face. From that day
on I was no longer a “kid” studying music but was now considered a “serious” student of the art.
Least the reader reaches the incorrect conclusion that music was my only interest, I now illustrate that assumption to be not so. A topic equal in intensity was the opposite sex. Despite hormones running amuck my thinking was to avoid marriage. Such a conclusion, common among my musician friends, recognized that success in the field depended on total commitment and
dedication. The responsibilities required to raise a family would be an unwanted and unnecessary
impediment. Additionally, examples of failed relationships, especially numerous in the
entertainment field, supported the belief of responsibility only to oneself. However, emotional
response often supplants that of the intellect.
The high school was housed in a four-floor brick structure with the top floor housing the
library and the Newark College of Art. I did all I could to avoid what I considered to be the time-
wasting study hall period. That is until I found out that the college on the 4th floor would often
hire models who posed nude for the aspiring artists to draw, paint and learn about human
anatomy. Navigating to the library where the study halls were held would often allow a
pleasurable glimpse of a beautiful naked woman posing for the art students.
Occasionally, events unfold that seem to support the argument validating a concept of pre-
destination. Walking between classes during my second year alongside my tenor sax playing
buddy “Mousy”, I was struck by lightning. I beheld a vision of beauty enveloped in red hair the
length of her torso that would forever alter my anti-commitment sentiments. Asking my friend
who she was, the name Carol Frankovsky was given. My immediate and unexplainable comment
was, “I’m going to marry her”. Although searching, I never saw her again; that is until the
following semester when we were assigned to Mr. Y’s Biology class.
I have come to recognize that during a person’s life there are a mere handful of occurrences that
can be labeled as life altering. This was one of those moments. As luck would have it, and in
realization of my dream, we were seated next to each other. We paid little attention to the
subject matter being taught, which became more and more obvious to the teacher. Being a very
tolerant and understanding fellow he never called us to task, but one day asked us to stop by his
desk at the conclusion of class. Upon doing so he queered with a knowing smile, “when are you
two getting married”? I have such respect for this man, his underinflated view of self-
importance, who knew and understood that class was of lower interest to us and was unoffended by that obviousness. A look back might even suggest that he was quite pleased that his class was the vehicle responsible for our developing relationship. Biology was the only class I had with Mr. Y, but he was added to my very selective list of “good” guys.
Our relationship blossomed, and we committed to each other in our senior year by “going
steady”. Upon graduation I applied and was accepted to Glassboro State College, now renamed
Rowan University, as a piano/music education major; another one of those life defining events,
and a real test of Carol’s and my pledge to each other. Over the years that commitment, as with
all such entanglements, was often tested, but the relationship’s survival reinforced the depth of
feeling and our agreed upon obligation.
Part 2; Toccata: College 1960 - 1964
Toccata: “a piece of music for a keyboard instrument which includes difficult passages designed to show the player's skill” – Oxford Dictionary
As previously stated, my academic proficiency was somewhat lacking, more regrettable because
it was a conscious choice, where music held priority. The decision was one of two that had
significant outcomes: the other being the choice to concentrate on composition at the expense of continuing my development as a performer. The academic weaknesses I was able to overcome
over the next dozen or so years, the long-term relaxing of performance skills exacted a cost
unrealized at this time of my life, as foretold by dad. He predicted that development of my piano
abilities would offer more opportunity to make meaningful contacts that would only help my
ambitions as a composer/arranger. Alas, dad passed some time ago before I could admit to him
that he was correct. I have had some wonderful successes as a composer, but missed additional
opportunities that would have presented themselves if I became establish as a more proficient
performer, by simply being able to take advantage of an association with many musicians with
whom I would have close contact. That being said, it must be also stated that my piano skills
were not just ordinary by any means. I advanced to a point allowing a career supplemented by
performance in several venues, but one tends to look back at things that a person would change,
given a second chance.
College; Year One
Entrance into Glassboro State was a stroke of good fortune. The Music Major program was
implemented just 3 years previous and hadn’t yet graduated its first students. I have no doubt
about the department’s desire to attract as high a caliber musician as possible to this new
program with the result that academics held less weight in the admission process – a
circumstance beneficial to me. Being an average achiever in the required scholastic subjects
would most likely disallow my acceptance to the college were I to applied today, possessing
The college experience was responsible for continuing at a much higher level of thought, my
questioning of dogma, authority demanding unquestioning loyalty, absolutism, and any practice
conformed to by means of adherence to a cause via unthinking blindness. One early freshman
class, Philosophy, through the asking of a single rhetorical question, was responsible for
completing my final disassociation with religion. That single unanswered question illuminated
and coalesced all the confusing thoughts concerning the validity of religion as a vehicle
necessary for human salvation. I do not even remember the instructors name – Professor Shaw
perhaps - but the question he posed resulted in a revelation and a definition of a lifestyle that I
will carry to the grave: a manual for living. Paraphrasing he asked: “If I could prove to you
absolutely, unequivocally, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that God does not exist, would you
change the way you live your life?” He expounded further: “or are you being a “good” person
because you fear punishment in an after-life?” There was little class discussion since the question as proffered as part of his introduction to the subject matter to follow during the semester. However, in my mind, there was an immediate response: “If I am being a proper person because f the fear of punishment, then I am being so for the wrong reason. People should live without regard for reward or penalty, but simply because it is the correct and honorable way to exist”.
Being a campus resident was a welcome break from living with my parents and one that I would
recommend to anyone entering college, assuming the economics permitted so doing. Freshman
were not permitted automobiles, so I was practically prisoner, so to speak, but one having
pleasant benefits. The freedom resulting that might have been overwhelming to some was
eagerly accepted by me. Obviously, there was a continuing dependence on my family, but that
need became gradually less throughout the four years to the point that I had no reservations about being on my own. What was not welcomed was the time away from Carol imposed by about 150 miles distance, but we would talk daily by phone and the relationship not only survived but blossomed. During trips home we would spend every possible second together.
Carol’s family situation was difficult. Her father George Frankovsky, whom she never knew,
was killed in the 2nd World War in Sicily and she was raised by her mother and grandmother.
Her mom, Virginia, was devoted to her husband’s memory and the well being of her daughter at
the expense of any serious entanglements, despite 1 or 2 marriage proposals. Unhappily, while I
was home during the Easter Holiday college break, she had a debilitating stroke that resulted in
the Grandmother, Rose Gallo, assuming the role of Carol’s surrogate mother. This woman had
serious emotional issues which became more and more obvious as time went by. She must have
had a terrible time as a child who was raised and apparently mistreated by a Catholic orphanage
which scarred her for eternity. She was intensely bitter and filled Carol with an unneeded
guilt concerning mom’s disability. For example, every time Carol and I would go on a date the
grandmother would mention being home early “in case your mother had another stroke or
possibly heart attack”. Carol is to be commended for realizing her grandma’s bitterness was
being directed to her, most likely through a jealous nature, which resulted in a strength of
character and independence I admire even today. Years later I confided to Carol that I came to
the early conclusion that there may be some underlying emotional and mental issues at play. The
great positive resulting from the terrible conditions Carol had to endure until her mom died
shortly after our marriage, was her self-promise to be unlike her grandmother during her life, but particularly when raising children of our own.
The Glassboro Summit Conference, usually just called the Glassboro Summit, was the 23–25 June 1967 meeting of the heads of government of the United States and the Soviet Union—President Lyndon B. Johnsonand Premier Alexei Kosygin, respectively—for the purpose of discussing Soviet Union–United States relations in Glassboro, New Jersey. During the Arab–Israeli Six-Day Wardiplomatic contact and cooperation increased, leading some to hope for an improvement in the two countries' relations. Some even hoped for joint cooperation on the Vietnam War. Although Johnson and Kosygin failed to reach agreement on anything important, the generally amicable atmosphere of the summit was referred to as the "Spirit of Glassboro" and is seen to have improved Soviet–US relations. – Wikipedia
College: Year Two
The second year at Glassboro saw an event which displayed the talent and creativeness of several music students at GSC, as well as others outside of the music department. Somehow an idea surfaced to produce an all-student class variety show – eventually titled ‘64 Swings in ‘62. By tacit agreement, possibly prompted by being at the forefront of organizing the event and my increasingly recognized composing/arranging skill, I was to be the musical director of the big
band that would be the backdrop for the show’s song, dance, and comic acts. We assembled a
band with personnel representative of every grade level and spent many hours rehearsing
arrangements and originals written by me and the band’s drummer, fellow classmate Nick
Cerrato, for vocal backups and band features. Thankfully, the show had the total commitment of
many students involved in production, set design, scheduling, etc., thereby freeing me to write
the many arrangements and rehearse the band. To say it was a success is to understate the impact the show’s production had on not just the college life, but surrounding communities, evidenced by standing room only with overflow into the hallways. We could easily have had 2 or 3 performances: a possibility no one predicted.
I was having issues with my piano instructor’s very rigid approach to playing the instrument. She
seemed to be excessively consumed with mechanics that went as far as demanding exact finger
height, shape, and hand position at the expense, as it seemed to me, of the music. I should have
anticipated this during my entrance audition. I prepared the required scales and chose the
difficult piano reduction of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue as my audition solo, which I
memorized in its entirety. Completing the scales and other requirements, I proceeded to perform
the solo piece. I played a dozen or so of the hundreds of measures memorized and was abruptly
stopped by this woman with “thank you – next please”, thereby dismissing me. I was disgusted,
disappointed, and confused by her actions and felt that I wasted months and months of practice
time on a piece that could have been supplanted by a much less demanding work with the same
outcome. The circumstances thankfully changed in my third year.
College; Year Three
Two newly hired piano instructors joined the staff replacing Mrs. P, who resigned for maternity
leave and went on to accept another position, and I had the incredibly good fortune of being
assigned to Benny Kemp. His approach was diametrically in opposition to that of my previous
instructor. During one of my first lessons with him he stopped my playing and asked that I sing
the piece. I began to vocalize the melodic line when he laughed and said, “no, no, no! Sing it
through your hands”. That simple statement was responsible for a completely free, and to me,
revolutionary approach to performance that I relished.
I flourished under his tutelage which unfortunately, lasted for only one school year. His
personality was at odds with several of the department’s faculty with whom he had to work in
proximity, both physically and, more importantly, substantively. Having a more natural approach
to music, as well as life, most likely accounted for his dis-satisfaction with the relatively close-
minded academia he encountered. He left for greener pastures after the year ended, however, I
had the privilege of assisting him in preparation for his piano recital, a concert expected yearly of
the performance faculty. Although he memorized everything, he wanted the security of having
the music in front of him, a practice I also adopted, and I was privileged to be his page turner.
During one of the pieces, Piano Sonata by Alberto Ginastera, I was so absorbed with the
performance that I missed a page turn. The piece influenced me to the point that I taught it to
myself for my senior recital the following year. Mr. Bennie Kemp was another name added to
my very selective hero’s list, that selection being reinforced by his support of the student’s
creative attempts, some of which other instructors openly ridiculed. There was one such nasty
exchange between another piano teacher and he, following the Festival of Contemporary Music
concert which is to be related a bit later.
Dr. Bertram Greenspan was the violin instructor and orchestra director who arrived during my
2nd year. I was not a member of the orchestra nor a violinist, however he was not very much
older than us and thereby was able to relate to the students, and our relationship was a bit more
casual by the fact that I was not in any of his classes. He was an extremely accomplished
violinist who graduated from Julliard Conservatory and studied composition with Roy Harris,
who happens to be one of the many composers I admire. Dr. Greenspan performed a yearly
recital, of which I attended only one; given during my senior year. What I heard and saw
astounded me and forever changed my appreciation of that instrument and strings in general. I
cannot recall the content of the program, but the demanding physical requirements of that
performance remained in my memory.
Two notably humorous events occurred during this time as a Junior. The first was a spontaneous
incident which resulted simply out of circumstance. A classmate who was a fine cellist was in
one of the practice rooms struggling terribly with the playing the Star-Spangled Banner, one of
the requirements of all music students to display a minimum proficiency on the piano. It was late
at night and he was experiencing extreme and agonizing difficulty. When he reached the “bombs
bursting in air” passage I tossed in a firecracker I just happened to have in my pocket. It
exploded at exactly the perfect time causing a period of shocked silence followed by a loud
“Spino, you son of a bitch”! I will never know how he knew it was me, having not seen me. It
probably serves as an indication of my reputation.
The second item which caused a flurry of gossip around the department involved a student’s
“love note” left on a faculty member’s desk. One of our more “adventurous” students got hold of
the note that night, duplicated it, and taped it all over the building to be viewed by all upon
arrival the following morning. I labeled this “prank” as humorous, which it was to the student
body (and probably some of the staff) albeit not so with the faculty member and department
head. It prompted a major investigation with the interviewing of students possibly having
knowledge of the perpetrator, myself being one of those questioned. I was unaware of the entire
event until the student, displaying much glee, told me what he did. The department head had a
fairly good idea who the guilty party might be, most likely, from previous interviews and when
asked if I had any knowledge about who might be responsible, I responded that indeed I did but
would not divulge the name. When he asked why, I responded that the student should be given
the chance to come forward of his or her own volition. I did agree to approach the student to fill
him in on what just took place and that it sounded as though they knew he was the culprit. To his
credit, the student marched right into the office and fessed up. I don’t know what “punishment”
was exacted, however and surprisingly he continued with all class work as if nothing happened.
November 22, 1963 was witness to an earth-shattering event having global impact. The
assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy is one of those occurrences that almost every aware person can recall where he/she was and what they were doing. I was walking to a class when someone yelled out what had occurred. The immediate reaction was shock and disbelief. Secondly, fear that Russia had been the culprit and world war 3 was inevitable.
(The cold war was a very real source of anxiety. Additionally, our generation was raised during a time of the frightful possibility of nuclear war. The resultant paranoia was responsible for ridiculous “safety” measures such as hiding under one’s school desk for protection from an Atom bomb attack. A common endeavor undertaken by many people was to anticipate the impending Armageddon by building underground bomb shelters and stocking them with large quantities of food and supplies necessary for survival.)
Vice President Lyndon Banes Johnson, Kennedy’s Vice President, immediately assumed the
presidency. I recall my total distaste for that man and considered him to be arrogant,
condescending and a bully. It was an unfair judgement that was not corrected until much later in
life when a more realistic portrait of the man emerged showing how important a figure he was to
the generally despised Vietnam war and civil rights. I can only reflect that my negative attitude
toward him was unfairly colored by my total abhorrence of the Vietnam conflict. To this day I
am of the belief that the time period monopolized by the events of that war caused many
Americans to become conscious that our government cared nothing for its citizenry, a realization
reaching an apex during the Nixon administration. That change in our culture continues to
pervade our society and ultimately resulted in the Trump presidency and the attempted
overthrow of our government in January 2021. A revolution encouraged and assisted by the
president of the United States and many traitorous members of congress, the military and
other appointed and elected officials. My assessment, for whatever it is worth, is that we are
witness to the demise of a democratic world power.
“He could read fly shit” is a common expression among musicians in recognition of a fellow
performer’s ability to sight-read – a term defining the capability of playing pieces of music
having never previously seen them in print. I refer to Arts High School’s Mr. DiAmico’s
previously mentioned relaxed approach to music performance having this effect on me. Our
music, art, and drama departments joined forces in the production of “The Music Man” that year,
with a complete and full-instrumentation pit-orchestra. The preparation demanded many hours of rehearsal, and being involved in a work I was composing, I declined to be a member of the
orchestra when ask by the conductor.
The morning of the scheduled performance I received word via several classmates who were part
of the show’s orchestra, that the conductor was looking for me and I should contact him. Finding
him in a panic I was told that the piano player withdrew from the orchestra, later to understand
that she was unable to execute the somewhat demanding part, since there are several difficult
exposed sections featuring the piano. I said that I never played the show, but because of his
desperation and insistence that I could handle the gig, I agreed. My only opportunity to preview
the music was a recording of the Broadway show. That recording armed me with the knowledge
of what could be filtered out, thereby somewhat simplifying the demanding part. With a
casualness and confidence reminiscent of Mr. DiAmico I arrived in the pit just barely in time for
the downbeat and successfully completed the task, followed by much approval by the director as
well as the orchestra members. The previous scenario was to be repeated several times
throughout my life and my ability to sight-read became a point of pride.
Festival of Contemporary Music was an event produced and conducted by three 3rd year music
students, Thom Gambino, Robert Moffa and Me, consisting entirely of our compositions for
concert band, orchestra, and chorus. We secured the cooperation of the performing group’s
directors to utilize them for rehearsals as well as the concert on a voluntary basis, without
interference with regularly scheduled performances and rehearsals. Production, rehearsing,
scheduling, publicizing, and advertising, being a monumental undertaking, thankfully included
the assistance of several non-music major friends who assumed many of these duties. Dr.
Greenspan was appointed as faculty advisor, much to my approval. The unique concert was
publicized throughout the state and beyond with an invitation being sent to then President
Kennedy, although I do not know how we would have handled a presidential visit had he
accepted. We did, however, receive a white house letter, signed by President Kennedy wishing
luck and commending us for the production.
The concert was successful beyond our wildest dreams with standing room only and I have received numerous comments from people in attendance that are offered even today by some of the many surrounding area high school musicians who were present.
Following are excerpts from the program which was handed out prior to the concert. Every aspect of this concert was executed by college students including the design and printing of the 8-page program, rehearsing, and conducting the all-student ensembles, as well as logistics and advertising.
