Wednesday, August 19, 2009

From Charlton Lyons

Excerpts from his book - Songs I Heard My Mother Sing, published in late 2007.

Away to Rio!

Too bad you arrived in time to hear only the end of it. So fare ye well, my bonnie young girl, we are bound for Rio Grande! You should have heard the whole song. We recorded it in the very late autumn of the world into which I was born. That was the autumn of 1941, just before Pearl Harbor when the long winter of the war set in. By we, I mean the all-male chorus with which I sang nearly the whole of the time I was at Yale. The Yale Glee Club.
About thirty or thirty-five of us went down to New York and recorded it in the most famous recording studio of the day, Liederkranz Hall. Liederkranz? Well, Liederkranz is the name of that cheese, of course, the one with its own distinctive, shall we say, “nose”? But in German, Liederkranz means something like a garland of songs. I’d be pretty sure that it’s in that sense that Liederkranz Hall was named. But there’s another sense in which the German uses their word Liederkranz, another meaning for it, and that’s to mean a men’s singing society. And that was just what we were when we went there and made that album, a men’s singing society.
That was a sea chantey, that song you heard only the end of. Sea chanteys were the songs sailors sang as they worked. You may know this one as Away Rio!, but some years before that summer of 1941, when we ourselves set sail for Rio, Barty made his own arrangement of it, and the title he gave it was slightly different. Away to Rio!
Who was Barty? Barty was Marshall Bartholomew and he was our music director and he was our conductor and he was the arranger of many of the things we sang, including that song you heard on that disk. We recorded some dozen or more songs for Columbia Records, but only two or three were chanteys. That one, Away Rio!, is one of the more popular of those work songs that seamen sang in the days when iron men sailed wooden ships flying canvass sails. It’s an old standard, and every time I hear it, the memories of that long ago summer come crashing over me in wave-after-emotional-wave, and I’m taken right back again into the midst of all that intense excitement, that taut sense of expectation followed by the relaxed joy of fulfillment that came to us from singing to all those tens of thousands of people down there in South America. Most of them had never heard a good male chorus sing and they were stunned but it. That summer may have been the greatest, the most wonderful summer of my life. The summer of 1941. The last summer before the war.
The Yale Glee Club had sung its way through Europe many times, but ours was its first-ever concert tour of South America. We went at the behest of the State Department, as part of our South American foreign policy. Something called The Good Neighbor Policy. That’s why it was not only sponsored by our government, it was strongly supported by all our embassies everywhere we went. Best of all, the government picked up the tab, so that whole trip cost me almost nothing. Well, not me, my parents.
It was in the fall following that tour that those of us who hadn’t graduated went down to New York and recorded those songs for Columbia. It was just last year that my own old copy of that four-record album turned up at the bottom of the stack, but I couldn’t listen to it. I found a turntable but I could never locate a needle of the right size, so I sent it off and had those four records transferred to a disk. It was just last month that I discovered in some of my father’s old files two letters I’d written my parents from shipboard on our way down to Rio. On our way to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where we arrived barely in time to sing our opening concert.
The liner we sailed on from New York was named, appropriately enough, the S.S. Brazil. I remember that I used the typewriter in the purser’s office to write this first letter I’ll read to you. It was posted home when we reached Barbados. That was our only port of call before Rio. Remember now, this is 1941.

Via Air Mail
On Board
S. S. Brazil

(Barbados-June 25) The Yale Glee Club has completed the first stage of its combined good-will mission and concert tour of South America. We have called at Barbados, a small British island in the eastern Caribbean, and it is from there that I airmail this account of the first 1836 miles of a seven weeks’ trek that will carry us some 13,000 miles before we arrive back in New York on August 11.
Ours is a big job: we must sing to the America “down under,” learn their ways, and show them ours in an attempt to strengthen Pan-American unity through the medium of music. I have heard and read that South Americans are an emotional people. Music might well be a better way to impress our kindred, free, singing spirits than much talk or a distant declaration of friendship. Anyhow, we mean to have a try at it, and in the process we shall certainly experience enough to keep this typewriter clicking for a long time.
We sailed on the S.S. Brazil from New York at midnight June 20th. A sailing for South America is something a little different from ordinary sailings, and because of the then recent sinking of the Robin Moor, there was a high excitement which touched the voice of the crowd with a tense tone of possible danger. We were to be twelve days at sea. Much can happen in twelve days these swift times.

Let me interrupt myself here to say something about that ominous sense I was trying to convey of the danger of those times. There was a dark foreboding hanging over our country then and the danger was real. But as you know, danger can also be not a little exciting. What’s more, we’d hardly put out to sea, when news came that Hitler had launched his great eastern army against the Soviets, and that further confirmed our fear that war was imminent. That we might not ever see safe harbor in Rio but might fall off the edge of the world instead.

There could never have been such a ship as this for good will. Just as “National Defense” has become in the United States a slogan for the sale of everything from hair pins to yachts, just so has “good will” become the cry of many who are interested rather in the satisfaction of their stomachs. But you could hardly find a more interesting passenger list. Traveling Tourist Class with us there are seven ballet dancers, each with lines decidedly Zorinesque — only more so. It is therefore clear that we have already set about the business of being Yale-fellows-well-met. I might say that these graceful creatures are somewhat disappointing as partners in the dance; it is too much like driving a high-powered automobile down a dirt road. One of them, Vela Ceres, is a New Orleans girl.
There are also two West Pointers on a semi-official visit to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile. It seems that their chief occupation will be to bestow wreaths on the tombs of the heroic dead and to kiss the either cheek of the less heroic but more appreciative living.

I’ve got to stop again for a word or two about those West Pointers. Let me read you this diary entry for April 12, 1942. Shot West Point in skeet today at Lordship. Saw Lee Hamerly. Met two cows: Conrad Koerper & Ed Bennet. They said Bill Knowlton (sp?) West Pointer I met on S. American trip sent me his best & I returned it. Even now, I can picture Bill Knowlton. Tall, nice looking, gentlemanly fellow. Just the man for The Point to pick for a good will mission by our military to South America. I was on Yale’s skeet team all the while I was in college and we went a number of times to West Point to shoot against their teams. In fact, we were quick to go there because at every post there were unlimited shells and we could shoot as many practice rounds as we liked, and all of it was free.
There was another attraction. We’d go there on weekends, shoot skeet all afternoon down under the bluff by the Hudson, have supper with them at the visitors’ mess table and then go to a movie or a dance. And there were girls there, too, those weekends, and those girls would all have to be off the base by midnight and they’d all be staying at the Thayer Hotel, just outside the gate. That’s where our skeet team always just happened to stay, too, at the Thayer. I mention Lee Hamerly, Conrad Koerper and Ed Bennet. Their names all find a resonance in my head but I can’t find their faces.

There is a group of Experimenters in International Living which includes two sisters from Smith and a boy from Harvard. There is a large number of assorted South Americans from whom I have learned a little of what to expect. One Brazilian lady who had gone to college at Penn State told me that we would be very well received in her country, probably better than in Chile and Argentina.”

She was right about our reception in Brazil, but not about the reception we’d receive elsewhere in South America. As it turned out, they loved us everywhere we went. Oh, my God! how they did love us down there! But let me read you some more of what I told my parents.

There are a great many professional entertainers on board, including a trick bicyclist and three dance teams in addition to our glee club and the ballet dancers. It would seem that American entertainers are in great demand by the casinos and bistros of Rio and B.A. (an American simplification of the mysteries of Buenos Aires) just as the Carmen Miranda and the Bidu Sayaos are at present among the brightest stars in our country.
Last and least there are six or eight Powers models traveling First Class, passive creatures who spend their conscious hours demonstrating an interminable wardrobe. And at night they usually come back to our [Tourist Class] bar room where they sit like tall, cool drinks of vinegar and long for the days when they were human.
As for the routine on board we have breakfast about nine, then rehearse from ten until eleven thirty. An hour in the sun on deck, swimming and playing games or chewing the rag, and then lunch followed by a half hour part rehearsal. More sun bathing and an hour’s rehearsal again at four. We have the rest of the day and night for bridge, dancing to the ship’s orchestra, star gazing, or just bending an elbow with the boys.
It might at first sight seem strange that we are spending so much time rehearsing; but there was not much time during May and June at college to spend learning the many new songs we are going to use on this trip, so we have been forced to do a lot of hard labor on the way down. We have two complete programs of thirty songs each, all of which were selected especially for South American audiences by Marshall Bartholomew. When we arrive at Rio de Janeiro we will have ten or twelve Spanish and Portuguese numbers which we will be able to use in addition to over fifty English, Latin,and Italian songs. This does not include quite a few Yale Songs. ThePortuguese compositions, most of which are the work of South America’s greatest composer, Villa-Lobos, and the Spanish things are to constitute a program early next fall by the Yale Glee Club in New York. They are top-notch. We are very anxious to know what Rio, where we give our first concert on the night of July fourth, will think of us, but we are not worried. Anyway, we shall soon know.