College: Year Four
Music Major Graduation Candidates are required to perform a senior recital to demonstrate
proficiency on their instrument or vocal major. Such recitals are open to the public in a
somewhat formal presentation. As might be expected, the preponderance of effort during the
final year of college is to the realization of that performance. Many hours of lessons and
rehearsals are devoted to the preparation of music selected by both the student and instructor.
As previously stated, I was not pleased with my assigned piano instructor, Larry W., who
admittedly, had difficult shoes to fill with the departure of Benny Kemp. His instruction was not
helpful and, as a result, I became basically self-taught. My program consisted of a variety of
material representative of various periods of music history – Baroque, Classic, Romantic,
Modern. I was so impressed with the concert performed the previous year by Benny Kemp that I
chose Alberto Ginestera’s Sonata for Piano as the composition to represent the modern era which was also to be the concert’s closing piece.
The concert went very well with one exception; my instructor insisted that I memorize the music
while I, on the other hand, like Mr. Kemp, wanted the security of having the music in front of
me. Two days before the recital I went for a final lesson without the printed music. I sat down to
run through the pieces one last time and could not remember where to place my hands on the
keyboard! I was experiencing a total mental lapse. Thankfully, my teacher did not panic and
advised me to go home, have a drink, and forget about the concert – until the next day when I
should get out the printed music and go over everything. And yes, he allowed me to use the
music during the concert, a decision for which I was most grateful. Sometime afterward I came
to realize that my sub-conscious mind came up with a way for me to have the security of the
printed sheets during the performance.
Curiously, about two weeks following the concert I was asked to play the Ginestera Sonata for
one of my classes and, once again, I was not able to play without the music and had to
embarrassingly excuse myself. It would seem as though my sight-reading proficiency was at a
Another regrettable incident that year deserves mention. Earlier in the year my piano teacher, in
conjunction with the orchestra conductor, the previously mention Dr. Bertram Greenspan,
requested that I perform the Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 2 with the orchestra earlier in the
year. I was working on my recital and reluctantly began to learn the piece. I fought it every step
of the way until I finally announced that I was not comfortable with the situation and I backed
out of the commitment. I explained to Dr. Greenspan that I felt too much pressure and I was not
in love with the piece. He, although disappointed and attempted to persuade me otherwise,
understood completely. It is one of those decisions in my life that I wish I would have made
differently – I should have played the piece. I missed a terrific performance opportunity and the
chance to work with Dr. Greenspan on a more personal level.
Graduation is a complete blur to me, and I am unable to recall anything about it probably due to
many other more pressing matters. First among them was the August 22nd wedding Carol and I
were planning. I recently completed a high-pressure recital and, in addition, accepted a teaching
position at Randolph Junior/Senior High School in Randolph NJ. to commence September 1st.
Carol and I needed to find a place to begin our lives together and I still was committed to a job
which I held for the last 3 summers. There was quite a bit going on in my pea-brain; not to
mention my desire to somehow continue composing lessons. However, on the bright side, I made it through college and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music Education with a Piano Performance Minor. Nobody was more surprised about that accomplishment then I.
Part One; Exposition
Exposition: “In musical formand analysis, exposition is the initial presentation of the thematicmaterial of a musical composition, movement, or section. The use of the term generally implies that the material will be developedor varied”. - Wikipedia
One of my father’s great fears for me was having to get married because of a pregnancy – to the
point of obsession; perhaps stemming from the fact that at least one of his brothers went through the dilemma with bad results, but also his belief that such an event would most likely interfere with any career goals. I must admit that, in many cases, his fear was justified. When I started college, I was told in no uncertain terms that I must put any commitment plans on hold until after graduation in the belief that if Carol and I were truly meant to be together there would be no obstacle to prevent it. I had to promise that I remain at college with no trips home for three months. I didn’t know if, at that time they objected to my relationship with Carol, or the belief was of a more philosophical nature. Whatever the reason, our relationship continued to solidify, and we made plans upon graduation to marry with a date set for August 22, 1964.
In the interim I was committed to the last summer working for Kraft Foods at a warehouse in
Hillside NJ, a job held through my college years which provided income to offset some of my
college expenses. The job consisted of working a conveyor belt line to fill orders and load trucks.
I will never forget my very first assignment at Kraft. There was a production run of French salad
dressing that was nearing the end of it shelf life. Someone realized there was a potential legal
quagmire if the dressing was sold and purchased/consumed beyond the expiration date. The
solution was to destroy the production run. The 4 of us college students hired every summer to
offset the vacations of the full timers were given the task of breaking the jars of dressing into a
dumpster: and we had to make sure that every bottle broke. Understand, there were thousands of eight-ounce French Dressing bottles; so many that it took the four of us working eight hours a day a full 2 weeks to accomplish the task. The smell of French Dressing permeated the
warehouse, and I could not get that odor out of my clothing and sinuses for some time. To this
day, the aroma of that dressing is revolting to me.
However, the job was a good one. I worked 2nd shift with a group of regulars that took us under
their wing albeit with much ribbing. These guys were a rough, hard-working, hard drinking
bunch of Irishmen, most of them directly from the old country. I was, being a college student and Italian, the butt of many good-humored jokes and pranks. Somehow, during my last summer
there, they found out that I was to be married a short time following my last working day. When
I punched out that night there was a group of a half dozen or so of the guys waiting for me. They told me to follow them to the Donegal bar on U.S. route #9 in Elizabeth. Once there, we
commenced drinking their favorite drink; Irish stout mixed ½ & ½ with regular beer. They would
not let me even attempt to buy a round and the entire bar joined in the celebration. It was terrific! The last I remember about that night was seeing a sea of empties on the bar causing me to realize that I was in a drinking contest. I must say, I held my own, however I do not remember driving home. Early the next morning my young brother, Nick, woke me up and told me I had better move my car before dad woke up. It was neatly parked in the middle of the front lawn!
Part two; Development
Development: “an open and free-form section of the Sonata Allegro movement,
usually based on thematic materials from the Exposition”. – Mr. E’s Virtual Music Classroom
Following several obstacles (as might be expected) the wedding went as planned and we
honeymooned in the Pocono’s – which was the place to go at that time – and upon return,
commenced my career as a public-school music teacher at the previously mentioned Randolph
Junior/Senior High School. In short order I seriously questioned my career choice.
My desire was to be a composer and wished very much to attend Manhattan School of Music or
Eastman Music School to study composition. My dad, as well as his music friends, pointed out
over and over how difficult it was to make a living as a composer, especially for a married
person. Pop was raised during the great depression which left an indelible mark on his outlook
about what was important in life, which to his way of thinking, was security. His argument was
to get the stability of the teaching certificate. Looking back on the decision, his viewpoint had
much in its favor, however, unknown to me at the time, securing a teaching degree was at the
expense of my real desire of writing music and I spent the rest of my life trying to succeed as a
composer. A huge impediment to that attempt was the lack of “contacts” that would have
resulted from studying with reputable people as well as the resulting lack of credentials.
Be that as it may, the teaching position was a disaster. My duties included the Junior High
Concert Band, Instrumental lessons, General Music, Special Education Music, and Girls’ Choir.
Unfortunately, the building principal – burdened with a typical Napoleon complex - and I did not
get along, and he made things difficult. I recall an incident when the band was leaving the room
following a rehearsal of a new piece. The students were visibly excited about the music and were
animated when leaving the room. My buddy, the principal, observed this animation and used it as
an excuse to reprimand me for “lack of control of students” simply because they were talking
excitedly, not even considering the value of their being stimulated about a positive educational
experience. This incident, along with the shockingly absurd and meaningless 1st faculty meeting,
caused me to question the goals of our education system, especially following my wonderful
experience with Arts High School and Glassboro State College. It was a dose of reality which
caused me to seek further study in composition and change my job, if not my career. Aside from
composition my other interest was teaching in a college music program. I was now considering
the value of furthering my education with the goal of securing a college position.
My initial exploration was to sign up for an analysis course with Stanley Austin at Trenton State
College while investigating the possibility of getting into a composition program. The course
was enjoyable, and Austin was inspiring, but the material was far from what I desired. I began to
seek other possibilities. I call the reader’s attention to the Contemporary Music Festival I helped
organize while at Glassboro State College presented earlier in this writing. One of the results of
that performance was the acceptance for publication of my AMERICAN SNAPSHOTS by
composer Vincent Percichetti who was the editor of Elkan-Vogel Music Publishers of
Philadelphia. As might be imagined, I was quite honored and met with Dr. Percichetti and the
editorial staff of EV. I was 19 years old at the time and it looked as though I may be off to a good start as a composer. Unknown to me at the time, was a second more important result of the performance. A very well-known composer of the time, Vaclav Nelhybel, was contacted by one of the college’s music faculty – possibly Dr. Greenspan – which resulted in his attending the
concert. I cannot recall how I was later referred to seek out Nelhybel for composition lessons –
possibly through Stanly Austin – but I somehow contacted him and inquired about studies. He
remembered my name, as I later found out, from the Glassboro concert and was impressed
enough to set up a meeting and possible 1st lesson at his residence above a church in New York
City on the Upper East side of Central Park.
I arrived at the church with mixed emotions. Here was a very well establish and highly respected
composer who agreed to interview me as a possible student, a situation that both excited while at the same time filled me with apprehension. Nelhybel was a bear of a man, with a gruff gravelly
basso voice and an imposing countenance. He started by asking countless questions, both
personal and professional, for about ½ hour or more after which he asked to see a score I was
working on. I showed him my latest work in progress, THEME AND VARIATIONS FOR
CONCERT BAND. I am pleased to say that he was duly impressed and very complementary. I
have never forgotten his prophetic assessment at the lesson’s conclusion: “You have much talent
Pasquale, but talent means very little by itself.”
Those weekly lessons with Vaclav were like food to a starving man and I could not get enough
of his tutelage, which became mentorship after a time. We kept in touch for years following the
lessons and he was responsible for introducing me to Joseph Boonin of Joseph Boonin Music
Publishers in Hackensack, N.J., and Franko Columbo of E.C. Kerby, Ltd, located in Toronto
Canada, both of whom published my music.
But the most important advice he offered was that I needed to study at a good institution and get the credentials and the associated credibility which I lacked. I therefore began to apply for
entrance to many universities as a composition major with the limiting factor being that I needed
financial assistance. I confined my search to large institutions to offset my attendance at the
smallish Glassboro State College. The life altering result of my search was an offer from the
University of Minnesota in Minneapolis to apply for entrance to the graduate school as a
composition major/music education minor and a position as a teaching assistant.
We were attempting to adjust to an incredibly stressful 1st year of marriage. Several factors
contributed to that stress, one of which was the undue pressure of my teaching position and my
deteriorating relationship with the building principal along with a growing discontent with the
teaching profession in general. Also, and by no means of less importance, was the necessity of
having Carol’s invalid mother living with us. We succumbed to the unreasonable Italian belief
that the daughter was responsible for the parent, an archaic and unnecessary burden if only
because the grandmother was fully capable and free of any encumbrances and should have been
more understanding that as newlyweds, we should have some time alone together.
My mother-in-law, Virginia, was incapacitated because of a stroke which left her partially
paralyzed and with speech difficulties. She lived with us in a two-bedroom apartment during the
weekdays, while on weekends we drove her to the grandmother’s apartment thereby allowing us
a bit of time alone together, for which we were grateful. One Sunday evening in mid fall, while
returning from the grandmother and making our way to our apartment while assisting “mom”
who had difficulty walking, we were confronted with a large animal nosing around our front
door. Daylight was getting shorter, and the apartment complex’s lighting had not yet caught up
to the early darkness. I assumed the figure we saw was one of the many dogs which were
plentiful in the area. Closer inspection – much too close to be precise – revealed the dog to be a
bear, apparently attracted by the smells from drippings left behind by the bar-b-q. His massive
head came around when he sensed our approach, and with a sniff, snort, and grunt, he ambled off into the woods.
At that exact same time Carol was accumulating the days garbage and trash and was on her way
out the door to deposit the plastic bags into the trash bins behind the apartment complex. Had I
not arrived just then she would have opened the door and literally fallen over that bear. When I
told her what happened she said that I should call the police to inform them of a potentially
dangerous animal in the area. I responded, “no way, they’ll think I’m on drugs”. She made the
call and had difficulty convincing the officer that I was not under the influence. Later that
evening, having most likely heard the police report, I received a call from the local newspaper
about my “sighting”. The reporter interviewed me despite my reluctance. At a time when the
Vietnam War was at its apex that newspaper chose to print a full article about the incident on the front page with the bold title, “TEACHER SEES BLACK BEAR ON FRONT DOORSTEP”. I
was embarrassed until I read the last sentence of the article which stated that a 600-pound black bear escaped from a visiting circus about a year ago and had occasionally been sighted in the area.
The prospect of going to Minnesota for a couple of years was most inviting to us both, and
although Carol was provided with much guilt by her family, she was ready to make the move,
and to her credit, told the grandmother in no uncertain terms that we were going to leave. We
began to make plans to move to the mid-west following the end of the school year having
already given my resignation.
The experience was fabulous for us both; me for professional reasons and Carol for the release of the overwhelming and unwanted burden of guilt liberally supplied by her heartless grandmother as well as her family. I recall whenever Carol and I would go out on a date the Grandmother would say, “be home early because you never know when your mother is going to have a heart attack”. Carol was able to quickly overcome the guilt and had a huge weight taken off her chest and was finally able to breathe without effort. She took a job in a Medical office working for 4 well known Saint Paul Doctors and had a real purpose in life. She thoroughly enjoyed what she was doing and had a feeling of accomplishment.
Our two years spent in Minnesota were under spartan conditions to say the least. We lived in a
two-room efficiency apartment on the second floor on Cleveland Avenue in Saint Paul; a short
drive from the University and 1 or 2 blocks from the Mississippi River. Money was at a premium
since I was making little as a teaching assistant and Carol was, for all intents and purposes, the
“bread winner”. However, my assistantship had the great benefit of labeling me as a staff
member thereby allowing an immensely helpful and much reduced tuition fee.
I found the Minnesota bitter cold winters uncomfortable, to say the least. The discomfort was
amplified by my Mediterranean heritage. Winter in New Jersey was unenjoyable for me also,
but the cold in Minnesota was life-threatening at times with wind chills as low as minus 40
degrees! The cold was extreme and constant to the degree that I had to install an electric block
heater in my car to start it in the morning. On one dangerous occasion I found it necessary to
park a bit further from my office in -40 degrees windchill. Thankfully, a good Samaritan driving
by saw that I was in trouble and offered to drive me the remaining two blocks. I could never
understand how people would freeze to death while walking a few blocks in such bitter
conditions, until that incident.
The cold was intolerable for me. Following a snowstorm, it was common for the temperature to
plummet and the winds to howl. After one such storm I found it necessary to dig the car out
of the resulting drifts. We had no shovel and I ended up using a large flat frying pan in place of
it. Before going outside my wife, being more practical, suggested I wear earmuffs. I declined and
stupidly exclaimed that being from Newark I would not be caught dead in earmuffs. After less
than one minute I ran inside with nearly frostbitten ears to don earmuffs with Carol
understandably snickering in the background at my foolish, misplaced bravado.
My composition teacher/advisor was Paul Fetler with additional lessons from Dominick Argento.
It became increasingly apparent that I lacked considerable academic background in several areas
which had to be remedied through course selection and study. One area of great concern, and
almost denied the awarding of my degree, was ear training. I never had instruction in this subject
and the graduate course taught by Dr. Fetler did nothing to help. His course was not the least
instructive and focused on simply showing how proficient a student was in the subject. During
one of the first classes, he asked the students to go to the chalkboard and write the first 8
measures of the Beethoven Pathetique Piano Sonata. I was totally lost! The class consisted of
overly complex examples of tonal memory, random and lengthy passages of interval
identification, along with complicated excerpts we were requested to write down – sometimes
without even given the key or starting note. Clearly, I was as deficient as one could be while
those who excelled, which were the remaining 6 or 7 class members, possessed perfect pitch. As
stated earlier, Dr. Fetler offered no remedial instruction, and I made no progress whatsoever. He
exhibited some kindness by giving me an undeserved final grade of “D” instead of the “F” I
expected, which was unacceptable as credit toward my degree, and was an impediment because
it was calculated into my GPA, which had to me maintained at a “B”.
A further obstacle, and example of the kind of teaching that exacts retribution instead of
nurturing is offered by the following incident. The course in question was the History of Baroque
Music. The instructor set up his requirements so that the only two grades during the semester
were the midterm and final exams, with the final counting as 2/3rds of the grade. I came out of
the mid-term with a B+ and was in really good shape to get at least a B for the course. As fate
would have it, Carol’s grandfather died under mysterious circumstances shortly before the final
exam and we had to fly back to N.J. for the funeral. Having little time to study the very formal
content of this course I considered seeking out the instructor to request I be given consideration
of the circumstances and allowed a week or so to prepare for the exam. Unfortunately, I did not
move forward with the request, although given the events following, I doubt he would have
consented. I took the exam knowing full well that I did not pass. When handing in the test I
explained my dilemma and requested a re-exam, which he promptly and emphatically denied.
The result was another unwanted “D”. I now had very real concern about qualifying for my
The two above examples serve to illustrate the kind of superiority, authoritarian outlook many
people of position flaunt in all walks of life. Such outlook is particularly criminal in the teaching
field and it, along with several other instances not mentioned here, reinforced a more tolerant,
understanding, and humble approach to life in general that I came to adopt: the belief that a
person of position should make clear to underlings where the line is drawn and that if that line is
crossed, being given much warning, exacts a known penalty.
In short, I did acquire the necessary GPA to qualify for my degree despite the two “D” grades
illustrated above, thanks to high grades in composition, theory, analysis, and orchestration. A
Master’s and Doctor’s Degree final exam is supposed to “be in defense of the candidate’s
Thesis” according to the University handbook, which in my case was the composition of my
Symphony in Three Movements. Preparation for the exam is a review of all the previous course
work leading up to this final, which was an oral exam to be proctored by three professors: my
advisor Dr. Fetler, and two others: Dr. Argento who was the instructor of most of my course
work, and a professor representing my minor area of study; music education. I recall visiting Dr.
Argento and asking is there anything specific I could study to help prepare for the Oral. His
sarcastic almost snobbish response, “the entire Grout music history book” was of no help
The exam did not demand any defense of my thesis but was apparently meant, much to my
dismay, to display the knowledge in which I was deficient, opera literature and ear training. The
very first three questions proffered by Dr. Argento, who was an opera composer and whose wife
was a well-known operatic soprano, were about opera, an area which I intentionally avoided
because of lack of interest. I found myself at the very beginning of an hour-long oral
examination which was supposed to be in defense of my thesis where the first three answers
were “I don’t know”. Those professors knew exactly my deficiencies and made it a point to
stress them at the cost of all my obvious strengths. This was not going to be a good day.
During that hour I was not asked a single question in defense of my thesis by any of the three
professors. Out of frustration I made mention of that fact. Doing so made no impression and may have had the opposite effect. This was a classic example of the “holier-than-thou” behavior of so many in academia. That oral exam was not only in conflict with the stated policy of the
University’s graduate school handbook but served the singular purpose of intentionally
displaying the weaknesses or “gaps” in my education.
Despite the negativism, I was awarded my degree, and not receiving any response to my
employment application from the School District of Minneapolis, we decided to head back to
N.J. In everyone’s life there occurs events which seem to support the concept of predestination,
or the intervention of fate. The day after we returned to my parent’s home in Union N.J. I
received an acceptance letter from the Minneapolis School District offering a music teaching
position commencing in September. Obviously, we were not meant to remain in Minnesota. I
was also offered two college positions: one as instructor of composition and head of the new
composition department at East Texas State University in Commerce Texas; a position which
offered little pay and came with the requirement that I pursue my Doctorate, and the other in a
small church related college in a suburb of Chicago. East Texas University would not pay for my
moving expenses or the pursuit of my Doctorate and I did not wish to relocate to Chicago. I
declined both positions mistakenly believing that there would be other more attractive offers.
Before being awarded the MA degree I received a letter from the U.S. Government Selective
Service advising that my student deferment would expire upon graduation and I should report to
the closest recruitment facility to begin the process of becoming eligible for the draft. It was a
terrible time of civil unrest during the peak of the Vietnam war and the conflicted Nixon
presidency. A time that was witness to the unbelievable Kent State incident in 1970 where
students protesting our involvement in the Vietnam war were fired upon by the Ohio National
Guard resulting in the deaths of several students. This shocking incident occurred on United
State’s soil and the excessive force was executed by fellow U. S. citizens under the guise
of the military. This horrific event represented the height of the paranoid Nixon administration
which considered its own citizens to be enemies. Those living through the current Trump
administration could easily relate. The Kent State incident so disgusted me that I wrote a cantata
which included a poem by Peter Davies to the father of one of those students killed - Allison
Krause. The composition, LAMENT, was commissioned by David Ferreria and the Illinois
University Choir and was performed many times that school year, and the following is a copy of
the program notes I later compiled.
By Pasquale J. Spino
Instrumentation: Tenor Solo, SATB, Violin, Piano
“Lament” for Tenor Solo, Violin, SATB Chorus, and Piano was commissioned by David Ferreira and the Illinois Wesleyan University Choir and composed in 1972-3. The piece was commissioned during a time of great social, civil, and personal conflict. Upon being presented with the texts I had chosen Mr. Ferreira expressed his concern with the bleakness and hopelessness of the selected material. I explained that it was important to me and offered to give up the small commission. To his credit he asked me to finish the composition, which the university chorus recorded beautifully and performed quite successfully on many occasions that season. In a recent conversation with Mr. Ferreira, he informed me that one of the most inspiring and successful tour performances was dedicated to a family who had a tragic loss of a high school senior. The work was also performed by the Rowan University Choir directed by Clancy Miller in 1976. LAMENT’S text consists of excerpts from the bible – “Book of Job”; Wm. Blake – “The Sick Rose” and “A Memorable Fancy”; and Peter Davies - “Allison”, a poem written for his friend’s daughter Allison Krauss who was killed by the Ohio National Guard during the terrible Kent State incident in May of 1970. Composition technique is inclusive of various styles and represents the author’s belief that the music and, in this case, the drama, should dictate how the piece should develop and by any compositional techniques necessary.
If I had to serve in Vietnam – which seemed likely, I would apply for officer’s training. On a
beautiful spring day while walking through the Minneapolis streets near the University campus, I
found myself in front of an Air Force recruiter’s office and decided to inquire about application
to officer’s school. When I walked through the door I was heartily greeted by the officer on duty, and when he found out I was receiving my MA he salivated as if a raw porterhouse steak was tossed into the lion’s den. I explained that my degree was in music and I wanted to be considered for a band director’s position. This comment resulted in a bit of back peddling of enthusiasm by the young officer and I reminded him that the Air Force does indeed have several base bands and a rich history exemplified by Glenn Miller. He said that he would make some inquiries and that I should return the next day. Upon my return he informed me that there were a couple of directors up for retirement in coming months and there would likely be openings as a warrant officer allowing for possible future advancement: it seemed like a preferable alternative to being drafted as a foot soldier. I agreed to make an appointment at the Saint Paul facility to take the written tests as the first step necessary to qualify for officer training.
Arriving at the Saint Paul center about 0730 I was met by a huge office with many cubicles
containing Air Force personnel busily engaged in a variety of clerical duties with the sound of
typewriters being dominant. Greeted by the receptionist, I loudly announced my appointment to
take the band director’s test. A resulting sound of silence followed, undoubtedly caused by my
incongruous statement heard throughout the facility. The receptionist humorously stated that this was the Air Force whose purpose was to fly planes, drop bombs and engage the enemy in battle. I informed him of the information the recruiter gave me about band directors retiring after which he asked me to be seated while he phones the pentagon. Obviously, he was faced with a unique situation which he did not know how to handle. Hearing only one side of the conversation
convinced me that I was in for a long day. The receptionist was speaking to some general and all
I heard was, “Yes sir, I know sir. All of them sir?” Thus, began eight hours or more of hell.
t was now about 0800 and I was taken to a tiny room having a small table and a single chair.
The officer returned with a blue test booklet and told me I had a certain amount of time to
complete the test. I was shocked upon opening the booklet to see I was taking the multiple-
choice Pilot’s test and made my disbelief known, which, as might be expected, resulted in
additional laughter. I closed my eyes and blackened in the answer circle closest to wherever my
pencil point landed. It was the first of every test the Air Force had – pilot, navigator, bombardier,
mechanic, etc. - not one of which contained a single reference to music, let alone band directors.
Returning home that evening I told Carol what occurred and that there was no way I would be
accepted by the Air Force. However, late that Friday evening, about two weeks following my
testing, I received a phone call from a general in the Pentagon informing me that I was scheduled
for a test to conduct the base band in Washington 0800 the following morning. My “Oh, you
have one” comment, referring to the lack of music test in Saint Paul, did nothing to ingratiate
myself to this gruff, defensive general. I inquired about transportation. The general said I had to
get to Washington on my own. I could not believe what I was just told and responded, “Let me
get this straight, I’m in Minnesota, you want me in Washington D.C. in less than 12 hours to be
tested, you’re the Air Force and will not fly me there?” He responded in the affirmative. I
expressed my disbelief and ended the conversation by saying, “If that’s the way you guys
operate, I want nothing to do with you” and promptly hung up the telephone. Several days
following that phone call Carol found out that we were expecting our first child, thereby
restoring my draft exemption status. Another intervention by fate?
Spending two years in Minnesota was a terrific experience. Carol and I finally had time to
ourselves. She experienced freedom and purpose while I was making great progress as a skilled
composer/arranger. Realizing that I would soon have a family to care for, I applied for several
teaching positions and was accepted by the Philadelphia School District to teach at South
Philadelphia High School. We moved into a 2nd floor apartment located in Lindenwold, New
Jersey and I reported to the school for my assignment. The office had no information about my
employment and contacted the Board of Education Music Department. When handed the phone I
was told to report to my new assignment at West Philadelphia High School.
Now, WPHS would not be one of the schools of choice because of its location in a
predominantly black, low-income area with many social, psychological, and legal difficulties
that percolate through to the school community. An additional surprise was the nature of my
assignment which suddenly changed from that of band director to general music teacher. My
abhorrence of our public educational system was increasing by leaps and bounds. So…I began
my tenure in the Philadelphia Public School system by having been lied to by the very people
who hired me. Being backed into a corner left me with no recourse but to begin teaching in a
situation that was less then desirable and one that I most likely would not have accepted if its
true nature was made known to me.
The job was rife with difficulties on many levels - culturally, professionally, personally,
logistically – but the 5 years spent at West Philadelphia High School was incredibly instructive
and reinforced the belief that we are put on this planet to be a positive and helpful force, that we
must do everything we can to ease the burden that many carry simply due to the accident of place of birth, or color of skin, or background, or religion, or any of dozens and dozens of reasons that people use to falsely elevate their own status. We all know of such people. People who begin their sentences with; “I’m not at all prejudiced but…”. or “I have nothing against so-and so but…”. I cannot help but make a correlation to the dangerous political and civil climate
ensconcing our nation which is cultivated and perpetrated by the Trump administration. I am
sickened by what I see happening in our society and disheartened for those ill-fated individuals
such as I had the privilege of teaching in Philadelphia. There were profoundly serious
difficulties; knifings, shootings, gang related violence, rapes, assaults, arsons, etc., reflective of
the feeling of hopelessness experienced by the residents of our cities’ ghettos. My classroom was shot into by a passing car with the bullet passing through the afro hairdo of a student seated in front of the window that the bullet passed through. I had a knife pulled on me while walking to the elevated train after school one day.
Conversely, I had occasion to really “talk” to some kids on a more personal level and was privy
to some heart rendering accounts of every-day difficulties and tragedy’s these young people had
to endure. I worked with well-motivated and exceptionally talented students who played in the
jazz band and orchestra, some of whom went on to great success despite the overwhelming
personal and cultural deficiencies. These students knew I was there to help them, and they
returned the favor on several occasions when I was defended from others who would do harm.
However, after several years a movement to replace me with a black teacher “who could better
relate to the students” became increasingly aggressive and was embraced by the school principal, Mr. Scott. On a mid-April day, I had enough of the impediments I was encountering daily and simply walked into the office, threw my keys on the principal’s desk, and left the Philadelphia school system forever.
While teaching in Philadelphia I was employed as the Musical Director of a community theater
on Rising Sun Ave. and Unruh Street where 1 or 2 musicals were presented each year. My job
was to teach the vocal parts, hire the musicians and function as conductor/pianist for the many
performances of such Broadway shows as Cabaret, Fiddler on the Roof, I Do I Do, Bye Bye
Birdie, Promises Promises, etc. The experience proved valuable later during the years of
recording studio work.
Also undertaken at this time was my enrollment at Temple University as a doctoral composition
major during which time I wrote the first section of my A PROPHECY for tenor and bass
baritone voices, SATB chorus, full brass section, piano, harp, and percussion. The Temple
program was very heavily enmeshed in “electronic” music, a medium in which I had no interest
whatsoever, and considered a total waste of time and effort with creativity taking a back seat to
technology. I was also becoming very tired of going to school and never continued with the
program which, now that I look back, was a mistake if I had any hope of securing a college
During those years in Philadelphia, we purchased a newly constructed colonial 2-story home in
Williamstown, New Jersey on 313 Gordon Avenue. I remember the day we signed the papers
when I turned to Carol and said, “Don’t get too attached to this house because I am looking for a
college position which will most likely require us to re-locate”. Little did we realize this would
be our home for the next 50 years!
The over-riding event of importance was the birth of our 1st child on January 18th of that initial
year of employment in Philadelphia. Lisa Ann Spino made us into a family. I never really
thought much about the ramifications and responsibilities that went along with her entry into the
world. To my way of thinking, it was a most obvious outcome of the marriage commitment.
There were no thoughts, like many people have today, about any other options. The world was a
simpler place with well-defined morals and ethics. People were friendlier, less neurotic, open to
differing viewpoints and far less critical of others. Newspapers were the primary means of
transmitting local, national and world events. The invention of the television had not yet the
impact on thinking that would soon follow. Computers were in infancy and the internet wasn’t
even a thought. Food was still home prepared for the most part and, in many cases, home-grown. Food supplements so common and so harmful today, were rarely used thereby not adversely affecting the health of the world’s population as is the case today. We were, mercifully, less sophisticated and were not embarrassed to err, because each mistake brought with it a welcomed lesson.
Everything was about to change, due in large part, to the Vietnam War. It was during this time
that Americans became aware of a truism responsible for massive cultural change: the realization
that our government cared little for its citizens and even acted as if the populous was an
impediment to whatever agenda those in power adopted: case in point, the Nixon administration.
We are paying the price for that knowledge along with the ugliness surrounding that war to this
very day, and the unfortunate change to our people’s distrust of the government might be
irreversible. Failure of our selfish politicians grew to the point of desperation which led, in 2016,
to the election of an undemocratic, incompetent, selfish, unempathetic, insulting and demeaning
excuse for a human being to be elected to the presidency with apparent help from our enemies.
Understandably, the American people came to believe that someone outside of politics was
necessary to “fix” our broken system. Someone without political entanglement and someone who does not owe favors. The real culprit, who most folks fail to focus on, is that our democracy is being sold to the highest bidder as evidenced by the lobbying system; a system which is tacitly
supported by the greed of our elected officials. If there is any positive outcome from that
“political experiment” it is seemingly a wake-up call to a previously apathetic population which
lost all respect for our neutered leaders. The era of Trumpism was only possible due to the
failings of our self-absorbed politicians, a "movement" which grew to an intolerable level
following the Vietnam debacle.
It was imperative that I secure a new teaching job. Alas, my search for a college position was
yielding no positive results and I began to regret my decision to turn down the two earlier college teaching offers. The availability of college positions was at an all-time low for myriad reasons and the hundreds of resumes sent out represented a waste of time, effort, and postage.
Williamstown High School offered me the band director’s position for ridiculously meager pay
and an obvious antagonism displayed by the superintendent. His negativity regarding the
position was so obvious that the building principal followed me into the parking lot to
apologize for his boss's insulting behavior when I walked out of the demeaning interview. I was
becoming concerned about securing any position. When I departed Philadelphia before the
conclusion of the school year, I resorted to cashing in my pension to make ends meet. Those
funds were nearly exhausted and increased pressure was added by the birth of our 2nd child,
Kenneth James Spino, during a short, mere days, lapse in insurance coverage resulting in
burdensome out-of-pocket expenses. As luck would have it, I was eventually offered a position
in the Camden County Regional High School District No. 1 at Overbrook Junior High School in
nearby Lindenwold. The job included teaching instrumental lessons, chorus, and general music
classes for 7th and 8th graders.
This was not a position I yearned for, a far cry from it. However, I had a wife, 2 children, a
mortgage, and a car payment for which to provide income. I suddenly found myself with all the
requirements – and impediments – of the typical American family. I began to understand the
conflicts of choosing between family or career. It was obvious that my professional aspirations
had to come secondary to family, at least in my mind. Going forward, considerations for my
family always superseded those of my hoped-for profession. Some years later, Thom Gambino,
my good friend from college, wrote about my decision whereby family came first in one of his
books, THE VAGABONDS. He writes of an incident I related to him about a possible move to
California with hopes of landing a composing/arranging job in the film industry. Thom writes
about my decision with a terse “he decided not to go”.
What Thom doesn’t relate is the reasoning for my decision. That decision was influenced by a
phone call to a Philadelphia native who was living in California working as a somewhat
successful composer/arranger. The phone call was facilitated by another good friend, Billy Jones, who knew that I was stressed about making such a major life-altering decision which would affect 4 other human beings (we had a 3rd child by this time - Nicole). I phoned the gentleman and introduced myself and quickly explained the reason for my call, which was basically to garner some information from someone who had experienced exactly what I was thinking of doing. His first question to me was, “How important is your family to you?”. I responded, “the most important thing in my life”, to which he unhesitatingly offered, “Don’t go”. He explained further that bringing my family to California, especially in the entertainment field, will very possibly destroy the family. I decided to abandon my plans to relocate due to that statement, as well as other motives. He also asked if I knew anyone in the profession, which I did not, and indicated that hundreds of other composers did or were doing what I was thinking and that many of them had a “connection”. I explained my decision to Carol, who was willing to make the move, albeit with some trepidation, as was I. Admittedly, what many of my father’s musician friends said to me about family verses career had some basis in fact, and most likely some of them were faced with the same dilemma as I.