That’s the end of that first letter. Did you hear that reference to a ship named the Robin Moor? You didn’t notice? Well then, I’d better explain. Exactly one month before our ship departed New York, a German U-boat operating in the Atlantic had stopped an unarmed American freighter some 900 miles of the coast of Brazil and sent her to the bottom. We weren’t yet in the war, you know, and she had American flags painted all over her, but that didn’t save her. She was the Robin Moor, the first American merchantman sunk by the German Navy. In Homer’s war, we’re told that Helen launched a thousand ships, but how many were sunk, I don’t think Homer says. Virgil doesn’t either, as I recall. In Hitler’s war, to the contrary, I have no idea how many were launched, but I do know how many were sunk—50,000. Can you even imagine such a number? But it’s true. 50,000 ships were sunk during the war!
And then on June 20, 1941—the very same day we sailed for Rio on the Brazil—President Roosevelt addressed a message to Congress in which he said that the sinking of the Robin Moor was a warning to us from the Germans that our country’s ships could henceforth use the high seas only with the leave of the Nazis. Sinking the Robin Moor was Hitler’s proclamation to the world that the high seas would now belong to him.
And in addition to all that, we knew that very soon we’d be putting in at Montevideo, and that we’d be sailing past the visible remains of the Graf Spee. The Graf Spee was the German pocket battleship scuttled in shallow water just outside Montevideo only eighteen months before. Only one life was lost, and that, the life of her Captain. It seems only yesterday that we steamed past the Graff Spee. Only her superstructure was out of the water, sticking up like a grave stone set in the sea. I can see myself now, standing there at the starboard rail when we passed her by. But of the Robin Moor, I could remember nothing. I had to go to the Web to find out why I’d even mentioned her. So it was no wonder that as we prepared to cast off, the excitement lit up the sky all around us the way heat lightening does on a heavy summer night.
Here now, take a closer look at the paper these letters are written on. This is the Brazil’s own letterhead. The purser gave it to me. And look! That stationary is marked specifically for delivery by air mail. Par avion! Wow! Air mail, you see, was something then still rather new in our small world. You see how small these sheets of paper are? They’re less than five inches wide, really only note paper. And you see there? I’ve written on both sides of every sheet. That was common practice then. Saved a lot of money.
In that letter I’ve just read, I’ve described only a few of the ship’s passengers, but there were others I could have written home about. There was one gentleman on board, one gentleman in particular whom I completely left out of that letter. And although he’s left out, I remember that gentleman very, very well indeed. I can see him now, clear as a bell. He’s on the promenade deck, amidships the port side, stretched out in his First Class deck chair. He’s had the deck steward place it so he’d have the afternoon shade. He’s reading. There’s a young girl, ten or twelve years old, in the chair beside him. I’ve seen them together before. I’m guessing she’s his daughter, maybe his niece. They’re definitely related.
But it’s him I’m interested in. And I’m interested in him because of who he is. Because gossip about him has already spread instantly among the passengers. I would use that old, thread-bare expression—the news spread like wild fire—but in this case, there’s a more apposite simile, so I’ll use it. The news of his identity spread among the passengers like food poisoning on a cruise ship.
People nowadays would say he was a celebrity, but I’m not at all sure that in those days the word celebrity carried with it the sense it does now. I think that people then were more apt to have said only that he was a famous writer. But writers just don’t count as celebrities. That’s because writers are actually required to write something, while celebrities aren’t required to actually do anything at all. In fact, I’ve been told that the official oath of office required of celebrities before their ascension specifically prohibits them from producing anything other than an inane, photo-op smile. So it’snot the celebrity’s glitz and glitter but the celebrity’s complete uselessness, his utter nullity as a human being, that’s at the very core of his celebration. Everybody knows that. That’s why nowadays every couch potato would give anything to be one. Wouldn’t you?
You might already have guessed that I’m not much impressed with celebrities. My parents weren’t either. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that, under the pancake and wig, celebrities are extraordinarily ordinary people? Of course it does, and if you don’t believe it, you just ask one, they’ll tell you. That’s right! Just go out anywhere, right now, and walk up to a bunch of celebrities and ask them straight out, whether or not they’re just ordinary people. I guarantee you that every one of them will tell you the same damned thing. They’ll all tell you—Sure thing, Buster! We’re just regular folks. We’re no different at all from you. I’ve been told that some of them actually believe it.
But now about this Marquand fellow. I’m standing there on deck looking at him. That was his name, J. P. Marquand, and you won’t believe what it is he’s just about to do. In 1937, I think it was, he’d published a book with which at the time I had some familiarity. It was a book about proper Bostonians and I’d read even it. Not because it was a popular fiction, but because I’d long before fallen under the spell of the Forsytes and was interested in what I took to be their Bostonian equivalents. People whose calling it was to be proper. I hadn’t known any such myself. Propriety meant something quite a bit different in the South in which I grew up.
The only Bostonians I’d ever known were members of a men’s club on Canal Street in New Orleans. Although that club was called the Boston Club, I knew the Bostonians one found there were somehow not quite the same animal as those in Marquand’s book. In my young mind, true, proper Bostonians were all Harvard men. They had to be, I knew that much. But I didn’t know any Harvard men. In fact, to this day the only Harvard man I can recall knowing well is Buddy. Buddy’s my only son, Charlton, III. He graduated from Harvard way back there in 1970.
Mr. Marquand’s book was called The Late George Apley. Two years earlier it had won the Pulitzer. And here I am, not forty feet from its author. I’m that young man you see standing there at the ship’s rail on this late June afternoon in 1941. You don’t knowthat young man but I do. Because he’s me. Or, he was me. I seem to remember hearing someone say that as we grow older, when we age, we don’t really change, we just become more ourselves. But if that’s true, then am I not now more him than at that time he was him, himself? I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over that, if I were you.
I can say with some confidence that, as I stand there, I am quite presentable, rather mannerly, not forward or familiar in the least, certainly not abrasive or even brash. In a word, I’m just a young fellow who’s not a threat to anybody. I also happen to be a very serious and sincere young student, not only of language and literature but of human behavior and culture, and there is certainly something about The Late George Apley that I very much want to discuss with its author, and its author is sitting just over there. I have no idea now what it is I feel the need to talk with him about. It could be a matter of form or of substance. Even then, one was as important to me as the other. It may possibly be some ideas I’ve been having about Apley in the light of The Forsyte Saga. Anyway, those are the sorts of things that interest me. Literary matters. That’s the reason I want to speak with Mr. Marquand, and I’m waiting to approach him when I feel that he is most approachable.
Mr. Marquand closes the book he’s been reading and lays it aside before rising from his chair. He stands there for a long moment, stretching himself and straightening his tie. He’s dressed in a suit, you see. Never mind that it’s quite warm. He then strolls over to the rail and stands there, looking out over the sea. He’s not ten feet from me. The moment has arrived. I walk over at my most casual to stand beside him. When I speak to him, it’s the moment I’ve been waiting for, and I’m completely at ease. I can’t remember any details, of course, but I’m sure this is about how it must have gone.
I introduce myself, tell him I’ve read his book about George Apley and liked it very much. I must certainly then have told him that I would very much appreciate an opportunity to—but then I’m suddenly left with nothing more to say—left suddenly speechless, because Mr. Marquand, even as I’m talking to him, has looked me directly in the eye, registered his complete distaste, and abruptly turned his back on me and walked away. An unspeakable, fully intended, carefully choreographed, affront!
I have no idea what could have got into that man—what could possibly have prompted such inexplicable behavior on the part of someone represented to be a gentleman of Boston and a Harvard man. For his was the very sort of calculated, personal insult which, a hundred years earlier, would have guaranteed the firing off of pistols at dawn the next day. At least, in the Deep South it would.
But there were to be better days. There would be another writer whose path would cross with mine on that concert tour. An ambassador who entertained us in his home, and that writer’s reception of me and another Southerner, my friend from Savannah, Sam Ross, would be an entirely different affair. I’ll try to remember to tell you about that some time.
But here, let me read you the other letter.

Via Air Mail
On Board
S. S. Brazil

(Rio de Janeiro – July 3, 1941) The first section of this letter concerns the seven day trip from Barbados to Rio, and I am writing it in the afternoon of July 2 as we make our way down the Brazilian coast, watching a heavy ground-swell break and toss itself up in tall, white towers against the rocks three miles away. We have had near-perfect weather during the twelve days of our trip down. Although Rio is usually uncomfortably warm at this time of year, the report has spread around that our concert there tonight will be blessed with cool weather.
Barbados was a pleasant surprise to me. It is more heavily populated than any region on the earth with the exception of China. We hired a cab (an old Dodge made in Canada and with its steering wheel on the right) and went on a twenty mile drive around the island. By far its chief source of income is sugar cane, and the population is something over ninety per cent Negroid. Even in this out-of-the-way bump in the road they are feeling the effects of Europe’s war and our own National Defense effort. On the door of a dilapidated stone shed near one of the churches we visited there wasfixed a proclamation announcing the registration of all aliens. The girl who waited on us at the “Tip Top Tea Shop”, where we had tea and crumpets in the tradition, told us that the defense work being done by our government on Trinidad had caused a great many people to leave Barbados and make the night’s trip over to Trinidad, where they could expect an answer to the universal cry of shorter hours and more pay.
When we crossed the equator, the ship was cursed, as usual, with the presence of Neptunus Rex, who held court just aft of our swimming pool. We four who had been freshmen, “than which there can be nothing more contemptible on the face of the earth”,were given the dubious honor of heading the list of eighteen selected from the ship’s company to go through the rigors of initiation. Everyone else received a diploma without the discomfort of the “royal works”, which included the “royal doctor””, the “royal barber” and the “royal bath”. The charges trumped up against us were a disgrace to the intelligence of man, but as we finally threw King Neptune (Marshall Bartholomew, our director) and all his court into the swimming pool, the party ended on a brighter note.
Ship life had continued much as it was begun. We have had parties and women and dances and women and bridge and women and drinks and women. The only unpleasant part of the trip has been the service on the boat. The waiters in the dining room seem not so intent on serving the meal as on preserving their explicit equality with the passengers, and the same holds true for stewards and everybody else. It is unfortunate that they do not yet realize that the performance of their jobs has little to do with their personal pretensions. We must all be forever serving someone else, and the one of us who can do that most competently has the best claim to equality if not superiority. The service on the American ships has always been very poor, I understand, but I think probably the present labor shortage has made the situation more acute. I cannot help but feel, however, that it were better for these people to be too aware of our equality, even to confusing it with the performance of their job, than to be too careless of it – to trust its safekeeping to a man who would make the image of the state more sacred than the precious identity of the single human being. You must excuse me if I stray from the matter at hand. From here on I will tell you about our first twelve hours in Rio.
*********
I am afraid that yesterday, when I said that I would tell you about Rio, I set a task for myself which could be done only in part. I cannot tell you about Rio. It is a feeling that I have. It is a song without words.
The boat was rather late making port so we came into Rio harbor, the most beautiful in the world, after dark. Coming slowly in past Sugar Loaf, a high dark mound guarding the entrance to the bay, we were suddenly surrounded by a sparkling horseshoe which revealed only dimly the white buildings of a clean, new city. And standing alone in the sky was a pure white figure of Christ, looking down with open arms to welcome the visitor to a place of refuge. There was a thin mist that completely obscured the soaring pinnacle of rock on which the statue is placed; and the lights focused from below on the monument gave it a mystic aspect. But we knew that it was real
Our concert at the Rio Opera House was scheduled to begin at 9:00, and it was not expected that the boat would dock before 10:30. However, we had arranged to be taken off the boat in launches at the quarantine station. We were half an hour late for the concert after a five thousand mile voyage, and if the Brazil had not been late in leaving New York we would have been right on time.
We sang to a full house, and they received us wonderfully. I have not had time to read the reviews in the Rio papers, but while I was standing out front after the concert waiting for a friend of mine, at least fifteen people came up to me and in everything from perfect English to pure Portuguese poured out their praises. I think that Rio was a little dubious of a university glee club as a top-notch musical organ. But we gave them what they wanted to hear, I suppose.
After the concert we all went to a party at the Copacabana Palace, Rio’s best night spot. My companion for the evening was rare. She spoke excellent English, much better French than I do, and a little German in addition to Portuguese and some Spanish. She had been to the United States, and most rare, she had the imagination and a feeling about things. Her imagination and feelings were both well trained and suited to a certain modesty that would grant her precedence anywhere. She was the best part of the evening for me. I regret that I have not the time to pound out a more detailed account of my impressions of Rio. As I have said, this is a city whose soul you are only aware of. Its secret does not lie about in the gutters nor in the casinos nor anywhere, but only appears half veiled and mysterious like the figure of Christ in the sky, just beyond us, promising to whisper a secret to our hearts delight.

I see now that I say here that our opening concert was given in the Rio Opera House. I could hardly have been mistaken about that since I’m writing that letter right after the concert. The day following, in fact. But there’s an itinerary I saw somewhere in one of my files that gives the basic data for the whole trip, and according to that itinerary, the venue for that opening concert in Rio was to be the Teatro Municipal. Something seems wrong. That itinerary was printed sometime in the spring, before final arrangements were made, and maybe our opener was changed from the Teatro Municipal to the opera house. Or maybe those are only different names for the same theatre. Small matter.
There’s something else a bit strange. I just noticed that in neither of these letters do I even mention the two concerts we gave on board ship. One, I know, to all the ship’s passengers, probably before dinner one night. That would have been the first time we were able to sing all our new Portuguese and Spanish repertoire to an audience before launching it upon Rio. I seem to see everyone assembled in the First Class lounge to hear us, but that’s all I remember.
The other concert was to the ship’s crew, down in the hold. That one to the crew was rather perfunctory, as I recall. More of a brief recital than a concert because there weren’t a great many gathered down there in their lounge to hear us. Most of them had better things to do, I’m sure.
That brings to mind another thing I remember well. That was climbing even further down into the very bowels of the ship, into the belly of the whale if you like, and how impressed I was. As you know, it’s only far down below, there in the engine room with the hairy apes, that you can fully appreciate the power it takes to push an ocean liner through the sea. All that heavy thumping and booming and knocking of those enormous engines. And all the hissing and whu-ush-ing of those slick and ponderous pistons, as they pulse and plunge themselves back and forth, back and forth, in their incessant to and fro.
One other thing. I misspelled the word contemptible. But that’s not unforgivable in someone with just year of college. I’ll bet a lot of people would make that mistake. I was all of nineteen years old when I wrote those letters home, and now, when I read them aloud, it gives me an eerie feeling. A feeling that someone’s walking around in the graveyard where I’m to be buried. And then, when I take a closer look, I recognize that someone, and that someone is me. Not me as I am now, but me when I was nineteen. Imagine it! The warp of space is of course the warp of time, and so, as I hear my voice reading those letters, I’m listening to the boy I was sixty-five years ago. I’m hearing myself talking to my parents. But not to worry too much. Just another short flight of fancy.
There was one final thing that caught my eye as I was reading. I do not remember myself as being at that time much interested in government or politics, so I can hardly believe that I would offer my parents a definition of Fascism. But see here, I’ve personified the Third Reich as a man who would make the image of the state more sacred than the precious identity of the single human being. That’s what I say, isn’t it? And all these years I’ve thought of myself as having been a boy who would have been largely oblivious of what it was that lead all those German people to do what they did.
Let me tell you this much about that first concert in Rio. Villa-Lobos—Heitor Villa-Lobos—was, of course, himself in the opera house at that opening concert, but that was not all. When we first walked out, Villa-Lobos left his box to come up on stage with us and stand there beside Barty. This had all been prearranged, and it was not Barty but Villa-Lobos who conducted us in the first thing we sang that night. Naturally, it was the Brazilian national anthem. And fortunately, it didn’t much matter how our new friend Heitor conducted it. We could have sung it at any tempo he set and done so in our sleep if he’d asked!
But then, after hearing a few bars from us and being pleased with what he’d heard, Villa-Lobos turned away from the stage to conduct the house full of Brazilians sitting out there. And guess what? There was almost no response from the audience. From his own countrymen came almost total silence. They didn’t know it! They couldn’t sing their own national anthem!
Except for the reviews of the concerts we gave in Rio, I have a copy of all the reviews of all of our formal concerts down there. Those reviews in the Rio papers have mostly disappeared, but I do have a fragment of one writer’s review of our opening concert the evening we arrived. It’s in the second paragraph that he describes what happened when Villa-Lobos came up onstage with us. I’ve got it right here with me, so I can quote you the end of what that reviewer had to say. This is all I have of it, the last two paragraphs.

The propaganda by these students is of the very best: artistic, a perfect performance in the field of choral singing, because it was a most edifying example which might be followed by our university students who choose much less interesting pastimes.

The truth is that in spite of the titanic efforts of Villa-Lobos, we still do not know how to sing in Brazil. And the proof of this, sad as it is, was when the Maestro directed the Brazilian National Anthem and turned toward the audience to lead them, but could find only a half a dozen who could sing it.

Those reviews might make interesting reading for anyone with a personal interest in such things. One encomium after another, everywhere we sang. They’re something else for an appendix. That is, if ever I do knuckle down and bite the bullet.
I’m sorry you can’t stay to hear more about that tour but maybe another time? As it happened, those two letters I just read to you were the only letters I wrote home on the whole trip. My parents never heard another word from me. Not until they met me at the boat on our arrival back in New York. I couldn’t write another letter. No time. Too busy. Something going on every minute of every eighteen hour day for the rest of the tour.
After our opening that night in Rio, it was only about five days later that the Brazil was steaming past the Graf Spee, and then, less than six months later, the elegant S.S. Brazil was having her own insides scoured out to be refitted for service as a troop ship in the war. That’s how fast things everything moved along after Pearl Harbor.
Before I let you go, I want you to hear something that Peggy said in Southern at lunch the other day. When I’d described to her how Mr. Marquand had snubbed me that day on the way to Rio, Peggy said, Well, now! Wasn’t he the tacky one!
Away to Rio!

Too bad you arrived in time to hear only the end of it. So fare ye well, my bonnie young girl, we are bound for Rio Grande! You should have heard the whole song. We recorded it in the very late autumn of the world into which I was born. That was the autumn of 1941, just before Pearl Harbor when the long winter of the war set in. By we, I mean the all-male chorus with which I sang nearly the whole of the time I was at Yale. The Yale Glee Club.
About thirty or thirty-five of us went down to New York and recorded it in the most famous recording studio of the day, Liederkranz Hall. Liederkranz? Well, Liederkranz is the name of that cheese, of course, the one with its own distinctive, shall we say, “nose”? But in German, Liederkranz means something like a garland of songs. I’d be pretty sure that it’s in that sense that Liederkranz Hall was named. But there’s another sense in which the German uses their word Liederkranz, another meaning for it, and that’s to mean a men’s singing society. And that was just what we were when we went there and made that album, a men’s singing society.
That was a sea chantey, that song you heard only the end of. Sea chanteys were the songs sailors sang as they worked. You may know this one as Away Rio!, but some years before that summer of 1941, when we ourselves set sail for Rio, Barty made his own arrangement of it, and the title he gave it was slightly different. Away to Rio!
Who was Barty? Barty was Marshall Bartholomew and he was our music director and he was our conductor and he was the arranger of many of the things we sang, including that song you heard on that disk. We recorded some dozen or more songs for Columbia Records, but only two or three were chanteys. That one, Away Rio!, is one of the more popular of those work songs that seamen sang in the days when iron men sailed wooden ships flying canvass sails. It’s an old standard, and every time I hear it, the memories of that long ago summer come crashing over me in wave-after-emotional-wave, and I’m taken right back again into the midst of all that intense excitement, that taut sense of expectation followed by the relaxed joy of fulfillment that came to us from singing to all those tens of thousands of people down there in South America. Most of them had never heard a good male chorus sing and they were stunned but it. That summer may have been the greatest, the most wonderful summer of my life. The summer of 1941. The last summer before the war.
The Yale Glee Club had sung its way through Europe many times, but ours was its first-ever concert tour of South America. We went at the behest of the State Department, as part of our South American foreign policy. Something called The Good Neighbor Policy. That’s why it was not only sponsored by our government, it was strongly supported by all our embassies everywhere we went. Best of all, the government picked up the tab, so that whole trip cost me almost nothing. Well, not me, my parents.
It was in the fall following that tour that those of us who hadn’t graduated went down to New York and recorded those songs for Columbia. It was just last year that my own old copy of that four-record album turned up at the bottom of the stack, but I couldn’t listen to it. I found a turntable but I could never locate a needle of the right size, so I sent it off and had those four records transferred to a disk. It was just last month that I discovered in some of my father’s old files two letters I’d written my parents from shipboard on our way down to Rio. On our way to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where we arrived barely in time to sing our opening concert.
The liner we sailed on from New York was named, appropriately enough, the S.S. Brazil. I remember that I used the typewriter in the purser’s office to write this first letter I’ll read to you. It was posted home when we reached Barbados. That was our only port of call before Rio. Remember now, this is 1941.