I was totally involved as a dad, or at least as much as my time allowed seeing as my teaching
salary was rather paltry and necessitated supplementing my income in whatever way I could. To
illustrate, during the summer months of supposed vacation I worked as a laborer for a home
builder, a bus driver for Transport of New Jersey, and an employee for a Goodyear Tire and
Appliance store which was owned by a neighbor. In addition, I was fortunate enough to use my
keyboard, arranging, and singing skills as a member of various bands which saw me playing in
clubs, weddings, parties, etc. throughout the year. There were many instances when I worked a
“gig” until early morning only to arrive home in time to go to work at my teaching job.
One difficult juxtaposing of careers comes to mind when I was working seven nights a week for
several months while teaching during the day. I, as well as my family, recall the frequency of
showing up for Lisa’s softball game, Ken’s baseball game, or Nicole’s tennis match while
wearing a tuxedo and leaving in mid-game to go to the next gig. I thank the powers-that-be for
Carol, who was the stabilizing force in the family and was not caught up with wanting to buy
stuff to “keep up with the Jones’s”. We agreed, despite financial difficulties, that she would be at
home for the sake of the children and, due to her wonderful cooking skills, helped keep our kids
healthy with homemade cooking. After a time when the children were able to be more self-
sufficient, Carol took to the job market working in turn for a Doctor’s office, a clothing store,
and a manufacturing company, thereby somewhat easing the financial burden.
There were some notable successes in my field of composition. In March of 1973, my Symphony
in Three Movements was selected for performance by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra
(now the Indiana Symphony Orchestra) from a competition sponsored by the Indiana State
University in Terra Haute in which compositions were selected from an international field.
Five works were chosen for a world premiere performance at a concert to be held at the
University. The event was well advertised nationally, and the composers were invited to attend
the week’s festivities which included rehearsals, luncheons, clinics, media interviews, and the
concert and reception at the culmination of the itinerary. It was exciting to have my work
performed by a major orchestra and I was pleased that Carol was with me through it all.
However, I do regret that my father was not there to hear the piece which was dedicated to him.
The musicians and management were amidst a nasty contract negotiation which resulted in the
concert not being recorded. Fate’s intervention, again! This was a time before the development
of MIDI and computer recording ability and the absence of a live recording was paramount in
inhibiting additional performances of the Symphony. Had I an established reputation the result
would most likely have been different. A positive result of that recognition may have helped
when my Cantata, A PROPHECY, was selected later that year for inclusion in the Brass
Symposium held annually by the Georgia State University. The performance resulted in a
commission by the Illinois Wesleyan University Choir directed by David Ferreira.
LAMENT was composed, as was A PROPHECY – a sort of companion piece - during a difficult
time of my life. I had come to realize that success as a composer was most likely not to be, a
depressing revelation. I experienced several years of depression and became despondent. My
greatest regret is that my demeanor toward my family suffered. I was angry, ill tempered, and
unhappy and was not a nice person to be around. The two compositions reflect this state of mind
and the texts I chose were very dark and expressed little hope for humanity. However,
composing them may have saved my life. I had suicidal thoughts and my wife finally accepted
that she might lose me.
The piece was commissioned by David Ferreira, conductor of the Illinois Wesleyan Choir. When
presented with the chosen texts Mr. Ferreira expressed concern with the bleakness and
hopelessness of the selected material. I explained that completion of the composition was
important to me and offered to give up the small commission. To his credit he supported my
belief and allowed the commission to remain. The university chorus recorded the premier
performance beautifully and presented LAMENT quite successfully on many occasions while
on tour that season. In a recent conversation with Mr. Ferreira, I was informed of a most
inspiring, successful, and poignant presentation at a High School where the performance was
dedicated to a family who had a very recent and tragic loss of a son who was soon to graduate.
The work was also performed by the Rowan University Choir on several occasions directed by
Clancy Miller in 1976 both on campus and on tour.
LAMENT’S dramatic text consists of excerpts from the bible – “Book of Job”, Wm. Blake’s
“The Sick Rose” and “A Memorable Fancy”; and Peter Davies’ “Allison”, a poem written for his
friend’s daughter Allison Krauss who was killed by the Ohio National Guard during the terrible
Kent State incident in May of 1970. The composition is inclusive of various styles and represents
the composer’s belief that the music and the drama, should dictate compositional elements and
Financially speaking, times were extremely hard-pressed for us. It is a crime that many
Americans have little positive comments about the teaching community and additionally, have
little empathy for the artist, two of many professions which suffer undue financial distress.
Compare the salaries of policemen, firemen, nurses, etc. to the obscene paychecks of sports
personalities and popular entertainers as well as corporate executives and politicians. Such
important occupations pay so little relative to their importance to society. Several years ago, our
elected officials in congress voted themselves automatic yearly pay increases – raises they do not even have to vote to approve. While, at this writing, we are amid the longest government
shut down in history with many government workers being furloughed while others are required
to work – WITHOUT PAY(!) thanks to our totally dis-connected politicians, while they
themselves receive overly inflated paychecks. To make matters worse, our “caring” government
on occasion has declined to allocate a cost-of-living increase to people on social security benefits stating a bald-faced lie that the yearly cost of living index showed no increase for the previous year. Some of our congressmen and women have been in office for years – there being no term limits – and, as a result, are completely oblivious to reality and to the daily struggles experienced by the ordinary working person. I spent many sleepless nights at the kitchen table with paper and pencil trying to figure out how I was going to pay the utilities bill, or the mortgage, or the pediatrician.
(A final insult is a recent tax break which was touted as a benefit to the middle class:
a tax break in which the top 5% of the country’s wealthy reap monumental financial benefit,
while, in the meantime, in our beloved country people go hungry or are unable to pay for their
necessary medication. This is abhorrent behavior from politicians who are supposed to be
committed to serving their constituency and who, instead, shut down the government because of
a dispute about an unnecessary wall/barrier on our southern border to keep out drugs and
illegal aliens while all available documentation show that 80% of drugs and illegal aliens
entering our country do so at legal checkpoints and ports of entry aided by the lack of
technology and adequate personnel).
I remained at Overbrook Junior High School until 1996 when the band director’s position
became available at Overbrook Senior High. The administration preferred that someone else who
was the band director at our sister school, Edgewood High, be given the position. I was,
admittedly, a bit of a rebel and malcontent and could understand the administration’s preference.
However, I was senior man and met with the Superintendent and others to remind them of that
fact, and to sell myself by saying that what was needed was a person who could continue the
outstanding success of the jazz band program at Overbrook (developed to a high degree by the
previous director, Bill Garten) and develop the other performance groups. I asserted, somewhat
egotistically that I was the only person in the district who could accomplish that goal.
The concert band and the marching band were considered less important by the previous director
who devoted much of his effort to the remarkably successful Jazz Ensemble which won
numerous awards as well as several Jazz Educators of New Jersey state championships. The
administration, despite trying to pressure me to take the Edgewood job, had no choice except to
assign me to Overbrook High. The result of their decision: two International Association of Jazz
Educators New Jersey state championships (1997 & 1999), two regional championships (1999 & 2000), and a 2nd & 3rd placement at Boston’s Berkley College of music high school jazz festival during my 4 years in the position.
Additionally, the concert band and the marching band became competitive and won several
competitions. I am particularly proud of the marching band’s accomplishment of placing 1st in
division in a Cavalcade of Music competition held at Giant’s Stadium. It should be noted that the
marching band was the least accomplished of all other performance groups and was held in
contempt by many of the students who felt, as I did, that the music was of lower importance to
other elements. To achieve success, it was essential to gradually change the student’s
outlook about the importance of the band. When competing we would be given outstanding
grades for the musical performance but poor grades for marching execution and quality of
maneuvers. At one point during my 3rd year, I announced to the students that, although we
would compete, we would not be concerned with grading but spend the season improving our
marching technique. With that end in mind, I chose music that was considerably less demanding then was the norm for our abilities in order that the students spend more time improving their marching skills. To their credit, the students saw the validity of my thinking and tacitly agreed. It was the very next season, my last before retirement, that the marching band won at Giants Stadium.
Part Three; Recapitulation
Recapitulation: A part of a movement (especially one in sonata form) in which themes from the exposition are restated. – English Oxford Living Dictionaries
The portion of my life spanning entrance to college until retirement from my teaching career
encompassed many events as well as intellectual and emotional developments representing
important steppingstones to becoming a unique entity. Everyone travels this journey with
differing results which determines the nature and essence of the individual. It is perhaps the most challenging portion of one’s growth and the results range from a person capable of astounding, positive and impactful effects, to one of horrendous and hurtful acts of violence, and is the sum of every second a person is in existence. The scope of this topic is too voluminous to address here and is of a complexity beyond my limited knowledge. The end results are the culmination of conscious decisions – for good or bad. It is too convenient to excuse unacceptable behavior by placing blame on others, or outside influences said to be beyond our control, when very often the first person to hold responsible is oneself. I believe people do not have to be told when they are being destructive or behaving in a socially abhorrent way, but that there is a consciousness, whether inborn or acquired, whereby it is intuitively known when a person is behaving poorly, if not outright criminally. Paraphrasing the biblical golden rule, treat others as you would be treated,may seem an oversimplification, however, one of considerable value.
As much as I did not relish most of my teaching career, that very conflict resulted in personal
growth and my appointment to the Overbrook High School band director’s position had affected
me in an intensity undreamed of previously. I am thankful for the opportunity to change my
perception of our educational system from one of cynicism to the realization that many teachers
are extremely dedicated and are responsible for innumerable positive influences. Unfortunately,
as a junior high school teacher, I did not realize this, due in part to my own misery, the relative
unimportance of the subject matter I was teaching – i.e., General Music - and my assignment of
teaching students who understandably possessed low or non-existent interest in the subject
matter. They were in my class because they had to be there.
During my tenure in the junior high I came to realize that I could not continue with the feelings
of worthlessness and failure, they were adversely affecting not only me and my family, but also
my students. Realizing that the subject matter held little importance for 12 and 13-year-old
young adults who were living in a world far removed from mine, I began to formulate a way of
making the job and subject matter more interesting and important to them. Having teenage
children of my own was crucial to this change in thinking.
I began to incorporate divergent subject matter into my music lessons which included any topic
to which I thought the students would respond positively. In most cases they would determine
that subject through class discussion. Those topics included religion, sex, the environment,
tolerance, drugs, social interaction, etc. In short, anything they wanted to talk about. The trick
was interspersing those interests with the music lesson, which I became rather adept at doing.
We would be discussing some composer’s contributions and I would somehow work the material
around how the great explorers contributed to our knowledge of the planet. Or how so and so
overcame a drug addiction. I would intersperse personal experiences, both pitfalls and
successes encountered by people I knew throughout my life. Occasionally I would begin class by
asking, “so, what do you want to talk about today”, with the result being a flurry of raised hands.
I began to look forward to going to work for the first time in years. I became less confrontational and more open to the thinking of others and not so focused on my misery. My family interaction benefited as I became less despondent. The final “victory” came when I was accused by the building principal of doing something of which I did not have any knowledge. Instead of vehemently denying and arguing the point I realized the relative unimportance of the issue and simply said “don’t worry, it won’t happen again”. I think that single incident represented a pivotal point and was responsible for my realization that I had finally beaten the system.
Another important and positive factor was that I achieved considerable, albeit rather local,
success as a composer/arranger/musician. The success was accompanied, as might be expected,
with conflict as well as triumph, specifics of which are to be related later, but resulted in arming
me with a positive self-image contributing to a sense of value and accomplishment.
The unrealized ambition of teaching at the collegiate level was supplanted by these professional
achievements. While in a depressed mental state any successful endeavors were minimized or
considered trivial. I began to realize that my successes were something to be proud of and
necessitated a re-evaluation of the importance of my existence. Contributing to this turn-around
of thought was the intense interaction of my band students at the high school.
That teaching assignment, as previously stated, reversed my poor assessment regarding our
public education system. I had the good fortune of working for a terrific principal who was an
artist in his own right and thoroughly supported me at every turn. That support included financial
as well as professional commitment. If I had a conflict with a parent, which was not uncommon,
Mr. Harmelin would seek me out with the knowledge that there was most likely a valid
explanation rather than the more typical approach of now what did he do wrong?. The position
necessitated working closely with the rest of the faculty, particularly the physical education
department because of the marching band’s performances at all football games. I re-evaluated
my assessment of the teaching profession and realized that most instructors were very dedicated, selfless, concerned individuals who placed financial gain second to commitment.
During a home coming football game (an especially important event for the Phys Ed Dept.)
I made a decision which I knew would bring about consequences. Because of the newly
realigned entrance doors next to the music rooms we were unable to get our large equipment
through the door. Instead of using a different albeit inconvenient entrance I stubbornly opted to
leave the equipment in the band room thereby disallowing the performance of our half-time show and angering the Phys Ed department head. However, he got his expected payback during
that year’s annual jazz band festival with many area schools participating. The gym was assigned
as one of the band’s warm up areas. Not surprisingly, the coach would not permit the band to
warm up until after basketball practice was completed. Passing each other in the hallway, the
Phys Ed head and I exchanged knowing smiles which settled the matter, and taught me a
forgotten lesson about the necessity and importance of cooperation.
4th Movement - Fugue
Fugue: A contrapuntal composition in which a short melody or phrase (the subject) is introduced by one part and successively taken up by others and developed by interweaving the parts. - English Oxford Living Dictionary
( FUGUE could also be interpreted as conflict, in that each musical “voice” is vying for
dominance. This chapter will focus on such conflicts experienced throughout my life with hopes
that the cumulative effect has been of an overall positive nature.)
My position as band director turned me into a surrogate parent and often resulted in phone calls
well after hours from students who had issues they felt could be addressed by my perspective of
not being their parent. On the other hand, there were occasions when I found myself protecting
the parent from a distraught child. In a marching band of over 250 members there were countless interactions between student and student, student and parent, parent and teacher, teacher and teacher, and teacher and student. Our musical organizations were rather competitive requiring travel which sometimes necessitated an entire weekend on the road. Often, we would depart on a Friday not to return to school until Monday thereby causing the students to miss classes. It was essential that I maintain a close relationship with the other teachers especially in academic areas. I required my students to maintain at least a “C” average and they were solely responsible for any missed classwork. Their choice to participate in the music program resulted in the cost of extra effort. Often a teacher would inform me that so-and-so was having difficulty with an important subject due, in part, to missed classes. I would often excuse the student from rehearsals to get remedial help if offered by the instructor. This form of cooperation from a band director was welcomed by many of my fellow teachers.
On the other hand, there were some conflicts with staff members for varied reasons: the belief
that their subject matter was of such importance that there was no room for any interference, or
because of the close relationship between me and the band students, or for financial reasons since I was getting stipends for Jazz Band, Concert Band, Marching Band, and the summer music
program, all of which required considerable additional time to the normal teaching load.
These conflicts manifested in several ways such as penalizing the student for missed classes on
the few occasions when special rehearsals were called immediately preceding a concert or
competition, or refusing to return my “hello” when passing in the hallway. The pettiness of some
people is difficult for me to understand; however, I would be sure to go out of my way to be
accepting of their proclivities.
As previously stated, I have come to understand that life’s conflicts are – or at least should be –
the fabric of character development and I would seize every opportunity to pass that belief on to
my students by both instruction and example. During a state championship competition for the
International Association of Jazz Educators of New Jersey an unfriendly judge persuaded 3 other judges that our performance was deficient, and we scored 7thin a field of 8 bands. We should have scored 1st, which we did twice before under my tutelage. Such “unfairness” is common with subjective judgements, which I explained to my students. I encouraged them to forget about the event and concentrate on the following evening’s Cavalcade of Bands Regional
championship competition. That contest provided us with a justification of our ability by
awarding us a 1st place, and went a long way in easing the disappointment of the previous night.
The recollection of a preadolescent incident recounts an event having a profound influence on
my developing sensibilities. I and several neighborhood pals were “hanging around” one summer
evening and decided to go for a walk around the neighborhood. We came upon a derelict old
man we had seen off and on in the neighborhood. He approached us looking for a hand-out to
most likely help support is alcoholism. We collectively had little money but one of the less noble
friends suggested that a quarter be provided to him for oral sex, to which the poor soul agreed.
This boy and a friend took the man into a dark field while me and the remaining 3 or 4 boys,
refusing to participate, remained on our early evening trek when we heard the sad old man
yelling, “please, please, don’t hit me” accompanied by much laughter from the 2 boys. It was a
disgusting display of unprovoked violence; something I have trouble understanding throughout
my entire life. I think the most bothersome thing is that I did nothing to help this poor creature, a
realization that changed me forever.
Professional conflicts are, unfortunately, a fact of life and are a result of jealousy, insecurity,
selfishness, or fear, to mention just a few of countless reasons. When New Jersey approved
gambling in Atlantic City people in the entertainment industry were excited and expected to reap
the benefit of the casino industry practice of coupling high level entertainment with the
enticement of gaming, as was the case in Las Vegas. In the beginning of the process there was
considerable work for musicians since many of the casinos used the Vegas model initially, by
presenting live stage reviews and high-level entertainment by personalities such as Frank Sinatra
complete with a live orchestra on stage or in the pit. I had a few musician friends who worked
regularly playing for these shows and I became a substitute keyboard player for the showroom
bands at Bally’s, Resorts, Playboy, et al.
The music director at Bally’s was Bill Hesketh and he did not want his musicians taking off for
any reason. Therefore, whenever a sub came in, he was not at all welcome. In my case he went
out of his way to make me not only uncomfortable but try to cause me to fail. On one occasion I
reported to the pit subbing for the pianist for the regular review which I had played many times.