Via Air Mail
On Board
S. S. Brazil

(Barbados-June 25) The Yale Glee Club has completed the first stage of its combined good-will mission and concert tour of South America. We have called at Barbados, a small British island in the eastern Caribbean, and it is from there that I airmail this account of the first 1836 miles of a seven weeks’ trek that will carry us some 13,000 miles before we arrive back in New York on August 11.
Ours is a big job: we must sing to the America “down under,” learn their ways, and show them ours in an attempt to strengthen Pan-American unity through the medium of music. I have heard and read that South Americans are an emotional people. Music might well be a better way to impress our kindred, free, singing spirits than much talk or a distant declaration of friendship. Anyhow, we mean to have a try at it, and in the process we shall certainly experience enough to keep this typewriter clicking for a long time.
We sailed on the S.S. Brazil from New York at midnight June 20th. A sailing for South America is something a little different from ordinary sailings, and because of the then recent sinking of the Robin Moor, there was a high excitement which touched the voice of the crowd with a tense tone of possible danger. We were to be twelve days at sea. Much can happen in twelve days these swift times.

Let me interrupt myself here to say something about that ominous sense I was trying to convey of the danger of those times. There was a dark foreboding hanging over our country then and the danger was real. But as you know, danger can also be not a little exciting. What’s more, we’d hardly put out to sea, when news came that Hitler had launched his great eastern army against the Soviets, and that further confirmed our fear that war was imminent. That we might not ever see safe harbor in Rio but might fall off the edge of the world instead.

There could never have been such a ship as this for good will. Just as “National Defense” has become in the United States a slogan for the sale of everything from hair pins to yachts, just so has “good will” become the cry of many who are interested rather in the satisfaction of their stomachs. But you could hardly find a more interesting passenger list. Traveling Tourist Class with us there are seven ballet dancers, each with lines decidedly Zorinesque — only more so. It is therefore clear that we have already set about the business of being Yale-fellows-well-met. I might say that these graceful creatures are somewhat disappointing as partners in the dance; it is too much like driving a high-powered automobile down a dirt road. One of them, Vela Ceres, is a New Orleans girl.
There are also two West Pointers on a semi-official visit to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile. It seems that their chief occupation will be to bestow wreaths on the tombs of the heroic dead and to kiss the either cheek of the less heroic but more appreciative living.

I’ve got to stop again for a word or two about those West Pointers. Let me read you this diary entry for April 12, 1942. Shot West Point in skeet today at Lordship. Saw Lee Hamerly. Met two cows: Conrad Koerper & Ed Bennet. They said Bill Knowlton (sp?) West Pointer I met on S. American trip sent me his best & I returned it. Even now, I can picture Bill Knowlton. Tall, nice looking, gentlemanly fellow. Just the man for The Point to pick for a good will mission by our military to South America. I was on Yale’s skeet team all the while I was in college and we went a number of times to West Point to shoot against their teams. In fact, we were quick to go there because at every post there were unlimited shells and we could shoot as many practice rounds as we liked, and all of it was free.
There was another attraction. We’d go there on weekends, shoot skeet all afternoon down under the bluff by the Hudson, have supper with them at the visitors’ mess table and then go to a movie or a dance. And there were girls there, too, those weekends, and those girls would all have to be off the base by midnight and they’d all be staying at the Thayer Hotel, just outside the gate. That’s where our skeet team always just happened to stay, too, at the Thayer. I mention Lee Hamerly, Conrad Koerper and Ed Bennet. Their names all find a resonance in my head but I can’t find their faces.

There is a group of Experimenters in International Living which includes two sisters from Smith and a boy from Harvard. There is a large number of assorted South Americans from whom I have learned a little of what to expect. One Brazilian lady who had gone to college at Penn State told me that we would be very well received in her country, probably better than in Chile and Argentina.”

She was right about our reception in Brazil, but not about the reception we’d receive elsewhere in South America. As it turned out, they loved us everywhere we went. Oh, my God! how they did love us down there! But let me read you some more of what I told my parents.

There are a great many professional entertainers on board, including a trick bicyclist and three dance teams in addition to our glee club and the ballet dancers. It would seem that American entertainers are in great demand by the casinos and bistros of Rio and B.A. (an American simplification of the mysteries of Buenos Aires) just as the Carmen Miranda and the Bidu Sayaos are at present among the brightest stars in our country.
Last and least there are six or eight Powers models traveling First Class, passive creatures who spend their conscious hours demonstrating an interminable wardrobe. And at night they usually come back to our [Tourist Class] bar room where they sit like tall, cool drinks of vinegar and long for the days when they were human.
As for the routine on board we have breakfast about nine, then rehearse from ten until eleven thirty. An hour in the sun on deck, swimming and playing games or chewing the rag, and then lunch followed by a half hour part rehearsal. More sun bathing and an hour’s rehearsal again at four. We have the rest of the day and night for bridge, dancing to the ship’s orchestra, star gazing, or just bending an elbow with the boys.
It might at first sight seem strange that we are spending so much time rehearsing; but there was not much time during May and June at college to spend learning the many new songs we are going to use on this trip, so we have been forced to do a lot of hard labor on the way down. We have two complete programs of thirty songs each, all of which were selected especially for South American audiences by Marshall Bartholomew. When we arrive at Rio de Janeiro we will have ten or twelve Spanish and Portuguese numbers which we will be able to use in addition to over fifty English, Latin,and Italian songs. This does not include quite a few Yale Songs. ThePortuguese compositions, most of which are the work of South America’s greatest composer, Villa-Lobos, and the Spanish things are to constitute a program early next fall by the Yale Glee Club in New York. They are top-notch. We are very anxious to know what Rio, where we give our first concert on the night of July fourth, will think of us, but we are not worried. Anyway, we shall soon know.