This performance included a new comic whose music I had never seen and during which my
sight-reading skills came in to play to the admiration of the fellow band members. However, at
one point the band had to play a piece for which there was no written music; a song which I
knew and played many times on jobs. 1 or 2 seconds before the downbeat Hesketh leaned close
to my ear and called out the key of C MAJOR emphasizing the word major. This was very
unusual because the song was in C minor! The first chord I played was major as directed which
resulted in an unwanted and noticeable dissonance. This was a direct attempt to make me look
bad. On other occasions he would give me the wrong tempo or some other incorrect instruction.
Eventually I would circumvent him by checking with the other musicians whenever I could.
A foreshadowing of events to come, which all but destroyed the casino’s boon to musicians,
became apparent to me while subbing for the keyboardist at the Playboy casino’s review. First
and quite oddly, the showroom orchestra was removed to a remote location two or three floors
above the theater in a tiny room equipped with headphones and microphones, ostensibly feeding
the music into the theater’s sound system. Secondly, through my phones I began to hear slight
differences between what I was playing and what I was hearing. At one point, when the keyboard part was not exposed, I stopped playing altogether and discovered that the piano part was still audible! The music we were playing was not routed to the showroom and it became evident that prerecorded tapes were being used in a first step to replace the live players with the cost saving recordings from a studio somewhere on the west coast or Vegas. It was not long before all the casinos went to taped reviews reserving live music for any headliners that required a band as part of their act. There was understandably much dissent among the musicians, and it became obvious that the union leadership was complicit in this policy with much suspicion that individuals benefited handsomely for their silence.
In November 1980 Harrah’s Casino and Marina was nearing completion with the gaming rooms,
hotel, lounges, shops, and restaurants, open and functioning, however, the showroom would not
be completed for a few more months. I decided to throw my hat in the ring for the soon-to-be
musical director’s position and drove to Harrah’s for recon purposes. While there I realized that
security was generally relaxed most likely due to the presence of a plethora of construction crews busily working on the theater. A plan began to collate in my mind to take advantage of the
loosened security at the theater’s entrance.
I donned a three-piece suit, and armed with a legal pad, clipboard, and pen began to show up
periodically around the showroom entrance to “inspect” construction work replete with
occasional note taking of potential repairs or adjustments, being certain the security guards saw
me, and who I made sure to engage in friendly conversation with the result of familiarity I was
hoping for. In the meantime, I began to construct a budget for the showroom to include
musician’s salaries for rehearsals and shows with adjustments for overtime, pension, health and
welfare benefits and taxes with a bottom line for each category for instrument combinations of
everything from four-piece combo to full orchestra with string section and all combinations in
between, all in compliance with the musician’s union rates and by-laws. It was a ponderous
volume neatly typed on spread sheets and professionally bound in my home office.
When completed I returned to the theater with a briefcase replacing the clipboard and began to
make my way to a room marked “official personnel only” I noticed on a previous visit and
deduced that within were the administrative offices for the showroom. The security personnel
acknowledged me as usual but stated, almost apologetically, that from now on I would have to
display my security pass. I apologized for the pass being left in the car, offered to retrieve it, and
assured them I would present it on the next visit. This satisfied them and I was able to pass.
(Understand, to these guys and gals I was some bigwig not to be messed with.) If things worked
out the way I hoped I would never have to use this ruse again. I entered the administrative room,
announced my name and asked to see the Entertainment Director. I was mildly surprised when I
was shown to Mr. Z’s office without hesitation. Entering the room, I introduced myself, and after some brief chit-chat, opened the brief case saying, “this is something you will be needing soon”. I then deposited the budget tome on his desk and quickly left.
Several days later I received a phone call from Mr. Z complimenting me on my obvious efforts
and asked if I would be interested in a task, clearly intended as a test of my connections and
ability to get the job done. It was about a week before the scheduled New Year’s Eve gala to
mark the unofficial opening of the theater. A review type show was scheduled along with typical
New Year’s Eve festivities and entertainment personalities Jay Leno and Debbie Reynolds, with
dance music provided by the Les Elgart Big Band. Part of the Elgart contract provided that the
band perform double duty by also playing for the review, however, a few of the key players had
contracts with Elgart prohibiting such double duty. I was asked to find replacements for 7 or 8
of these key players with local musicians.
To the uninitiated it sounds like a simple task except for the fact that any decent musician was
already booked for gigs on that night. The musicians had to be of superior ability able to execute
difficult charts with little or no rehearsal time. I spent day and night on the phone for the next
three days and finally secured musicians who I was confident were able to fill the demanding
requirements. Although difficult to do, some of the guys hoping for a casino gig, backed out of
other commitments to accept a far more prestigious and better paying job with the possibility of
steady future casino work.
New Year’s Eve came and went without incident when on January 3rd the phone rang with a call
from Mr. Z. He said he was impressed with the results of my efforts and assured me that the
musicians I hired performed beautifully, AND I would be hearing from him! Almost
immediately I started to receive phone calls from all over America and Europe from musicians
hoping for a casino gig in the band I was putting together for Harrah’s Casino. I assured the
callers that I had not been hired but would keep their contact information on file, not mentioning
that I already had most of the musicians selected from a workshop band I organized a couple of
months earlier. Bill Hesketh, Bally’s music director previously mentioned, contacted me as if we
were buddy-buddy and suggested we meet for lunch so he could give me a “heads up” about the
position and not so above-board ways I might augment my income. I had no inclination to “pal
around” with that terrible man and declined to meet with him for any reason.
I could not help but get excited about the possibility of finally working as a professional
conductor/arranger and resigning my unchallenging Junior High School position. My friend Billy
Jones called from his gig at Resorts and, attempting to express himself with obvious shock and
difficulty, told me that he heard from irrefutable inside information that I was to be the Harrah’s
music director. As much as I wanted the position, I had difficulty in realizing that this
respectable and high-paying job was to be mine. As luck would have it, shortly after this phone
call from Bill, Mr. Z was fired, and the new Entertainment Director brought in his own people
and left me out in the cold. The familiar presence of fate intervening once again.
In retrospect, it was fortuitous that I did not get that position in lieu of the declining state of the
entertainment industry in Atlantic City’s casinos, as well as the cut-throat tactics expected of
casino management. I recall a conversation with Mr. Z about the short time frame prior to the
official show room opening leaving little room for hiring the musicians that I preferred. His
comment was very telling: “Don’t worry Pat, musicians are a dime a dozen, they’ll be banging
on your door and you’ll have no trouble filling the positions”. That statement showed the low
esteem the casino industry held for its entertainers and my job would always be on the line with
the possibility of elimination at any time for any reason.
This was certainly not the first time I encountered such a demeaning attitude directed toward
musician’s while being employed as keyboardist for many club, party, and wedding bands
throughout my life. One such instance occurred while working on weekends at the Top of the
Mark restaurant in the Lafayette Hotel in Cape May, New Jersey. As part of the employment
deal we were offered a tiny room in the attic at an old, huge, white Victorian hotel across the
street from the restaurant. This room allowed us a dressing room as well as a place to sleep in the event of inclement weather. While playing a set one evening the bar tender indicated that the
hotel owner wanted to see us during the break. It had begun snowing quite heavily and I phoned
Carol to let her know that we would be staying the night thereby avoiding a dangerous late-night drive back to our home in Williamstown. For some reason, the owner did not remain until our break but left word that he rented out our room! Being during the Christmas holiday the town was crowded with visitors and all the rental rooms were booked. Our tiny ugly room with no bathroom was rented to a family of 5 for an outrageous rate, it being the only room available
during the near blizzard. Joe Sacco, the sax player, and I did not make it home until after 4:00am
after a very tense drive on snow covered back roads for the 75-80 miles ride from the gig to
Some of the folks who hired us were very accommodating in the extreme, to the point that the
band was treated almost as a guest being allowed drink and meals with no restrictions
whatsoever. Then there were the gigs representing the complete opposing attitude. Booked at an exclusive country club in Haddonfield New Jersey one New Year’s Eve, management made it
clear that we were to disappear during our breaks and under no circumstances seen to interact
with the paying guests. During this job we were not even offered a glass of water and were
clearly deemed inferior help. Thankfully, this kind of negative treatment was not common, which
made it even more noticeable.
Most people who become musicians do so, not out of choice, but because of an inborn calling, a
burning desire, that cannot be ignored nor reasoned against. When reviewing my life as a
musician I acknowledge that I was drawn to composition in some way that defies explanation as
well as understanding – it just was something I had to do. There was no known family history
aside from my father’s and his two brother’s musical background, dad as a trumpet
player, while his brothers played drums and bass – but no composers or arrangers. My dad,
realizing the difficulty of succeeding as a composer made numerous unsuccessful attempts to
steer me in a different direction by pointing out the wisdom of developing my playing skills to be
used as additional needed income. When I was a youngster, he insisted that I practice two to four hours daily, depending on the day of the week and the amount of schoolwork: but during
summer vacation, it was four hours every day. I recall how I felt burdened in so doing and
constantly kept an eye toward the clock anxious to conclude the task to play ball with the
neighborhood kids. But, when it came to my composing or arranging, I did not have to be told to
write, and when engaged in creating a work the concept of time all but vanished and I would
spend hours and hours working on some new project. That drive also manifested whenever in a
studio recording my works, which ran the gamut of TV and radio commercials to industrial video
backgrounds as well as arrangements and originals for various bands, singers, and lounge acts. It
was as though the studio atmosphere was food for the soul. The aroma of the equipment, the
exactness of the recording process, the required depth of critical hearing, the mix-down process
where many individual tracks, sometimes as many as 48, were reduced to a two-track stereo final product, were challenges that were unhesitatingly accepted. Yet, the desire to compose, exhibited at a young age, seemed to be coming from a place of which I had no control, to the point of obsession. I read somewhere about an unusually elevated number of artistic people who had some level of compulsiveness, some to the debilitating degree of bipolarism, and I became aware that I possessed a somewhat compulsive nature, particularly during the creation of a musical work.
In 1976 I received a call from Vince Montana, the director of the Salsoul Orchestra, which was
quite popular during the disco craze. He somehow became aware of my reputation as a writer
and asked to meet with him at his Cherry Hill residence. The most striking remembrance I have
of his lovely house and pool was his name. “Montana” was everywhere you looked; carved
out of wood, or the central focus of several paintings, or emblazoned on just about everything.
The purpose of my visit soon became clear; Vince needed help. Everything the Salsoul Orchestra
recorded was arranged by him, or so it would seem from the program notes on his albums. Point
of fact, although Vince was a fine Vibraphone player with good musical instincts and “ears”, he
was unschooled and not at all knowledgeable enough to accomplish the actual writing. Unknown
to me at the time was that he would employ ghost writers to work with him during the writing
process. Doing so most likely gave him the clear conscience of thinking that he was doing the
Vince hired me to return and collaborate on an arrangement for the album Cuchi-Cuchi featuring
Charo, which was the next album to be released. I do not remember the title of the track, but the
assignment was not particularly challenging and was undoubtedly intended as an assessment of
my abilities. Vince, becoming more and more confident that I knew what I was doing, began to
involve me increasingly in his endeavors until I was his go-to ghost writer. A disco Christmas
album followed, and I worked with Montana regularly on several charts for which I was paid but
without any recognition or arranging credits.
Then came the huge “Magic Journey” project in which Vince wanted to take a number of
symphonic works and record them in disco style for the album’s “B” side to be released in 1977.
The material I worked on was of a difficulty far beyond Vince’s writing capabilities and he
depended on my skills. Four of the pieces are my work:
1976 Montreal Olympics Theme – (Transcription)
Getaway (Earth Wind and Fire) – (Arrangement)
The Magic Bird of Fire (Igor Stravinsky) – Transcription and arrangement
Journey to Phoebus (Pasquale J. Spino) - Original
In the case of the Olympics Theme, I was required to exactly extract the music – full score –
from the original recording. Then a disco rhythm section recorded the entire track from a lead
sheet (kind of map) of the chart before any other instruments were recorded in a layered fashion. In separate sessions the horns would be added, followed by the strings, then any solo work and added percussion effects would be recorded on top of all the other tracks.
This layered process was used throughout the industry except when a live sound stage was
required, thereby making control of the recording process more difficult requiring special mics
and sound barriers to help prevent bleed-through from one instrument into the mic of another.
Instruments like the drums, requiring multiple mics of varying types, would be segregated from
the rest of the orchestra, and placed in a soundproof room allowing complete control of the 5 or 6 mics used, each on a separate track. The sessions were recorded at top notch Philadelphia studios and all 48 tracks were used in the process requiring complex mix-down techniques in which I did not participate.
Getaway required adapting the vocal track to an instrumental version and extending sections to
allow improvisational solos by various instruments to be added following the laying down of all
other tracks. The most difficult track was the Stravinsky piece. The recording process was the
same as described above but the material was very demanding. I was “allowed” to be present, but “invisible”, during the sessions while Vince conducted the various instrumental groups, albeit
with much difficulty. Vince did not want me obvious to the musicians and recording personnel
because it might become evident that I was the arranger. It was a good thing that I was present
since things started to go very wrong during the string section overlay session.
Musicians can be brutal to someone who they recognize as not capable, or who is “in over their
heads”, and string players the more so – which was the case with Vince. These musicians
represented the best in the area, some of whom were members of the Philadelphia Philharmonic
Orchestra and were intolerant of arrogance from someone they deemed of inferior ability. Vince
was both arrogant and lacking in ability. An adaptation of an extremely difficult composition by
a premier American Composer was being recorded; a work many of them performed many times
in its original form. Vince was making a fool of himself as the conductor, and he was
embarrassing to all present and making it more and more evident that he did not know what
he was doing. The musicians were merciless, having found a weakness and there were many
unwanted delays in the recording process with money flowing at an outrageous hourly rate.
Suddenly Vince threw his baton on the floor, spun around to face the control room where I was
unobtrusively seated in a far corner, and yelled out, “Pat, come out here and conduct this”. There
was shock all around since this was a never-before seen admission by the arrogant Vince
Montana that he could not handle the gig. I was in shock more than anyone, knowing that as a
ghost writer, my place was to all but disappear. Also, these players had no idea who I was or
what my qualifications were and probably welcomed the thought of a new victim to torture. I
knew that at some point they were going to test me.
I approached the podium displaying as much false bravado that I could muster and without
referencing the score, announced the spot in the music that was causing the current dilemma.
And with a “Let us begin” I gave the downbeat. The section we were working on required a
special technique from the players to play a harmonic – a tone produced in a way that I will spare
the reader by not describing. Someone in the violin section to my right was not playing the note
correctly and was producing a noticeably different timbre to the pitch. I stopped the players and
indicated what was wrong apologizing if the music sheet was improperly notated and instructed
them to be sure to play the note as a harmonic.
Once again, I had to stop the rehearsal for the exact same reason from the same location in the
violin section. Now I had a good idea who the culprit was and made sure to look directly at him
while repeating my instructions to play a harmonic. It was obvious that I was being tested.
Stopping a third time I called the perpetrator by name and said, “For God’s sake Don, do I have
to come over there and show you how to play a harmonic”. The entire section broke out into
laughter and Don Renaldo, the contractor on the session, yelled out, “Tell the truth, you wrote
this arrangement didn’t you Pat”. Vince liked to melt into his seat while knowing glances were
passed all around the control room, and I said nothing except, “Ladies and gentlemen, now that
we see eye to eye, let us make some beautiful music together in honor of Igor Stravinsky, if that
is agreeable to you Don”. Mr. Renaldo again laughed out loud and agreed. The rest of the session went on flawlessly and Vince and I never mentioned the incident. A nice side note, when taking the podium, I made eye contact with every player, and there, seated in the violin section was my college instructor, Bertram Greenspan, announcing to all around him that I was his student. I was honored to have the opportunity to conduct such a great composition with these outstanding players.
One track on the Magic Journey album has my name on it: “Journey to Phoebus”. I was grateful
for the opportunity given me by Vince Montana to have one of my compositions recorded for
commercial release, however, I had to agree to let Vince add his name as writer, which I was
happy to do. It is probably the most challenging and unusual track on the album, and I can
honestly say that the musicians loved playing it although I would have mixed down the tracks
differently. The final mix hides some challenging and showy brass work. The disco era is long
past (thank the powers that be) but should anyone wish to hear PHOEBUS, or any of the other
tracks I worked on; they are accessible on the internet.
The Magic Journey album was responsible for bestowing Vince with the DISCO ARRANGER
OF THE YEAR award. The success of the album precipitated a follow up project on which
Vince wanted my collaboration. I thanked him for the opportunity he gave me, but I reminded
him of his award and how successful the album was and further indicated that I would be happy
to work with him, but I had to have my name, along with his, on anything that I wrote. He
thanked me, and I never heard from him again; that is until several years later.
With disco all but dead, Vince was no longer in the lime-light and was looking for a way back. It
must have been very demeaning for him to call me to help with something he was trying to put
together with his daughter Denise. I told him it was great to hear from him and repeated my
demands to be recognized. That was the last I heard from him ever again and he receded into
relative obscurity. Some people just are unable to get out of their own way.