That’s the end of that first letter. Did you hear that reference to a ship named the Robin Moor? You didn’t notice? Well then, I’d better explain. Exactly one month before our ship departed New York, a German U-boat operating in the Atlantic had stopped an unarmed American freighter some 900 miles of the coast of Brazil and sent her to the bottom. We weren’t yet in the war, you know, and she had American flags painted all over her, but that didn’t save her. She was the Robin Moor, the first American merchantman sunk by the German Navy. In Homer’s war, we’re told that Helen launched a thousand ships, but how many were sunk, I don’t think Homer says. Virgil doesn’t either, as I recall. In Hitler’s war, to the contrary, I have no idea how many were launched, but I do know how many were sunk—50,000. Can you even imagine such a number? But it’s true. 50,000 ships were sunk during the war!
And then on June 20, 1941—the very same day we sailed for Rio on the Brazil—President Roosevelt addressed a message to Congress in which he said that the sinking of the Robin Moor was a warning to us from the Germans that our country’s ships could henceforth use the high seas only with the leave of the Nazis. Sinking the Robin Moor was Hitler’s proclamation to the world that the high seas would now belong to him.
And in addition to all that, we knew that very soon we’d be putting in at Montevideo, and that we’d be sailing past the visible remains of the Graf Spee. The Graf Spee was the German pocket battleship scuttled in shallow water just outside Montevideo only eighteen months before. Only one life was lost, and that, the life of her Captain. It seems only yesterday that we steamed past the Graff Spee. Only her superstructure was out of the water, sticking up like a grave stone set in the sea. I can see myself now, standing there at the starboard rail when we passed her by. But of the Robin Moor, I could remember nothing. I had to go to the Web to find out why I’d even mentioned her. So it was no wonder that as we prepared to cast off, the excitement lit up the sky all around us the way heat lightening does on a heavy summer night.
Here now, take a closer look at the paper these letters are written on. This is the Brazil’s own letterhead. The purser gave it to me. And look! That stationary is marked specifically for delivery by air mail. Par avion! Wow! Air mail, you see, was something then still rather new in our small world. You see how small these sheets of paper are? They’re less than five inches wide, really only note paper. And you see there? I’ve written on both sides of every sheet. That was common practice then. Saved a lot of money.
In that letter I’ve just read, I’ve described only a few of the ship’s passengers, but there were others I could have written home about. There was one gentleman on board, one gentleman in particular whom I completely left out of that letter. And although he’s left out, I remember that gentleman very, very well indeed. I can see him now, clear as a bell. He’s on the promenade deck, amidships the port side, stretched out in his First Class deck chair. He’s had the deck steward place it so he’d have the afternoon shade. He’s reading. There’s a young girl, ten or twelve years old, in the chair beside him. I’ve seen them together before. I’m guessing she’s his daughter, maybe his niece. They’re definitely related.
But it’s him I’m interested in. And I’m interested in him because of who he is. Because gossip about him has already spread instantly among the passengers. I would use that old, thread-bare expression—the news spread like wild fire—but in this case, there’s a more apposite simile, so I’ll use it. The news of his identity spread among the passengers like food poisoning on a cruise ship.
People nowadays would say he was a celebrity, but I’m not at all sure that in those days the word celebrity carried with it the sense it does now. I think that people then were more apt to have said only that he was a famous writer. But writers just don’t count as celebrities. That’s because writers are actually required to write something, while celebrities aren’t required to actually do anything at all. In fact, I’ve been told that the official oath of office required of celebrities before their ascension specifically prohibits them from producing anything other than an inane, photo-op smile. So it’snot the celebrity’s glitz and glitter but the celebrity’s complete uselessness, his utter nullity as a human being, that’s at the very core of his celebration. Everybody knows that. That’s why nowadays every couch potato would give anything to be one. Wouldn’t you?
You might already have guessed that I’m not much impressed with celebrities. My parents weren’t either. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that, under the pancake and wig, celebrities are extraordinarily ordinary people? Of course it does, and if you don’t believe it, you just ask one, they’ll tell you. That’s right! Just go out anywhere, right now, and walk up to a bunch of celebrities and ask them straight out, whether or not they’re just ordinary people. I guarantee you that every one of them will tell you the same damned thing. They’ll all tell you—Sure thing, Buster! We’re just regular folks. We’re no different at all from you. I’ve been told that some of them actually believe it.
But now about this Marquand fellow. I’m standing there on deck looking at him. That was his name, J. P. Marquand, and you won’t believe what it is he’s just about to do. In 1937, I think it was, he’d published a book with which at the time I had some familiarity. It was a book about proper Bostonians and I’d read even it. Not because it was a popular fiction, but because I’d long before fallen under the spell of the Forsytes and was interested in what I took to be their Bostonian equivalents. People whose calling it was to be proper. I hadn’t known any such myself. Propriety meant something quite a bit different in the South in which I grew up.
The only Bostonians I’d ever known were members of a men’s club on Canal Street in New Orleans. Although that club was called the Boston Club, I knew the Bostonians one found there were somehow not quite the same animal as those in Marquand’s book. In my young mind, true, proper Bostonians were all Harvard men. They had to be, I knew that much. But I didn’t know any Harvard men. In fact, to this day the only Harvard man I can recall knowing well is Buddy. Buddy’s my only son, Charlton, III. He graduated from Harvard way back there in 1970.
Mr. Marquand’s book was called The Late George Apley. Two years earlier it had won the Pulitzer. And here I am, not forty feet from its author. I’m that young man you see standing there at the ship’s rail on this late June afternoon in 1941. You don’t knowthat young man but I do. Because he’s me. Or, he was me. I seem to remember hearing someone say that as we grow older, when we age, we don’t really change, we just become more ourselves. But if that’s true, then am I not now more him than at that time he was him, himself? I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over that, if I were you.
I can say with some confidence that, as I stand there, I am quite presentable, rather mannerly, not forward or familiar in the least, certainly not abrasive or even brash. In a word, I’m just a young fellow who’s not a threat to anybody. I also happen to be a very serious and sincere young student, not only of language and literature but of human behavior and culture, and there is certainly something about The Late George Apley that I very much want to discuss with its author, and its author is sitting just over there. I have no idea now what it is I feel the need to talk with him about. It could be a matter of form or of substance. Even then, one was as important to me as the other. It may possibly be some ideas I’ve been having about Apley in the light of The Forsyte Saga. Anyway, those are the sorts of things that interest me. Literary matters. That’s the reason I want to speak with Mr. Marquand, and I’m waiting to approach him when I feel that he is most approachable.
Mr. Marquand closes the book he’s been reading and lays it aside before rising from his chair. He stands there for a long moment, stretching himself and straightening his tie. He’s dressed in a suit, you see. Never mind that it’s quite warm. He then strolls over to the rail and stands there, looking out over the sea. He’s not ten feet from me. The moment has arrived. I walk over at my most casual to stand beside him. When I speak to him, it’s the moment I’ve been waiting for, and I’m completely at ease. I can’t remember any details, of course, but I’m sure this is about how it must have gone.
I introduce myself, tell him I’ve read his book about George Apley and liked it very much. I must certainly then have told him that I would very much appreciate an opportunity to—but then I’m suddenly left with nothing more to say—left suddenly speechless, because Mr. Marquand, even as I’m talking to him, has looked me directly in the eye, registered his complete distaste, and abruptly turned his back on me and walked away. An unspeakable, fully intended, carefully choreographed, affront!
I have no idea what could have got into that man—what could possibly have prompted such inexplicable behavior on the part of someone represented to be a gentleman of Boston and a Harvard man. For his was the very sort of calculated, personal insult which, a hundred years earlier, would have guaranteed the firing off of pistols at dawn the next day. At least, in the Deep South it would.
But there were to be better days. There would be another writer whose path would cross with mine on that concert tour. An ambassador who entertained us in his home, and that writer’s reception of me and another Southerner, my friend from Savannah, Sam Ross, would be an entirely different affair. I’ll try to remember to tell you about that some time.
But here, let me read you the other letter.

Via Air Mail
On Board
S. S. Brazil

(Rio de Janeiro – July 3, 1941) The first section of this letter concerns the seven day trip from Barbados to Rio, and I am writing it in the afternoon of July 2 as we make our way down the Brazilian coast, watching a heavy ground-swell break and toss itself up in tall, white towers against the rocks three miles away. We have had near-perfect weather during the twelve days of our trip down. Although Rio is usually uncomfortably warm at this time of year, the report has spread around that our concert there tonight will be blessed with cool weather.
Barbados was a pleasant surprise to me. It is more heavily populated than any region on the earth with the exception of China. We hired a cab (an old Dodge made in Canada and with its steering wheel on the right) and went on a twenty mile drive around the island. By far its chief source of income is sugar cane, and the population is something over ninety per cent Negroid. Even in this out-of-the-way bump in the road they are feeling the effects of Europe’s war and our own National Defense effort. On the door of a dilapidated stone shed near one of the churches we visited there wasfixed a proclamation announcing the registration of all aliens. The girl who waited on us at the “Tip Top Tea Shop”, where we had tea and crumpets in the tradition, told us that the defense work being done by our government on Trinidad had caused a great many people to leave Barbados and make the night’s trip over to Trinidad, where they could expect an answer to the universal cry of shorter hours and more pay.
When we crossed the equator, the ship was cursed, as usual, with the presence of Neptunus Rex, who held court just aft of our swimming pool. We four who had been freshmen, “than which there can be nothing more contemptible on the face of the earth”,were given the dubious honor of heading the list of eighteen selected from the ship’s company to go through the rigors of initiation. Everyone else received a diploma without the discomfort of the “royal works”, which included the “royal doctor””, the “royal barber” and the “royal bath”. The charges trumped up against us were a disgrace to the intelligence of man, but as we finally threw King Neptune (Marshall Bartholomew, our director) and all his court into the swimming pool, the party ended on a brighter note.
Ship life had continued much as it was begun. We have had parties and women and dances and women and bridge and women and drinks and women. The only unpleasant part of the trip has been the service on the boat. The waiters in the dining room seem not so intent on serving the meal as on preserving their explicit equality with the passengers, and the same holds true for stewards and everybody else. It is unfortunate that they do not yet realize that the performance of their jobs has little to do with their personal pretensions. We must all be forever serving someone else, and the one of us who can do that most competently has the best claim to equality if not superiority. The service on the American ships has always been very poor, I understand, but I think probably the present labor shortage has made the situation more acute. I cannot help but feel, however, that it were better for these people to be too aware of our equality, even to confusing it with the performance of their job, than to be too careless of it – to trust its safekeeping to a man who would make the image of the state more sacred than the precious identity of the single human being. You must excuse me if I stray from the matter at hand. From here on I will tell you about our first twelve hours in Rio.
*********
I am afraid that yesterday, when I said that I would tell you about Rio, I set a task for myself which could be done only in part. I cannot tell you about Rio. It is a feeling that I have. It is a song without words.
The boat was rather late making port so we came into Rio harbor, the most beautiful in the world, after dark. Coming slowly in past Sugar Loaf, a high dark mound guarding the entrance to the bay, we were suddenly surrounded by a sparkling horseshoe which revealed only dimly the white buildings of a clean, new city. And standing alone in the sky was a pure white figure of Christ, looking down with open arms to welcome the visitor to a place of refuge. There was a thin mist that completely obscured the soaring pinnacle of rock on which the statue is placed; and the lights focused from below on the monument gave it a mystic aspect. But we knew that it was real
Our concert at the Rio Opera House was scheduled to begin at 9:00, and it was not expected that the boat would dock before 10:30. However, we had arranged to be taken off the boat in launches at the quarantine station. We were half an hour late for the concert after a five thousand mile voyage, and if the Brazil had not been late in leaving New York we would have been right on time.
We sang to a full house, and they received us wonderfully. I have not had time to read the reviews in the Rio papers, but while I was standing out front after the concert waiting for a friend of mine, at least fifteen people came up to me and in everything from perfect English to pure Portuguese poured out their praises. I think that Rio was a little dubious of a university glee club as a top-notch musical organ. But we gave them what they wanted to hear, I suppose.
After the concert we all went to a party at the Copacabana Palace, Rio’s best night spot. My companion for the evening was rare. She spoke excellent English, much better French than I do, and a little German in addition to Portuguese and some Spanish. She had been to the United States, and most rare, she had the imagination and a feeling about things. Her imagination and feelings were both well trained and suited to a certain modesty that would grant her precedence anywhere. She was the best part of the evening for me. I regret that I have not the time to pound out a more detailed account of my impressions of Rio. As I have said, this is a city whose soul you are only aware of. Its secret does not lie about in the gutters nor in the casinos nor anywhere, but only appears half veiled and mysterious like the figure of Christ in the sky, just beyond us, promising to whisper a secret to our hearts delight.