During my teaching job at West Philadelphia High School, I began a composition while
studying at Temple University during evenings. “A Prophecy” was hardly begun for my
composition instructor’s assignment when I discontinued the pursuit of a Doctorate Degree as
related earlier. However, the piece remained in my consciousness nagging to be completed. One
morning, after a time of no creative activity, I started to work on the mostly unfinished opus. The
result of that day stands out in my mind as being almost frightening. As if some outside power
was controlling me, the notes seemed to jump off my pencil onto the page. Within the following
5 or 6 hours I completed the remaining 11 of the 13-minute work in its rough form requiring only finalizing of orchestration. I have often heard athletes referring to “being in the zone” during a game which I equate to my experience. Similar events have occurred rarely, however, not to the extreme degree just related.
My three children possessed talent in varying degrees, but it was my youngest daughter, Nicole,
who began to study the flute with most noticeable success and was beginning to acquire a
reputation as a superior player of that instrument. She was chosen for honors groups at the local, regional, and state levels. Unfortunately, the high school program at that time was severely
lacking and she became less and less active in the school’s music performance groups. In
addition, often local politics would come into play when a regional or state conductor would seat
a player in the 1st flute chair because of a previous relationship, ignoring Nicole’s superior
ability and test scores, which caused her to sour on the profession.
As a High School Sophomore there came a day I anticipated when she announced that she
wanted to take tennis lessons. I thought it was a terrific idea but was unable to pay for both flute and tennis and left her to make a choice. When she picked tennis, worried that I might be
disappointed, I assured her that I completely understood and was pleased that she would not be
caught up in the oftentimes cut-throat music business. It was a good decision and, considering
her late start at tennis, she rose to become 2nd seeded singles in her senior year.
Ken took piano lessons for a while and did well, but eventually replaced the piano with baseball,
at which he excelled. He was good enough that he might have done something with his talent –
college scholarship perhaps – if fate had not intervened in the person of his high school varsity
coach, Coach Hunt. Over time it became obvious that, for some strange reason, this guy did all
he could do to discourage Ken and belittled him at every opportunity so that Ken became very
self-conscious and overcompensated for any mistake he made. The coach never worked with
Ken who had proven abilities that were recognized by all previous coaches who labeled him as
an outstanding player. Ken and I spoke about it years later and he revealed that a competing
player and his dad were friendly with the coach and the boy saw Ken as his only competition,
which may have explained the reason the Coach took every opportunity to belittle my son. I
should point out that Ken attended a summer baseball camp at Princeton University where he
excelled while a Junior in High School. Another unfortunate example of a teacher doing more
harm than good.
Our 1st offspring, Lisa Ann, had a lovely voice and sang in the high school choir. Lisa was a
head-strong and very independent young lady and wanted what she wanted when she wanted it.
Her interest was more in the line of commercial music and, if truth be told, had hopes of
becoming a pop star, which, under the right circumstances, she might have accomplished. She
was attractive and physically developed beyond her years. Of course, when entering high school,
she attracted a lot of attention which no doubt distracted her. She wanted voice lessons which I
agreed to under the condition that she first take piano lessons for 6 months to acquire a
foundation in the elements of music and develop a reading skill to help with her vocal studies.
This was not at all acceptable to her and she would not agree to my proposal.
Upon graduation, both Ken and Lisa secured jobs in the relatively young New Jersey casino
industry resulting in many stories concerning the pitfalls and insecurities of that profession. I
secretly hoped they would move to some other occupation. When Connecticut approved casinos
they both took jobs at Foxwoods having to relocate 4 hours north while Nicole’s husband Ron,
being career navy, was stationed out of Norfolk, VA requiring a 4 hour move south. Ken
eventually gravitated to the hospitality industry, Lisa remained with the casinos, while Ron and
Nicole moved back to Williamstown when he was reassigned to Washington, DC as a Navy
Chief. Nicole, a graduate of Rutgers with a Microbiology degree, secured a variety of well-
paying corporate positions in the food preparation industry.
Ever since a young boy, I was drawn to sailing craft for some reason unknown to me. There is an
unparalleled beauty of a square rigger under full sail running before a stiff breeze. Craft of today
are in every way superior; faster, stronger, larger, more powerful, and able to carry more
payload, be it as a merchant ship or a man-o-war. What they are not, however, is as beautiful.
My favorite readings throughout life involved stories about such craft and the hearty souls who
manned them. Treasure Island, Two Years Before the Mast, the Log of the (insert vessel’s
name), Moby Dick, etc. consumed my imagination and I hungered for that long-gone experience.
Being disappointed in the direction my music career was taking, my love of the sea and sailing
began to assert itself and eventually resulted in the purchase of a small 17-foot day sailor.
Appendix E contains a reprint from my deck log recounting that first, not so successful, attempt
Despite the disappointing first attempt I continued to pursue the sport to an advanced degree. The experiences of the ensuing 35 years, both good and bad, would fill a separate volume. There
were a succession of boats ending with an ocean rated 44-footer, and adventures that included
sailing along the east coast from Block Island to the Florida Keys with many days in Barnegat
and Chesapeake Bays, all the while continuing to work with a variety of bands in evenings.
Often on weekends, after a full day of sailing on Barnegat Bay, I would return to the dock,
shower, dress in my tux and drive to whatever the next gig was, returning in the early morning to
repeat the process the next day.
Sailing became all consuming, to the point that I secured my Coast Guard Master and Mates 50-
ton captain’s license and started my own instruction and yacht moving company – Star Sailing
Instruction and Yacht Delivery.Turning a hobby into a business was a mistake on several
levels, and after two or three years I closed the business.
We undertook yearly trips to Block Island, Long Island Sound, Mystic, and Newport to the
north, and Atlantic City, Cape May, and the Chesapeake to the south. However, the most
adventurous trip was the 1973-74 cruise on our 36-foot sloop to the Florida Keys with hopes of crossing the gulf stream to the Bahamas. The experience was fantastic and required a period of months to make additions and alterations to the boat, secure the necessary charts and equipment, and put in place the necessary logistics. To save money on marina fees we intended to anchor overnight as much as possible requiring a substantial upgrade to our ground tackle equipment. That cruise is annotated in a detailed log with many comments and descriptions of the 9-month time span from when we left Barnegat Inlet in New Jersey to our mooring in Marathon Key and back. Unfortunately, it was not possible to cross over to the Bahamas due to bad weather that season.
During our stay in Marathon, we left the boat for several weeks to travel to my daughter’s home
in Suffolk, Virginia in anticipation of our granddaughter’s birth. There were complications
during which 75% of her blood was replaced and she almost died. She was delirious and it was
touch and go for a day or two. One evening I spent the night with her at the hospital during
which time she would awaken every 15 minutes or so with all the alarms going off and she kept
referring to the “hooded bad man” in the shadows of the room’s corner. I held her hand and told
her not to worry that I would handle him. Finally, she slept through the night when upon
wakening she said that I got rid of the bad man. It was a very bizarre and frightening few hours
and easily passed off as a negative reaction to meds, but when I took her hand and told her I
would not allow any harm she immediately improved with an unexpectedly fast recovery
following that episode, which surprised the doctors who had no explanation for the speed of her
recovery. Alexis was born without any complications to her; however, Nicole is unable to have
any more children due to the necessary removal of her uterus.
Both Lisa and Ken married with disastrous results. Lisa married John Moroski she met while
working at Foxwoods Casino. The marriage ended several years later when her husband, who
had a serious gambling problem, left her. The breakup had a devastating effect on her and
resulted in serious psychological issues and substance abuse. She went from one bad relationship to another. After a time, she met Mark Grab and it seemed that she had turned the corner and was her old self again. Unfortunately, it became obvious that Mark was an alcoholic, a dilemma not helpful to my daughter’s proclivity for alcohol. She seemed to be, however, far happier than we had seen her in a long time.
On May 10th, 2006 we received the worst phone call of our lives from my son informing us that
our daughter was killed returning from dinner while riding with her companion Mark on his
motorcycle. The circumstances are bizarre. A mere few miles from home they encountered an
approaching EMT vehicle responding to another accident. Mark clipped the back of the car in
front which had pulled over and stopped to let the ambulance go by. My daughter was catapulted through the air and under the wheels of the oncoming emergency vehicle and died instantly.
Several incongruous factors include the following: Mark was a volunteer fireman in Canterbury,
where they both resided. The emergency vehicle responding to a different accident was from his
station. Mark received minor injuries. He was never tested on site for alcohol. It was not until
many hours later at the hospital that the alcohol blood level test was given showing that he was
not under the influence. When I later questioned the state police who was on scene about this
oddity, he was evasive and there never was an acceptable explanation given by anyone involved.
Because of my knowledge that Mark was an alcoholic, I knew it was a contributing factor and
there was likely collusion in hiding the probability that he was legally drunk, especially finding
that blood alcohol level tests came back negative. Being a volunteer fireman, a member of the
first responder community, friendly with police and hospital personnel, suggest a possible cover
up. I base this conclusion on witnessing firsthand his dependence on alcohol and can honestly
say that it would have been impossible for my daughter and Mark to go out for dinner and not
have several drinks. I have no doubt that my allegations are actual. Such would prove to be the
case several years later when talking to one of the neighbors who knew Mark and who was also a volunteer at the Canterbury fire station.
Several years following the accident it became necessary to sell my daughter’s house. My son
was living there following Lisa’s death and we scheduled a yard sale to unload whatever
furnishings and household items we could sell. A neighboring woman came to the house and was
hanging around waiting for an appropriate time to talk to Ken, Carol, and me. She told us how
sorry she was and that she was quickly on scene shortly after the tragedy. She saw Mark sitting
on the side of the road in a stupor. When she approached him, he remarked that he had killed
Lisa and was drunk. I was furious that she did not come forward with this information right
away, but checked my anger having come to realize that such proof would do nothing to bring
our daughter back and would likely result in prison time for Mark. In addition, and more
importantly, the statute of limitations for the State of Connecticut had been reached, a
circumstance the neighbor was very well cognizant of.
A further indication of how terrible a person Mark was, became evident one or two days
following Lisa’s death. The family and some of Lisa’s friends were gathered at the house
including a girl who was Lisa’s close friend and co-worker. Mark made a brazen sexual pass at
this girl in front of the entire assemblage saying that Lisa would want them to be together. It was at this point that my disgust for Mark reached its apex and determined my future behavior toward him.
His conscience caused him to have a memorial cross placed alongside the road at the accident
site which I found objectionable simply because it came from him in a “ceremony” – a kind of
memorial – involving all the members of the cycle club of which he seemed to lead. When the
house was sold Ken and I took that cross which is now in our garden at our home in Florida.
On May 14th, 2007, a memorial was held on the beach in Normandy, NJ followed by a “celebration of life party” at a local eatery/bar. The following scan is of the tribute I wrote to my daughter.
Ken’s marriage was a mistake from the beginning. He was lied to by Angela about being
pregnant with his child – a pregnancy that never was. Believing her to be with his child they
married without the benefit of our, or any of our family, being in attendance, which is what
Angela wanted. The first time we met Angela at their home in Moosup Connecticut she voiced
several disparaging comments about our son. It was a mere introduction to the kind of horrible
person she proved to be during the years prior to their divorce.
There are official details about her character and value system that display her lack of any moral
fiber, along with numerous examples displaying her love of money at any expense. Three
wonderful boys, Brandon, Connor, and Mason resulted from their union. Shortly after Connor’s
2nd birthday it was becoming obvious there was some developmental difficulty. He was
subsequently diagnosed high on the Autism scale and is uncommunicative to a large degree. He
has perfect pitch and an intellect that would be of a superior nature if he were not afflicted, and it causes Carol and I much pain to see him struggle with reality, imprisoned in his own world, and
unable to have the simplest conversation or to even describe a pain he may be experiencing. I
have much compassion for my son having to endure such heartbreak. To some degree I can
relate because as a young boy Ken had serious allergies that would turn into asthma attacks. At
one horrible point it was suggested that he might have cystic fibrosis. I remember sleeping next
to his bed, on the floor of the hospital twice yearly, when his condition required hospitalization.
Gratefully, he has outgrown the condition, something not possible with Connor.
A considerable amount of my original scores were stored in file drawers, although a substantial
number of them were lost, destroyed, or given away. Following my retirement, I began editing
and cataloging them during which process numerous errors were found and corrected. In some
cases, I made so many changes and/or additions that the result might be considered a completely
new version of the original. The process took years but was facilitated using the FINALE music
writing computer program and I was able to destroy the hand-written scores while storing the
corrected versions on disc or USB stick. By this time in FINALE’S development, there were
excellent sound samples made available, allowing playback of a fairly good quality closely
resembling actual live performance. It was great to be able to hear some of my compositions that
had never been performed. Additionally, I composed several new pieces and adapted many
others for various instrumental groups. For example, a piece that may have been composed for
symphonic orchestra might be arranged for wind ensemble if appropriate, or vice-versa.
In 2015 I started to self-publish my music, offering it free of charge at www.pasqualejspino.com
with disappointing results. I thought, perhaps incorrectly, that my output was of excellent
quality, albeit perhaps somewhat dated. Thankfully, I was now mature enough to accept my
anonymity without self-pity and I continue to “dabble” with my writing simply because it is what
I do; what I am about. I in no way could elevate my self-opinion to any level other than capable
and am amazed, and envious of the artistry of so many superlative composers. A final insult
would be an unlikely development whereby my music would be “discovered” after I die.
I consider myself fortunate to have three important areas of my life responsible for developing
my spirit and providing a reason for living: my family, sailing, and music. There was some
bitterness for a time at my “failure” in not achieving some higher level of recognition and I often
would blame the popularism embraced by our culture. Upon reflection, such success would
appear to be reserved for special people and facilitated by a variety of circumstances not
necessarily within the control of those individuals. When I reflect on how often I came close to
securing the so called “brass ring” only to have it disappear through some fateful intervention, I
have come to accept what some would consider the over-simplification that “it was just not
meant to be”. That thought has brought with it a surprising inner piece of which I am grateful.
Partial List of Compositions and Arrangements
PASQUALE J. SPINO – Composer/Arranger
NOTE: All scores are free for reproduction
Cell: (856) 341-2745
Also: Pasquale Spino on Sound Cloud
Band Music Catalogue
1. Studio Concert Band
2. Big Band
3. Concert Band & Wind Ensemble
1. STUDIO CONCERT BAND SCORES (with & without vocals) –
MIDI MP3 audio files available for all selections
Most scores listed in this category are written for a basic concert band instrumentation and rhythm section as follows: Piccolo, 2 Flutes, 2 Oboes (2ndopt.), 2 Bassoons (2nd opt.), 3 Clarinets, Bass Clarinet, 5 Saxes (2-2-1), 4 Horns (3 & 4 opt.), 4 or 5 Trumpets; 3 Trombones, Bass Trombone, Baritone Horn, Tuba, Timpani
Additional Instruments: Electric Bass, Drum Set, String Synth, Piano (opt.), occasionally Harp (optional), and a variety of percussion and mallets –detailed instrumentation provided upon request.
a. Version 1, Tenor or Soprano vocal. Dur. 4:00
b. Version 2, Add SATB choir w/a cappella section. Dur. 5:45
2. BIG BAND SCORES
MIDI MP3 audio files available for all selections
These scores, for the most part, are written for standard big band instrumentation. Some of them expands instrumentation by use of doublings – flutes, clarinets, soprano sax for woodwinds, flugelhorns for trumpets, synthesizer, and percussion. Ad lib sections are plentiful. Exact instrumentation can be supplied upon request. Durations followed by +/- are approximate depending on improvisations.
1. 4’s & 5’s: a very early original written in alternating 4/4 – 5/4 sections in early Kenton style. Dur. 6:00 +/-
2. Blues 226: an up tempo, straight ahead, Basie type blues. Difficult tutti sections and lots of open ad lib sections. This is a cut and paste chart and can be adapted for your band’s specific strengths. Dur. 6:00 +/-
3. Carol My Lady: an early original ballad written as a high school student. Ad lib section for tenor has optional written solo. Dur. 3:20
4. Copacabana: a reworked arrangement of the Barry Manilow hit that I wrote for Big 3 music publishers. There are no ad lib sections in the chart. Dur. 4:09
5. Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend: Girl vocal. There is an optional trumpet ad lib where a written solo is supplied. Dur. 3:50
6. Earth Wind & Fire Medley: (In the Stone, Getaway, After the Love Has Gone, Boogie Wonderland) Dur. 8:00 +/-
7. High Rhodes: an electric piano funk feature with a middle swing ad lib for piano. Dur. 4:30
8. Jus’ Passin’ Thru: Funk/jazz original. Dur. 3:41
9. My Funny Valentine: three versions available 1. High Trumpet solo (to high F); 2. Ranged edited standard trumpet solo (to high C); 3. Male vocal. There are no ad lib sections in this chart. Dur. 3:40
10. Night Fever: an original disco/jazz chart. Saxes double on sop., flts., bs.cl.; Trumpets double on flugels. Optional ad lib section. Dur. 5:00 =/-
11.The Opener: a chart in the style of the Johnny Carson tonight show theme. Optionally written solos for tpt. and piano. Dur. 2:00
12.Up: A tribute to Stan Kenton reminiscent of his “Intermission Riff” written while a student at Arts High School in Newark N.J. Dur. 4:50 +/-
3. CONCERT BAND, Wind Ensemble & Wind Symphony Scores
MIDI MP3 audio files available for most selections, live MP3’s for some
These Scores are written for the concert stage. Instrumentation varies and can be supplied upon request. Most are difficult or exceedingly difficult. Some have been previously published and a few have not yet been performed
1. American Snapshots: (three short movements: Scenes while traveling, the Everglades, Salute to Liberty). Composed while a college sophomore and published by Elkan-Vogel of Philadelphia. Dur. 8:00
2. Chorale Dramatique: previously published by E.C. Kerby, Toronto. Playable by a good Jr. H.S. Band. Dur. 4:50
3. Chorale Symphonique for Wind & Percussion Symphony: recently composed. Very difficult. Requires piano and harp. Dur. 5:45
4. Dialogue No. 2: a composition combining acoustic and electronic instruments requiring 4 synthesizers, piano, electric piano, bass, guitar, drums in addition to standard Concert Band. Dur. 4:00
5. Hymn for Woodwind Section: Medium Dif. A 4’20” piece for the wind ensemble woodwind section. Easily rehearsed and performed – straight forward and “easy on the ears”.
6. Mexican Hat Dance: commercially recorded. Live recording available Dur. 2:00
7. Odyssey: recently composed, very difficult.Requires piano and harp. Dur. 9:00
8. Sketches for Alto/Soprano Sax and Band. Three movements. Modal. 2nd mvt. is a jazz section requiring alto ad lib. In 5/4. 3rd mvt. alto switched to soprano. Dur. 13:00
9. Sound Dramas: previously published by Joseph Boonin, Hackensack NJ. Prominent percussion writing. Dur. 6:00
10.Star Spangled Banner: An easy arrangement in 4/4. Dur. 1:50
11.Suite for Band: four movements. Difficult Dur. 13:00
12.Symphonic Movement: recently adapted from SYMPHONY IN THREE MOVEMENTS (1st Mvt.) very difficult. Requires harp and Piano Dur. 7:30
13.Symphonietta for Wind Symphony: recently composed, very difficult.Requires harp and Piano Dur. 8:00
14.Theme and Variations: two movements, Prominent low brass writing. Dur.7:20
15. Two Movements for Wind Ensemble: Difficult. A separate scoring of the 2nd and 3rdmovements of Suite for Band reordered as Part 1 – Adagio; Part 2 – Scherzo and March.
16.Toccata for Winds & Percussion: difficult. Dur. 4:50
4. ORCHESTRA and STRINGS
MIDI MP3 audio files available for most selections, live MP3’s for some
1. America: A “production number” featuring Male Vocal, Ad Lib Jazz Tenor Sax (an optional solo is notated), Piano, Synthesizer, Harp, Electric Bass, Drums, SATB background singers with an a cappella segment, optional children’s choir. Special range note: 1stTpt. to F above staff – can be edited to high C. Live orchestral recording available. Dur. 5:30
2. Chorale Dramatique: previously published by E.C. Kerby, Toronto. Playable by a good Jr. H.S. Band. Dur. 4:50
3. Copacabana: Instrumental arrangement of the Barry Manilow hit. Piano and/or Guitar are recommended. Dur. 4:00
4. Dialogue No. 2: a composition combining acoustic and electronic instruments requiring 4 synthesizers, piano, electric piano, bass, guitar, drums in addition to standard Concert Band. Dur. 4:00
5. Hymn for Strings: Medium Dif. A 4’20” piece for the orchestra’s string section. Easily rehearsed and performed – straight forward and “easy on the ears”.
6. Mexican Hat Dance: commercially recorded. Live BAND recording available Dur. 2:00
7. Night Fever: Jazz/Latin original requiring a full rhythm section.
8. Odyssey: recently composed, very difficult.Requires piano and harp. Dur. 9:00
9. Sound Dramas: previously published by Joseph Boonin as a concert band piece, Hackensack NJ. Prominent percussion writing. Dur. 6:00
10.Suite for Orchestra: four movements. Difficult Dur. 13:00
11.Symphony in Three Movements: very difficult. Requires harp and Piano Dur. 7:30
12.Symphonietta: recently composed, very difficult.Requires harp and Piano Dur. 8:00
13.Theme and Variations: two movements, Prominent low brass writing. Dur.7:20
14. Two Movements for Wind Ensemble: Difficult. A separate scoring of the 2nd and 3rdmovements of Suite for Band reordered as Part 1 – Adagio; Part 2 – Scherzo and March.
15.Toccata for Strings, Winds & Percussion: difficult. Dur. 4:50
16.When Love is Over: A beautifully written and arranged original ballad.
5. SMALL ENSEMBLE
1. Brass Quintet: 2 Trumpets, Horn, Trombone, Tuba
2. Dialogue No. 2: a composition combining acoustic and electronic instruments requiring 4 synthesizers, piano, electric piano, bass, guitar, drums in addition to standard Concert Band. Dur. 4:00
3. First Duets for two Bb Clarinets
4. Four Short Pieces for Piano
5. Music for Four Trombones
6. Saxophone Quartet: (SATB)
7. Sonata for Cello and Piano
8. Sonata for Cello and Wind Quintet: An arrangement of the above
9. Statement for Horn and Woodwinds for Intermediate Players
10.Woodwind Quartet for Young Players
6. VIDEO PROJECTS
1. American Baby Commercial
2. AT&T Project: Full Orchestra
3. Coleco Commercial
4. Contemporary Fur Salon Commercial
5. IBM Project: Full Orchestra
6. Sony Projects 1 & 2
7. Salerno Automotive Commercial
7. VOCAL COMPOSITIONS
1. A Prophecy: Tenor & Baritone Solos, SATB Chorus, Full Brass Section, Piano, Harp, Percussion
2. Lament: Tenor Solo, SATB Chorus, Piano, Violin
3. Six Poetic Songs:
a. A Patch of Old Snow – (Robert Frost)
b. The Pear Tree – (Edna Saint Vincent Millay)
c. The Rhinoceros – (Ogden Nash)
d. The End of the World – (Archibald MacLeish)
e. I Saw A Man – (Stephen Crane)
f. When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer – (Walt Whitman)
A FEW WORDS TO THE STUDENT OF COMPOSITION
As the emerging composer advances and acquires skill in handling the four basic elements of
music – melody, harmony, rhythm, and form - he/she invariably finds that the more elusive and
sophisticated of the four is perhaps the last; form, of which development is a large part. Some
styles of music use predominantly a single element (rap-rhythm; chant-melody, etc.) while othersuse varying combinations of all 4 aspects. Serious students of composition eventually becomedrawn to “the masters” because of their command and use of those 4 elements. From a harmonicstandpoint the jazz musician has an advantage because of exposure to excellent chord structureand inventive chord progressions, and he/she becomes a composer of sorts because of the use ofimprovisation as a developmental device. But, after a time, students begin looking for other waysto develop a composition and begin experimenting with unusual scales, time signatures, rhythmiccombinations and permutations, clusters, unique chord patterns and voicings, etc., eventually concentrating on developmental techniques, which are limited only by the creativity, knowledge, and ability of the composer.
The tremendous advances in computer and MIDI technology afford today’s composer many
possibilities undreamt of just a few years ago. Think of what Mozart would have been able to
accomplish (as if he didn’t accomplish enough) if he had the technological advantages that are
available today. The dangerous side of the coin is that same technology very often hides poor
training and faulty technique. Often the emerging student spurns the study of what came before
as being a waste of time and fails to become grounded in the fundamentals of good
craftsmanship as shown by the brilliant composers of the past. In the “pop” medium, the lack of
craftsmanship is very often of little consequence because the intended audience is of the lowest
common denominator: much like a McDonald’s hamburger is to the culinary world.
Studying the masters reveals how they solved the melding of the four elements of music, with
emphasis on the mastery of developmental techniques. The use of established and proven
methods such as augmentation, diminution, inversion, retrograde, mirroring, key expansion and
relationships, etc., must be studied. The key to that study is analysis.
For example, an analytical study of Bach’s “ART OF THE FUGUE” is an endless task as it may
represent the absolute pinnacle of the development of tonality and makes use of every technique
mentioned above, and then some. By studying the music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms,
Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, et al, one discovers how these
exceptional minds approached and solved the various techniques that go into the creation of a
masterful work of art. Schoenberg’s development and use of the 12-tone system may be one of
the most revolutionary concepts since tonality. The dodecaphonic system can provide a wealth of
raw material. However, the composer must be cautious with the use of that material because
sometimes the “system” becomes more important than the sound – which is often the case with
many 12 tone enthusiasts. Ultimately the compositional decisions must address the subjective
statement “does it sound good”.
I recall an experienced composer who proudly showed me his latest work for voice and piano.
The entire composition was a succession of diminished 7th chords which, because he was so
focused on the system, (serial 12 tone technique) he failed to see the “forest for the trees”. It is
possible to combine elements of various systems and methods PROVIDING THE RESULT
SOUNDS GOOD (at least to the composer) and fills a creative adventurousness. As an example,
it is very possible to utilize atonality and 12 tone techniques and disguise them, so they do not
sound mechanical and contrived.
Obviously, these statements are not restricted to any specific system. I try to let the music dictate where it will go – even if I restrict my material to a particular system or specific element. My “TROMBONE QUARTET” is highly modal but uses 12 tone elements (which may or may not
be perceived by the casual listener). My cantata “LAMENT” also falls into this category.
However, both of those compositions are completely divergent in how the material is
presented. Polyphonic techniques are very adaptable for use with 12 tone elements as a
developmental tool. You can hear the above referenced compositions at
Every composer desires an audience and tries to impress his listeners, and the more he/she writes the more sophisticated and knowledgeable becomes his intended audience. Throughout the history of music performance, many brilliant composers were criticized by their listeners because the material they presented was beyond the “limited” knowledge and experience of that very audience – the composer, in effect, is forcing his audience to grow with him/her. The audience, on the other hand, resists change and is very often most comfortable with what has been. Evidence the criticism that many of the great composers were subject to upon the premier of one or more works (Stravinsky’s RITE OF SPRING being a classic example). Therefore, we become hesitant to be one of those who ostracize a future genius. As a result, we are equally hesitant to criticize much of what should be criticized as being simply poor writing.
Upon first heard Anton Webern’s “FIVE PIECES FOR ORCHESTRA” I was astounded. I just
could not believe what I had just heard. I had similar reactions upon first hearing so many other
works too numerous to mention here. All those compositions have influenced what I am, as
should be the case with any serious student of composition.
To justify the construction of a composition, the composer MUST possess a truly diverse
knowledgebase from which to draw material. The more a person writes the more they study; the
more they study the more they write, and the more they study and write the more they grow –
unfortunately, many times, amidst criticism - which should not be a deterrent. If a composition
student is well founded in the fundamentals practiced by so many of those who have gone
before, he or she will better be able to justify a break with tradition.
Often, artists see the world a bit differently and through a more critical eye. Its cause may be
related to the nature of art as being definitive, leaving little room for anything determined to be
unessential. Today’s society is so concerned about not offending anyone that the pointless term
“Let’s agree to disagree” has become part of everyday language. People have lost the art of
discussing and listening to opposing views and the dogma of their agenda supersedes intelligent
thought. For example, how can anyone with a brain in their head insist on denying the absolute
scientifically proven facts that are proof of global warming. Yet there is an unbelievable number
of Americans who steadfastly deny the proofs in front of their very eyes. Worse, many of Trump
era politicians contribute to the dissemination of false information, or as one of his
spokespersons labeled it, “alternative facts”.
The artist was conditioned to get through the bullshit and see that red is, in fact, red, or that the
emperor indeed does not have clothes. It is therefore understandable that many artists have
difficulty remaining silent in the face of untruths. As a music teacher correcting a wrongly
played note, I would simply acknowledge the mistake by saying “you played a B natural instead
of a B flat”. There is no nice way to say it, no matter how beautifully the B natural was executed,
it was a wrong note – period. “Make sure you play a B flat from now on”. With such outlook one
can see how artists often find themselves making comments on society’s foolishness – especially
in the political arena. Those comments frequently become expressed through the art.
I wrote two vocal pieces that fall into this category; A PROPHECY and LAMENT. Text
selections were purposely chosen for their politically motivated impact. I present the following
essay, which comments on our current political dilemma, in the spirit of holding a mirror up to
society’s face demanding it see the truth of its reflection. Whether or not you agree with my
outlook is meaningless unless it provokes action.
AMERICA - The Decline of a Democracy
It's another day of hell in the USA. Youthful members of our nation’s future snuffed out by an
angry, misguided, sick individual while many of our politicians, who least we forget are adults,
display an unsettling and juvenile lack of concern for their constituents by a reluctance to take
any gun control, mental health, or school safety action; measures that most Americans demand.
This writing will spend little time addressing the pros/cons of gun control, which is
understandably at the forefront of our national consciousness, except for how it relates to the
decline of our democracy.
How can we, the voting public, compete with the plethora of organizations, NRA among them,
that have effectively purchased the loyalty of our politicians to the absurd extreme, suggested by
our idiotic president, of arming our teachers as a solution to school gun violence. Our politician’s
lack of action is typical and symptomatic of the greed displayed daily in the halls of government.
As an independent with no party affiliation, I came to the belief rather early in life that exercising
your right to vote has little effect because your vote is meaningless due to the self-serving,
compromising, lying, paid off, misusers of the public trust serving in government. The noble
concept of “doing what is right” has little or no meaning for such people unless there is some
personal benefit; some pay-off or financial gain. Such despicable creatures are all too readily
subject to financial compromise and subscribe to a thinking process motivated by the “what’s in
it for me” attitude; the same selfish thinking that motivates criminals and many lawyers.
So many politicians carefully cultivate a thought process of “how can I appear to be of public
service while taking advantage of those I am supposed to serve”. They become very adept at
hiding that agenda through painstakingly crafting what passes for patriotic rhetoric – “double
speak” aptly describes such verbiage. Many of these politicians are responsible for legislation
opposed to forces, both natural and human, destroying our planet and poisoning our water and
air, and whose motivations are, in one way or another, economically beneficial to themselves
through “contributions” from a myriad of special interests effectively purchasing their “loyalty”.
Our current administration, supported by these groups, particularly the NRA and anti-ecofriendly organizations, flirts with the possibility of nuclear annihilation, belittles people of color, and endorses white supremacy, all couched in the name of patriotism. The Trump administration, whose campaign falsely championed the working class, has “paid off” the rich at the expense of that working class and poor through a cleverly couched tax reform.
Trump continually embarrasses our nation in the eyes of the world through his lack of
knowledge, unsympathetic rhetoric, and level of arrogance that redefines the word. He has
brought to the surface and made acceptable fringe hate groups, conspiracy theorists, and
delegitimizes scientific fact. He has possibly committed what may be considered
treasonous acts and is largely responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths because of his
steadfast refusal to take any action to curtail the Corona virus pandemic. He has stated
(correctly!) that he could commit murder in the middle of 5th Avenue and still get elected. Those
are words from our commander and chief, our elected representative of the people of the United
States, arguably the most powerful man on planet earth! Words supported by an alarming
number of Americans. Words, no matter your agenda or political alignment, that cannot be
defended. What a slap in the face to the American voter, and a telling statement attesting to how
little our vote really matters to many of our politicians.
His administration ignores the undeniable proof of Russian meddling in our democracy while
refusing to institute sanctions that the bipartisan congress has surprisingly and overwhelmingly
approved. It is an administration that offers “alternative facts” as being facts and whose leader
protects an acknowledged enemy of democracy, has financial ties to that enemy, and ignores
irrefutable anti-American behavior perpetrated by that enemy while attacking our own
democratic institutions. An administration I can no longer defend, despite some policies to which
I agree. Sadly, it is an administration that I deem un-American to the point of being traitorous.
An administration supported by a Republican party with absence of conscience. A political party
owned by special interests.
A creature such as Trump cannot happen without the silence of otherwise good men.
The GOP has chosen that silence and aligns with white supremacists and hate groups that
took part in an attempted revolution on January 6th, 2021 on the steps of our nation’s capital.
There is shocking evidence that some GOP congressmen have actually participated in the
planning and execution of that insurrection. An insurrection encouraged and supported by
Donald Trump because of his refusal to accept the proven results of the election which ended his
This is a time of insanity. It’s madness! We have returned to the dark ages when truth, fact, and
knowledge is replaced by lies, conspiracy, and ignorance. I have come to understand that nothing
is black and white but rather a multitude of grays. No matter what side of the aisle you are on,
compromise is essential to progress and peace. Even young children can usually be reasoned
with and are capable of concession until they mature and learn from adults that compromise is a
dirty word: and sadly, many of those maturing children emulate the very belief they despised
when they were younger and clearer of thought.
According to the 2nd amendment Americans have the right to own firearms. However,
should that right extend to people who are irresponsible, mentally impaired, are suspected of
terrorism, have a criminal record, or display aberrant behavior? Should that right permit the sale
of fully automatic offensive weapons such as was used in the Florida school shooting and others
In many states purchasing a firearm is less involved then getting a driving license or
a building permit. Why in the name of sanity would anyone object to expanded background
checks if there were nothing to hide? I am a gun owner who can find no sane argument
supporting the purchase of ANY assault or automatic weapon, or any device converting a
weapon into an automatic state. I am a gun owner who cannot understand why a person who is
suspected of having terrorist inclinations can purchase a gun but is forbidden to fly
in an airplane. I cannot comprehend the NRA’s ridiculous justification for unlimited gun
ownership by absurdly preaching “guns don’t kill, people do”. Yet, politicians do nothing except
take the “bribes” and perks offered by the institutions effectively buying our government.