I see now that I say here that our opening concert was given in the Rio Opera House. I could hardly have been mistaken about that since I’m writing that letter right after the concert. The day following, in fact. But there’s an itinerary I saw somewhere in one of my files that gives the basic data for the whole trip, and according to that itinerary, the venue for that opening concert in Rio was to be the Teatro Municipal. Something seems wrong. That itinerary was printed sometime in the spring, before final arrangements were made, and maybe our opener was changed from the Teatro Municipal to the opera house. Or maybe those are only different names for the same theatre. Small matter.
There’s something else a bit strange. I just noticed that in neither of these letters do I even mention the two concerts we gave on board ship. One, I know, to all the ship’s passengers, probably before dinner one night. That would have been the first time we were able to sing all our new Portuguese and Spanish repertoire to an audience before launching it upon Rio. I seem to see everyone assembled in the First Class lounge to hear us, but that’s all I remember.
The other concert was to the ship’s crew, down in the hold. That one to the crew was rather perfunctory, as I recall. More of a brief recital than a concert because there weren’t a great many gathered down there in their lounge to hear us. Most of them had better things to do, I’m sure.
That brings to mind another thing I remember well. That was climbing even further down into the very bowels of the ship, into the belly of the whale if you like, and how impressed I was. As you know, it’s only far down below, there in the engine room with the hairy apes, that you can fully appreciate the power it takes to push an ocean liner through the sea. All that heavy thumping and booming and knocking of those enormous engines. And all the hissing and whu-ush-ing of those slick and ponderous pistons, as they pulse and plunge themselves back and forth, back and forth, in their incessant to and fro.
One other thing. I misspelled the word contemptible. But that’s not unforgivable in someone with just year of college. I’ll bet a lot of people would make that mistake. I was all of nineteen years old when I wrote those letters home, and now, when I read them aloud, it gives me an eerie feeling. A feeling that someone’s walking around in the graveyard where I’m to be buried. And then, when I take a closer look, I recognize that someone, and that someone is me. Not me as I am now, but me when I was nineteen. Imagine it! The warp of space is of course the warp of time, and so, as I hear my voice reading those letters, I’m listening to the boy I was sixty-five years ago. I’m hearing myself talking to my parents. But not to worry too much. Just another short flight of fancy.
There was one final thing that caught my eye as I was reading. I do not remember myself as being at that time much interested in government or politics, so I can hardly believe that I would offer my parents a definition of Fascism. But see here, I’ve personified the Third Reich as a man who would make the image of the state more sacred than the precious identity of the single human being. That’s what I say, isn’t it? And all these years I’ve thought of myself as having been a boy who would have been largely oblivious of what it was that lead all those German people to do what they did.
Let me tell you this much about that first concert in Rio. Villa-Lobos—Heitor Villa-Lobos—was, of course, himself in the opera house at that opening concert, but that was not all. When we first walked out, Villa-Lobos left his box to come up on stage with us and stand there beside Barty. This had all been prearranged, and it was not Barty but Villa-Lobos who conducted us in the first thing we sang that night. Naturally, it was the Brazilian national anthem. And fortunately, it didn’t much matter how our new friend Heitor conducted it. We could have sung it at any tempo he set and done so in our sleep if he’d asked!
But then, after hearing a few bars from us and being pleased with what he’d heard, Villa-Lobos turned away from the stage to conduct the house full of Brazilians sitting out there. And guess what? There was almost no response from the audience. From his own countrymen came almost total silence. They didn’t know it! They couldn’t sing their own national anthem!
Except for the reviews of the concerts we gave in Rio, I have a copy of all the reviews of all of our formal concerts down there. Those reviews in the Rio papers have mostly disappeared, but I do have a fragment of one writer’s review of our opening concert the evening we arrived. It’s in the second paragraph that he describes what happened when Villa-Lobos came up onstage with us. I’ve got it right here with me, so I can quote you the end of what that reviewer had to say. This is all I have of it, the last two paragraphs.

The propaganda by these students is of the very best: artistic, a perfect performance in the field of choral singing, because it was a most edifying example which might be followed by our university students who choose much less interesting pastimes.

The truth is that in spite of the titanic efforts of Villa-Lobos, we still do not know how to sing in Brazil. And the proof of this, sad as it is, was when the Maestro directed the Brazilian National Anthem and turned toward the audience to lead them, but could find only a half a dozen who could sing it.

Those reviews might make interesting reading for anyone with a personal interest in such things. One encomium after another, everywhere we sang. They’re something else for an appendix. That is, if ever I do knuckle down and bite the bullet.
I’m sorry you can’t stay to hear more about that tour but maybe another time? As it happened, those two letters I just read to you were the only letters I wrote home on the whole trip. My parents never heard another word from me. Not until they met me at the boat on our arrival back in New York. I couldn’t write another letter. No time. Too busy. Something going on every minute of every eighteen hour day for the rest of the tour.
After our opening that night in Rio, it was only about five days later that the Brazil was steaming past the Graf Spee, and then, less than six months later, the elegant S.S. Brazil was having her own insides scoured out to be refitted for service as a troop ship in the war. That’s how fast things everything moved along after Pearl Harbor.
Before I let you go, I want you to hear something that Peggy said in Southern at lunch the other day. When I’d described to her how Mr. Marquand had snubbed me that day on the way to Rio, Peggy said, Well, now! Wasn’t he the tacky one!
Away to Rio!

Too bad you arrived in time to hear only the end of it. So fare ye well, my bonnie young girl, we are bound for Rio Grande! You should have heard the whole song. We recorded it in the very late autumn of the world into which I was born. That was the autumn of 1941, just before Pearl Harbor when the long winter of the war set in. By we, I mean the all-male chorus with which I sang nearly the whole of the time I was at Yale. The Yale Glee Club.
About thirty or thirty-five of us went down to New York and recorded it in the most famous recording studio of the day, Liederkranz Hall. Liederkranz? Well, Liederkranz is the name of that cheese, of course, the one with its own distinctive, shall we say, “nose”? But in German, Liederkranz means something like a garland of songs. I’d be pretty sure that it’s in that sense that Liederkranz Hall was named. But there’s another sense in which the German uses their word Liederkranz, another meaning for it, and that’s to mean a men’s singing society. And that was just what we were when we went there and made that album, a men’s singing society.
That was a sea chantey, that song you heard only the end of. Sea chanteys were the songs sailors sang as they worked. You may know this one as Away Rio!, but some years before that summer of 1941, when we ourselves set sail for Rio, Barty made his own arrangement of it, and the title he gave it was slightly different. Away to Rio!
Who was Barty? Barty was Marshall Bartholomew and he was our music director and he was our conductor and he was the arranger of many of the things we sang, including that song you heard on that disk. We recorded some dozen or more songs for Columbia Records, but only two or three were chanteys. That one, Away Rio!, is one of the more popular of those work songs that seamen sang in the days when iron men sailed wooden ships flying canvass sails. It’s an old standard, and every time I hear it, the memories of that long ago summer come crashing over me in wave-after-emotional-wave, and I’m taken right back again into the midst of all that intense excitement, that taut sense of expectation followed by the relaxed joy of fulfillment that came to us from singing to all those tens of thousands of people down there in South America. Most of them had never heard a good male chorus sing and they were stunned but it. That summer may have been the greatest, the most wonderful summer of my life. The summer of 1941. The last summer before the war.
The Yale Glee Club had sung its way through Europe many times, but ours was its first-ever concert tour of South America. We went at the behest of the State Department, as part of our South American foreign policy. Something called The Good Neighbor Policy. That’s why it was not only sponsored by our government, it was strongly supported by all our embassies everywhere we went. Best of all, the government picked up the tab, so that whole trip cost me almost nothing. Well, not me, my parents.
It was in the fall following that tour that those of us who hadn’t graduated went down to New York and recorded those songs for Columbia. It was just last year that my own old copy of that four-record album turned up at the bottom of the stack, but I couldn’t listen to it. I found a turntable but I could never locate a needle of the right size, so I sent it off and had those four records transferred to a disk. It was just last month that I discovered in some of my father’s old files two letters I’d written my parents from shipboard on our way down to Rio. On our way to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where we arrived barely in time to sing our opening concert.
The liner we sailed on from New York was named, appropriately enough, the S.S. Brazil. I remember that I used the typewriter in the purser’s office to write this first letter I’ll read to you. It was posted home when we reached Barbados. That was our only port of call before Rio. Remember now, this is 1941.

Via Air Mail
On Board
S. S. Brazil

(Barbados-June 25) The Yale Glee Club has completed the first stage of its combined good-will mission and concert tour of South America. We have called at Barbados, a small British island in the eastern Caribbean, and it is from there that I airmail this account of the first 1836 miles of a seven weeks’ trek that will carry us some 13,000 miles before we arrive back in New York on August 11.
Ours is a big job: we must sing to the America “down under,” learn their ways, and show them ours in an attempt to strengthen Pan-American unity through the medium of music. I have heard and read that South Americans are an emotional people. Music might well be a better way to impress our kindred, free, singing spirits than much talk or a distant declaration of friendship. Anyhow, we mean to have a try at it, and in the process we shall certainly experience enough to keep this typewriter clicking for a long time.
We sailed on the S.S. Brazil from New York at midnight June 20th. A sailing for South America is something a little different from ordinary sailings, and because of the then recent sinking of the Robin Moor, there was a high excitement which touched the voice of the crowd with a tense tone of possible danger. We were to be twelve days at sea. Much can happen in twelve days these swift times.

Let me interrupt myself here to say something about that ominous sense I was trying to convey of the danger of those times. There was a dark foreboding hanging over our country then and the danger was real. But as you know, danger can also be not a little exciting. What’s more, we’d hardly put out to sea, when news came that Hitler had launched his great eastern army against the Soviets, and that further confirmed our fear that war was imminent. That we might not ever see safe harbor in Rio but might fall off the edge of the world instead.

There could never have been such a ship as this for good will. Just as “National Defense” has become in the United States a slogan for the sale of everything from hair pins to yachts, just so has “good will” become the cry of many who are interested rather in the satisfaction of their stomachs. But you could hardly find a more interesting passenger list. Traveling Tourist Class with us there are seven ballet dancers, each with lines decidedly Zorinesque — only more so. It is therefore clear that we have already set about the business of being Yale-fellows-well-met. I might say that these graceful creatures are somewhat disappointing as partners in the dance; it is too much like driving a high-powered automobile down a dirt road. One of them, Vela Ceres, is a New Orleans girl.
There are also two West Pointers on a semi-official visit to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile. It seems that their chief occupation will be to bestow wreaths on the tombs of the heroic dead and to kiss the either cheek of the less heroic but more appreciative living.

I’ve got to stop again for a word or two about those West Pointers. Let me read you this diary entry for April 12, 1942. Shot West Point in skeet today at Lordship. Saw Lee Hamerly. Met two cows: Conrad Koerper & Ed Bennet. They said Bill Knowlton (sp?) West Pointer I met on S. American trip sent me his best & I returned it. Even now, I can picture Bill Knowlton. Tall, nice looking, gentlemanly fellow. Just the man for The Point to pick for a good will mission by our military to South America. I was on Yale’s skeet team all the while I was in college and we went a number of times to West Point to shoot against their teams. In fact, we were quick to go there because at every post there were unlimited shells and we could shoot as many practice rounds as we liked, and all of it was free.
There was another attraction. We’d go there on weekends, shoot skeet all afternoon down under the bluff by the Hudson, have supper with them at the visitors’ mess table and then go to a movie or a dance. And there were girls there, too, those weekends, and those girls would all have to be off the base by midnight and they’d all be staying at the Thayer Hotel, just outside the gate. That’s where our skeet team always just happened to stay, too, at the Thayer. I mention Lee Hamerly, Conrad Koerper and Ed Bennet. Their names all find a resonance in my head but I can’t find their faces.

There is a group of Experimenters in International Living which includes two sisters from Smith and a boy from Harvard. There is a large number of assorted South Americans from whom I have learned a little of what to expect. One Brazilian lady who had gone to college at Penn State told me that we would be very well received in her country, probably better than in Chile and Argentina.”

She was right about our reception in Brazil, but not about the reception we’d receive elsewhere in South America. As it turned out, they loved us everywhere we went. Oh, my God! how they did love us down there! But let me read you some more of what I told my parents.

There are a great many professional entertainers on board, including a trick bicyclist and three dance teams in addition to our glee club and the ballet dancers. It would seem that American entertainers are in great demand by the casinos and bistros of Rio and B.A. (an American simplification of the mysteries of Buenos Aires) just as the Carmen Miranda and the Bidu Sayaos are at present among the brightest stars in our country.
Last and least there are six or eight Powers models traveling First Class, passive creatures who spend their conscious hours demonstrating an interminable wardrobe. And at night they usually come back to our [Tourist Class] bar room where they sit like tall, cool drinks of vinegar and long for the days when they were human.
As for the routine on board we have breakfast about nine, then rehearse from ten until eleven thirty. An hour in the sun on deck, swimming and playing games or chewing the rag, and then lunch followed by a half hour part rehearsal. More sun bathing and an hour’s rehearsal again at four. We have the rest of the day and night for bridge, dancing to the ship’s orchestra, star gazing, or just bending an elbow with the boys.
It might at first sight seem strange that we are spending so much time rehearsing; but there was not much time during May and June at college to spend learning the many new songs we are going to use on this trip, so we have been forced to do a lot of hard labor on the way down. We have two complete programs of thirty songs each, all of which were selected especially for South American audiences by Marshall Bartholomew. When we arrive at Rio de Janeiro we will have ten or twelve Spanish and Portuguese numbers which we will be able to use in addition to over fifty English, Latin,and Italian songs. This does not include quite a few Yale Songs. ThePortuguese compositions, most of which are the work of South America’s greatest composer, Villa-Lobos, and the Spanish things are to constitute a program early next fall by the Yale Glee Club in New York. They are top-notch. We are very anxious to know what Rio, where we give our first concert on the night of July fourth, will think of us, but we are not worried. Anyway, we shall soon know.

That’s the end of that first letter. Did you hear that reference to a ship named the Robin Moor? You didn’t notice? Well then, I’d better explain. Exactly one month before our ship departed New York, a German U-boat operating in the Atlantic had stopped an unarmed American freighter some 900 miles of the coast of Brazil and sent her to the bottom. We weren’t yet in the war, you know, and she had American flags painted all over her, but that didn’t save her. She was the Robin Moor, the first American merchantman sunk by the German Navy. In Homer’s war, we’re told that Helen launched a thousand ships, but how many were sunk, I don’t think Homer says. Virgil doesn’t either, as I recall. In Hitler’s war, to the contrary, I have no idea how many were launched, but I do know how many were sunk—50,000. Can you even imagine such a number? But it’s true. 50,000 ships were sunk during the war!
And then on June 20, 1941—the very same day we sailed for Rio on the Brazil—President Roosevelt addressed a message to Congress in which he said that the sinking of the Robin Moor was a warning to us from the Germans that our country’s ships could henceforth use the high seas only with the leave of the Nazis. Sinking the Robin Moor was Hitler’s proclamation to the world that the high seas would now belong to him.
And in addition to all that, we knew that very soon we’d be putting in at Montevideo, and that we’d be sailing past the visible remains of the Graf Spee. The Graf Spee was the German pocket battleship scuttled in shallow water just outside Montevideo only eighteen months before. Only one life was lost, and that, the life of her Captain. It seems only yesterday that we steamed past the Graff Spee. Only her superstructure was out of the water, sticking up like a grave stone set in the sea. I can see myself now, standing there at the starboard rail when we passed her by. But of the Robin Moor, I could remember nothing. I had to go to the Web to find out why I’d even mentioned her. So it was no wonder that as we prepared to cast off, the excitement lit up the sky all around us the way heat lightening does on a heavy summer night.
Here now, take a closer look at the paper these letters are written on. This is the Brazil’s own letterhead. The purser gave it to me. And look! That stationary is marked specifically for delivery by air mail. Par avion! Wow! Air mail, you see, was something then still rather new in our small world. You see how small these sheets of paper are? They’re less than five inches wide, really only note paper. And you see there? I’ve written on both sides of every sheet. That was common practice then. Saved a lot of money.
In that letter I’ve just read, I’ve described only a few of the ship’s passengers, but there were others I could have written home about. There was one gentleman on board, one gentleman in particular whom I completely left out of that letter. And although he’s left out, I remember that gentleman very, very well indeed. I can see him now, clear as a bell. He’s on the promenade deck, amidships the port side, stretched out in his First Class deck chair. He’s had the deck steward place it so he’d have the afternoon shade. He’s reading. There’s a young girl, ten or twelve years old, in the chair beside him. I’ve seen them together before. I’m guessing she’s his daughter, maybe his niece. They’re definitely related.
But it’s him I’m interested in. And I’m interested in him because of who he is. Because gossip about him has already spread instantly among the passengers. I would use that old, thread-bare expression—the news spread like wild fire—but in this case, there’s a more apposite simile, so I’ll use it. The news of his identity spread among the passengers like food poisoning on a cruise ship.
People nowadays would say he was a celebrity, but I’m not at all sure that in those days the word celebrity carried with it the sense it does now. I think that people then were more apt to have said only that he was a famous writer. But writers just don’t count as celebrities. That’s because writers are actually required to write something, while celebrities aren’t required to actually do anything at all. In fact, I’ve been told that the official oath of office required of celebrities before their ascension specifically prohibits them from producing anything other than an inane, photo-op smile. So it’snot the celebrity’s glitz and glitter but the celebrity’s complete uselessness, his utter nullity as a human being, that’s at the very core of his celebration. Everybody knows that. That’s why nowadays every couch potato would give anything to be one. Wouldn’t you?
You might already have guessed that I’m not much impressed with celebrities. My parents weren’t either. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that, under the pancake and wig, celebrities are extraordinarily ordinary people? Of course it does, and if you don’t believe it, you just ask one, they’ll tell you. That’s right! Just go out anywhere, right now, and walk up to a bunch of celebrities and ask them straight out, whether or not they’re just ordinary people. I guarantee you that every one of them will tell you the same damned thing. They’ll all tell you—Sure thing, Buster! We’re just regular folks. We’re no different at all from you. I’ve been told that some of them actually believe it.
But now about this Marquand fellow. I’m standing there on deck looking at him. That was his name, J. P. Marquand, and you won’t believe what it is he’s just about to do. In 1937, I think it was, he’d published a book with which at the time I had some familiarity. It was a book about proper Bostonians and I’d read even it. Not because it was a popular fiction, but because I’d long before fallen under the spell of the Forsytes and was interested in what I took to be their Bostonian equivalents. People whose calling it was to be proper. I hadn’t known any such myself. Propriety meant something quite a bit different in the South in which I grew up.
The only Bostonians I’d ever known were members of a men’s club on Canal Street in New Orleans. Although that club was called the Boston Club, I knew the Bostonians one found there were somehow not quite the same animal as those in Marquand’s book. In my young mind, true, proper Bostonians were all Harvard men. They had to be, I knew that much. But I didn’t know any Harvard men. In fact, to this day the only Harvard man I can recall knowing well is Buddy. Buddy’s my only son, Charlton, III. He graduated from Harvard way back there in 1970.
Mr. Marquand’s book was called The Late George Apley. Two years earlier it had won the Pulitzer. And here I am, not forty feet from its author. I’m that young man you see standing there at the ship’s rail on this late June afternoon in 1941. You don’t knowthat young man but I do. Because he’s me. Or, he was me. I seem to remember hearing someone say that as we grow older, when we age, we don’t really change, we just become more ourselves. But if that’s true, then am I not now more him than at that time he was him, himself? I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over that, if I were you.
I can say with some confidence that, as I stand there, I am quite presentable, rather mannerly, not forward or familiar in the least, certainly not abrasive or even brash. In a word, I’m just a young fellow who’s not a threat to anybody. I also happen to be a very serious and sincere young student, not only of language and literature but of human behavior and culture, and there is certainly something about The Late George Apley that I very much want to discuss with its author, and its author is sitting just over there. I have no idea now what it is I feel the need to talk with him about. It could be a matter of form or of substance. Even then, one was as important to me as the other. It may possibly be some ideas I’ve been having about Apley in the light of The Forsyte Saga. Anyway, those are the sorts of things that interest me. Literary matters. That’s the reason I want to speak with Mr. Marquand, and I’m waiting to approach him when I feel that he is most approachable.
Mr. Marquand closes the book he’s been reading and lays it aside before rising from his chair. He stands there for a long moment, stretching himself and straightening his tie. He’s dressed in a suit, you see. Never mind that it’s quite warm. He then strolls over to the rail and stands there, looking out over the sea. He’s not ten feet from me. The moment has arrived. I walk over at my most casual to stand beside him. When I speak to him, it’s the moment I’ve been waiting for, and I’m completely at ease. I can’t remember any details, of course, but I’m sure this is about how it must have gone.
I introduce myself, tell him I’ve read his book about George Apley and liked it very much. I must certainly then have told him that I would very much appreciate an opportunity to—but then I’m suddenly left with nothing more to say—left suddenly speechless, because Mr. Marquand, even as I’m talking to him, has looked me directly in the eye, registered his complete distaste, and abruptly turned his back on me and walked away. An unspeakable, fully intended, carefully choreographed, affront!
I have no idea what could have got into that man—what could possibly have prompted such inexplicable behavior on the part of someone represented to be a gentleman of Boston and a Harvard man. For his was the very sort of calculated, personal insult which, a hundred years earlier, would have guaranteed the firing off of pistols at dawn the next day. At least, in the Deep South it would.
But there were to be better days. There would be another writer whose path would cross with mine on that concert tour. An ambassador who entertained us in his home, and that writer’s reception of me and another Southerner, my friend from Savannah, Sam Ross, would be an entirely different affair. I’ll try to remember to tell you about that some time.
But here, let me read you the other letter.