Can anyone please explain the insanity rampant on our planet and perpetrated by our partisan
politicians who pretend to have the public interest at heart by passing health care legislation
which is so lacking they exempt themselves. These same politicians who periodically shut down
the government because of disagreements over the national budget but continue to receive
paychecks and automatic pay raises while retired persons are told there will be no cost-of-living
increase in their Social Security payments because of the government’s absurd claim that there
have been no increases in the cost of living!
It has become quite clear that most politicians are more influenced by the millions of dollars
from industrial lobbyists - oil, insurance, drug, NRA, to name but a few - then by millions of
votes. We are misled into thinking that our democracy depends on our participation; that we and
our votes matter: that we have an effect: that because of our participation democracy lives on.
The truth is we are no longer living in a democracy because our government is owned and
controlled by an endless variety of organizations that understand that money is God to many
politicians. We even, hypocritically, put God’s name on our currency even though there is
supposed to be a separation of church and state. Government of the people, by the people and for the people is a sham and the ideals of our founding fathers are tacitly rejected by the disgusting business and political climate so rampant today.
TV programming shows an expenditure of approximately 50% of airtime badgering us into
buying stuff that no one really needs. Our affluence has helped create an apathy which costs an
enormous price in the name of our so-called freedom. Freedom that is anything but free.
Freedom that demands both parents secure a full-time job to support their more-than-often
meaningless purchases while their children go unsupervised and succumb to an insidious,
destructive, all-consuming drug culture that is leaching the creativeness from our society.
Freedom which manifests itself in the absurd belief that wearing a protective mask to help
control the spread of the corona virus pandemic as being an infringement on individual rights.
During the Vietnam war our citizens came to realize that government cared little about the
wishes of its people, ultimately causing a period of civil unrest which began to nurture some
meaningful positive social change. The Gulf war was not fought for democratic ideals, as stated
by our politicians, but for the economic benefits to the oil industry and to an administration's
allegiance to that industry. The recent changes to our tax laws allow unprecedented benefits to
the wealthiest 10% of our population while paying lip service to those who are desperately in
need of tax relief. However, citizens are ignored despite demanding something humane
from an inhumane government. A government which blatantly belittles, berates, and ostracizes
anyone not in agreement with its agenda – anyone with a differing, possibly more effective way
of solving a problem – a government that labels any opposing printed and factually documented
information as being fake news.
People argue that you must exercise your civic duty and vote, if nothing else you must vote
for the lessor of two evils: which is effectively voting for evil. As stated previously I strongly
believed that my vote was meaningless. However, as a registered independent, and since the
current administration’s dangerous rise to power, I have changed my thinking. Sad to say,
despite having no party affiliation, and in recognition of questionable ethics of the republican
party, choosing the lessor of evils would be a vast improvement over what we now have. The
recent congressional elections which have unseated very strongly entrenched politicians proves
that collectively we can indeed make a difference.
It is unconscionable how the republican party, the party of Abraham Lincoln, blindly
ignores, and even supports the insane comments emanating from the white house. The party
responsible for the elimination of slavery is currently spewing thoughts and statements of hatred
and bigotry. History provides descriptive and easily identifiable labels to past eras such as the
Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution, the Age of Enlightenment, etc. We are unbelievably,
living in an age of anti-intellectualism, anti-truth, and anti-science. I fear history will label this
administration as “The Dark Ages - Deux”. Oftentimes, the intolerant agenda-driven public
responds to such opposing comments with threats of physical harm against anyone with a
differing viewpoint, and I cannot help but think that such reactions arise from those very same
forces seeking to destroy a democracy built upon the idea of freedom of speech and religion.
Forces both internal and foreign have irrefutably been proven to have interfered with our
elections in support of a single candidate at the expense of many others. It is not surprising that
the president of the United States appears so friendly to those forces in support of him whether
the oil industry, NRA, or Mr. Putin. Greed appears to be a required prerequisite to becoming one
of our politicians. A prerequisite recognized and preyed upon by special interests and proven
enemies of democracy.
A brief survey of recent NRA political contributions is frightening. Witness the following facts:
according to FORTUNE the NRA spent $11,438,118.00 in 2016 to support Donald Trump, and
another $19,756,346.00 to directly oppose Hillary Clinton; over $31 million dollars spent on a
single presidential race to benefit a single candidate friendly to the NRA! Russia may have
spent more!Additionally, according to THE CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS and
THE NEW YORK TIMES, the NRA contributed the listed amounts, publicly verified, to the
following 10 politicians throughout their political lives.
Senator John McCain (R, AZ) – $7.74 million
Senator Richard Burr (R, NC) – $6.99 million
Senator Roy Blunt (R, MO) - $4.55 million
Senator Thom Tillis (R. NC) - $4.42 million
Senator Cory Gardner (R, CO) - $3.88 million
Representative French Hill (R, AR) - $1.09 Million
Representative Ken Buck (R, CO) - $800,544.00
Representative David Young (R, IA) - $707,662.00
Representative Mike Simpson (R, ID) - $385,731.00
Representative Greg Gianforte (R, MT) - $344,630.00
Consider this publicly available information, the NRA, and its allies (firearms industry and Gun
Owners of America) have collectively contributed just under $81 million to house, senate, and
presidential races since 2000! Imagine the contributions and perks that are effectively hidden and not subject to public scrutiny! Add to the above figures the hundreds of millions of dollars
contributed by the oil, pharmaceutical, and insurance industries – to mention just the most
powerful – and it becomes clear that we do not live in a democracy, despite the honorable and
humane sounding verbiage contained in the democratic documents that define the birth of this
nation. To further illustrate, the auto insurance industry collects premiums from us yearly and
then bills us when we have an accident requiring the use of that prepaid insurance. This absurd
business practice would not be possible without political backing resulting directly from
contributions. Nor would the pharmaceutical industry be able to charge $600.00+ for a 4 ml vial
(about 50 drops) that contains only 10% of actual medication without political support purchased through contributions and/or other more secretive means we are not privy to. An automobile powered by compressed air is being produced in Europe. Unbelievably, that auto technology is not for sale in the USA. What special interest group might be behind that decision? Let us label it correctly, it is bribery and allows our politicians to grow wealthy following election.
The few figures presented above are staggering and beg the question; How can our votes
compete with the vast sums of money being stuffed into the pockets of our elected
representatives by these various, I would suggest, un-American interests? The only truly
effective way is by a collective effort at the voting polls. This is the one, perhaps only means of
effectively combating the Russian and special interest influences on our democracy.
I believe that human beings intuitively know at an early age when he or she is doing something
ethically and/or morally questionable until they grow and learn how to falsely justify doing what
is wrong and re-label it as being correct (alternative facts!). We must vote this cancer out of our
political body, out of our culture. We must keep voting them out until the message registers, if
ever, that their job is to represent the American people, not special interests, not Russia, not
private industry, not self. No politician should be beholden to any entity other than to the voters.
To do otherwise invites and encourages corruption.
It has become clear simply by reading and listening to the news which cancer causers need to go,
regardless of party affiliation, it behooves us to help them out the door. My non-voting
stance has been changed by the insane maneuverings of recently elected officials. We MUST
vote. It is the only acceptable way to correct the multitude of injustices that have crept into our
political system since the Vietnam war and is attributable, in large part, to voter apathy. Years
ago, issues were not so diametrically in opposition, and it could be argued that for a while voting
made little difference. Such is no longer the case. We have allowed our nation to be given over to incredibly wealthy, powerful, and destructive forces driven by the wrong beliefs – beliefs
diametrically opposed to doing the right thing simply because it is the right thing to do. Beliefs in
opposition to the very concept of democracy.
Collectively we can take back control of our government through social non-violent revolution
by entering the voting booths and pulling a lever. This revolution has already begun and is
evidenced in the few elections that have taken place during the past several months and by the
increasing number of elected officials who have become so disgusted with our political
ineffectiveness they are withdrawing from political life.
When Donald Trump was elected to the presidency, I thought it could be a refreshing change
because he did not represent the status quo. At times he sounded a breath of fresh air that has
long been dormant if not dead in our government officials. Having no political debts was a good
thing and he was not a politician, another good thing. Draining the swamp really sounded
positive but it soon became evident that the swamp continued to fill to the point of overflowing.
As with most politicians, he lied to us. In a relatively short period of time this individual,
promising change and concern for the working class, crashed and burned! The experiment failed,
and we are paying for that failure.
I shudder to think about the effect of the insane rhetoric spewing from this administration if
allowed to continue its reign of bigotry, hatred, and nepotism. It is unconscionable that so many
administrative appointments of people to high profile government positions are family and
business associates having no political awareness and no properly vetted security clearance. And
congress does nothing! The senate and house MUST immediately change hands. And it must
keep changing hands,party allegiance aside, until the word is understood by anyone who
aspires to a political office that you have been elected to serve, not to grow wealthy and
powerful. To serve, not to sit in a comfortable chair growing rich for the rest of your political life
doing little or nothing to improve the human condition. I would suggest, not having the figures,
that well over 50% of the world’s population works in some capacity helpful to human beings,
many for little or no financial reward. Teachers, nurses, doctors, first-responders, volunteers –
the list goes on and on – yet, despite this mass of helping hands the human condition continues to worsen. I have several friends who devoted most of their lives pursuing peace, brotherhood, and philanthropic endeavors, but despite many such efforts globally, conditions continue to
deteriorate daily. If proof of that fact is needed, read a newspaper. We have become anesthetized to the rampant violence prevalent daily in the world.
I sicken from the vileness I am witness to on our beloved planet perpetrated by those who are
sworn to serve. WE MUST VOTE. WE MUST VOTE BY CONSCIENCE, NOT AGENDA,
FOR WHAT IS RIGHT AND GOOD AND FOR WHAT IMPROVES THE HUMAN
CONDITION. The 2nd world war was arguably the only justifiable armed conflict because it had
clearly defined issues of right and wrong, the same anti-humane issues are being expressed by
our current administration. We cannot continue to put the future of our planet into the hands of
some of the basest examples of humanity. We must do the right thing simply because it is the
right thing to do. Vote those politicians out of office who are not serving the public's interest,
humanity's interest, the planet's interest. Negate the powerful influences of those forces intent on destroying our democracy. Go to the polls and rid our society of the cancer that is metastasizing at a frightening pace. Take back our democracy!
GETTING UNDER WAY: A FIRST ATTEMPT
by Captain Pasquale Spino
The following is a recounting of my very first attempt at sailing in my 17-foot daysailor in 1968 on the Cooper River located in Camden County, Southern New Jersey.
The Cooper River is a tributary of the Delaware River in southwestern New Jersey in the United States. The confluence of the Cooper River with the Delaware River is in Camden. The Cooper River serves as a border between Cherry Hill and Haddon Township, Haddonfield Borough, and Lawnside Borough. The Cooper River (known upstream near Haddonfield as Cooper's Creek) was named after the Cooper family, who were some of the first European settlers in the area of Camden County, New Jersey. This tributary of the Delaware River is 16 miles (25.7 km) long measuring from its headwater in Gibbsboro (it is notable that the Northern Branch begins in Voorhees Township). The Cooper River Watershed is 40 sq mi (103.6 km²), and includes the tributaries Chandlers Run, Millard Creek, Nicholson Branch, the North Branch, and Tindale Run (the last two being the most significant). Although historically a tidal river (the most severe tide reportedly reached Kings Highway), all present tidal influence stops at the Kaighn Avenue Bridge, in Camden, where it is impounded. – from Wikipedia
As a boy my fascination with boats and their environment would surface each summer during the family’s annual two-week vacation in Wildwood, NJ. Minutes after settling into our rental I would make a beeline for the docks to gawk at the fishing fleet and daydream about a life aboard sailing ships. Thinking back, I now realize that, since those carefree days, the desire to sail was always present, a mostly subconscious part of me just waiting to surface whenever the opportunity arose. I recognized that a sailboat represented an absolute synthesis of form, function, and aesthetics to a degree unknown elsewhere in anything crafted by the hand of man. This vision manifested itself in my love of model ship building, which continues to this day.
Purchasing a sailboat was difficult for me – philosophically. My first-generation Italian father, being raised during the great depression, was a very practical man. He had to be; it was a matter of survival. However, my seemingly self-gratifying study of music was justifiable in his mind because of the potential for monetary gain. His experience as a part time musician helped with efforts to provide for the family during difficult times. Even though he often admitted to being happy on an emotional level when performing at a wedding or a dance with his big band and, later, the smaller combo, it was the paycheck at the end of the night that made the effort worthwhile. If there were some other benefits to be had, such as, of all things, enjoyment, so much the better.
Although he was proud of my knowledge and accomplishments as a musician he was not really pleased with my focus on composition – after all, it was a very impractical branch of music study. In consideration of his background and resultant mindset it is understandable why he might perceive my purchase of a sailboat to be frivolous, if not downright laughable in a world where security and stability were to be placed at the highest level of importance. However, when I saw him lying in the hospital following a heart attack, with tubes connecting him to machines which breathed for him and mechanically rid his body of waste, I made my decision. Frivolous or not, the human mind, my mind, needed more. It needed something that communicated on a nonverbal level, much like the act of composing music for which I studied and trained.
Being a rather focused individual, preparation for my first sail on “Respite” became all consuming. I had never been on the water before except for two or three times of no real consequence. Therefore, I read. And then read some more. I read everything I could get my hands on that was remotely relevant to sailing. I quickly consumed all related materials in two libraries. I then re-read all that I had already read several times over. I could not absorb the information quickly enough. Finally, the long-awaited day arrived when I took delivery of my sleek little craft. My very first action was to clean and wax her – three times. With the trailer and boat in the back yard I and my 12-year-old son practiced rigging her until I felt we could accomplish the task without looking like complete idiots.
After a time, I tired of reading. Tack, angle of heel, center of gravity, jibe, center of effort, lateral resistance, bail - BAIL?! Wait a minute, this could be dangerous. Read some more to reduce the danger. Get my son to read. Suggest to my wife that she read, after all, I might just need some help.
Finally, after some weeks of procrastination, I thought, “enough reading, enough thinking, let’s go sailing.” My son felt that it was about time and was beginning to believe, along with the neighbors, that the little boat in the back yard was a lawn ornament, or a planter. We hitched up the trailer and drove to a small, shallow little river near Philadelphia in Southern NJ where there were many other similar boats. Surely this is a place we wouldn’t get into any trouble.
Upon our arrival we drew much unwanted attention, and I was uneasy with the admiring crowd. However, my new boat looked beautiful, and I was rather full of myself. Ken and I stepped the mast, rigged the shrouds, bent on the main, launched and shoved off. The resulting look of amazement on my son’s face when the main was sheeted in, the sail catching the wind and the boat silently yet powerfully in motion, was worth all the reading, expense, and frustration of the past several months.
About sixty seconds later, when I announced that the centerboard was stuck in its storage trunk, and the boat would not respond to the helm, his look of amazement quickly metamorphosed into one of concern, and worry. Unknown to me until that moment was the fact that the centerboard was defective and had expanded inside of its storage trunk. There was no way it was ever going to drop down out of its snug housing.
“You better start the motor, dad,” a statement for which I was profoundly grateful because it afforded an immediate, effective, and simple solution to the problem. I opened the fuel line and choke and pulled on the starter cord. Nothing happened! I pulled again, and again with the same negative result. I should note that following this event, that outboard motor neverfailed to start – ever; for as long as it was in my possession.
It was just about this time that the bow made contact with some rocks on the opposite shore. We had been making leeway, slowly being pushed by the light wind. Thankfully, there was no damage, except to my pride. However, the boat continued to bounce along to leeward, the sail luffing, me tugging, and my son’s face displaying a variety of expressions that I had not seen before.
I jumped over the side, primarily out of embarrassment caused by the glaring elderly gentleman who was placidly seated in a lawn chair engrossed in a book until disturbed by my latest maneuver and pushed the boat away from the shore and back into the river just as an official looking launch pulled alongside. A rather salty individual informed me in no uncertain terms that, except for the club launch, outboard motors were not permitted on the river. I explained my dilemma and that the motor was necessary to get back to the launching ramp. He responded that he would be happy to tow RESPITE to the ramp. TOW!? Heaven forbid! In keeping with centuries of nautical tradition, surely, I should be able to extricate myself from this difficulty.
It was at this point I noticed the route 130 bridge to leeward, clearance about 4 feet, fast approaching. My choices were three: 1) remove the main, un-step the mast, slide under the bridge and slip into the marsh on the other side; 2) paddle the half mile or so back to the launching ramp with one extremely short paddle - against the wind and current; 3) accept the offer of a tow. There are times when pride and nautical tradition must give way to common sense.
Upon securing my approval the old salt deftly twisted, bent, and otherwise rearranged a 3/8-inch line into an unbelievably intricate knot that formed a loop and passed it over to me. I secured the line to my deck cleat and we were unceremoniously towed back to the launching ramp, which by now, was overflowing with curious onlookers, some of whom were the very same people admiring my beautiful, gleaming boat earlier in the day.
During the 35-minute drive home my son and I had little to say to each other. I was embarrassed, he was embarrassed. We were both disappointed. How could we think of going sailing around the world when we couldn’t even sail around a “bathtub” successfully? All the anticipation of the previous weeks, the hours of preparation, the moment of euphoria when the sail filled with wind, followed by disappointment and embarrassment made the silence uncomfortable, to say the least.
Just as we were entering our driveway my son softened the tension by asking: “Dad, when are we going sailing again?” Now, if only I could come up with a simple, effective way of convincing my wife to approve the purchase of that 25-footer I’ve had my eye on.