Via Air Mail
On Board
S. S. Brazil

(Rio de Janeiro – July 3, 1941) The first section of this letter concerns the seven day trip from Barbados to Rio, and I am writing it in the afternoon of July 2 as we make our way down the Brazilian coast, watching a heavy ground-swell break and toss itself up in tall, white towers against the rocks three miles away. We have had near-perfect weather during the twelve days of our trip down. Although Rio is usually uncomfortably warm at this time of year, the report has spread around that our concert there tonight will be blessed with cool weather.
Barbados was a pleasant surprise to me. It is more heavily populated than any region on the earth with the exception of China. We hired a cab (an old Dodge made in Canada and with its steering wheel on the right) and went on a twenty mile drive around the island. By far its chief source of income is sugar cane, and the population is something over ninety per cent Negroid. Even in this out-of-the-way bump in the road they are feeling the effects of Europe’s war and our own National Defense effort. On the door of a dilapidated stone shed near one of the churches we visited there wasfixed a proclamation announcing the registration of all aliens. The girl who waited on us at the “Tip Top Tea Shop”, where we had tea and crumpets in the tradition, told us that the defense work being done by our government on Trinidad had caused a great many people to leave Barbados and make the night’s trip over to Trinidad, where they could expect an answer to the universal cry of shorter hours and more pay.
When we crossed the equator, the ship was cursed, as usual, with the presence of Neptunus Rex, who held court just aft of our swimming pool. We four who had been freshmen, “than which there can be nothing more contemptible on the face of the earth”,were given the dubious honor of heading the list of eighteen selected from the ship’s company to go through the rigors of initiation. Everyone else received a diploma without the discomfort of the “royal works”, which included the “royal doctor””, the “royal barber” and the “royal bath”. The charges trumped up against us were a disgrace to the intelligence of man, but as we finally threw King Neptune (Marshall Bartholomew, our director) and all his court into the swimming pool, the party ended on a brighter note.
Ship life had continued much as it was begun. We have had parties and women and dances and women and bridge and women and drinks and women. The only unpleasant part of the trip has been the service on the boat. The waiters in the dining room seem not so intent on serving the meal as on preserving their explicit equality with the passengers, and the same holds true for stewards and everybody else. It is unfortunate that they do not yet realize that the performance of their jobs has little to do with their personal pretensions. We must all be forever serving someone else, and the one of us who can do that most competently has the best claim to equality if not superiority. The service on the American ships has always been very poor, I understand, but I think probably the present labor shortage has made the situation more acute. I cannot help but feel, however, that it were better for these people to be too aware of our equality, even to confusing it with the performance of their job, than to be too careless of it – to trust its safekeeping to a man who would make the image of the state more sacred than the precious identity of the single human being. You must excuse me if I stray from the matter at hand. From here on I will tell you about our first twelve hours in Rio.
*********
I am afraid that yesterday, when I said that I would tell you about Rio, I set a task for myself which could be done only in part. I cannot tell you about Rio. It is a feeling that I have. It is a song without words.
The boat was rather late making port so we came into Rio harbor, the most beautiful in the world, after dark. Coming slowly in past Sugar Loaf, a high dark mound guarding the entrance to the bay, we were suddenly surrounded by a sparkling horseshoe which revealed only dimly the white buildings of a clean, new city. And standing alone in the sky was a pure white figure of Christ, looking down with open arms to welcome the visitor to a place of refuge. There was a thin mist that completely obscured the soaring pinnacle of rock on which the statue is placed; and the lights focused from below on the monument gave it a mystic aspect. But we knew that it was real
Our concert at the Rio Opera House was scheduled to begin at 9:00, and it was not expected that the boat would dock before 10:30. However, we had arranged to be taken off the boat in launches at the quarantine station. We were half an hour late for the concert after a five thousand mile voyage, and if the Brazil had not been late in leaving New York we would have been right on time.
We sang to a full house, and they received us wonderfully. I have not had time to read the reviews in the Rio papers, but while I was standing out front after the concert waiting for a friend of mine, at least fifteen people came up to me and in everything from perfect English to pure Portuguese poured out their praises. I think that Rio was a little dubious of a university glee club as a top-notch musical organ. But we gave them what they wanted to hear, I suppose.
After the concert we all went to a party at the Copacabana Palace, Rio’s best night spot. My companion for the evening was rare. She spoke excellent English, much better French than I do, and a little German in addition to Portuguese and some Spanish. She had been to the United States, and most rare, she had the imagination and a feeling about things. Her imagination and feelings were both well trained and suited to a certain modesty that would grant her precedence anywhere. She was the best part of the evening for me. I regret that I have not the time to pound out a more detailed account of my impressions of Rio. As I have said, this is a city whose soul you are only aware of. Its secret does not lie about in the gutters nor in the casinos nor anywhere, but only appears half veiled and mysterious like the figure of Christ in the sky, just beyond us, promising to whisper a secret to our hearts delight.

I see now that I say here that our opening concert was given in the Rio Opera House. I could hardly have been mistaken about that since I’m writing that letter right after the concert. The day following, in fact. But there’s an itinerary I saw somewhere in one of my files that gives the basic data for the whole trip, and according to that itinerary, the venue for that opening concert in Rio was to be the Teatro Municipal. Something seems wrong. That itinerary was printed sometime in the spring, before final arrangements were made, and maybe our opener was changed from the Teatro Municipal to the opera house. Or maybe those are only different names for the same theatre. Small matter.
There’s something else a bit strange. I just noticed that in neither of these letters do I even mention the two concerts we gave on board ship. One, I know, to all the ship’s passengers, probably before dinner one night. That would have been the first time we were able to sing all our new Portuguese and Spanish repertoire to an audience before launching it upon Rio. I seem to see everyone assembled in the First Class lounge to hear us, but that’s all I remember.
The other concert was to the ship’s crew, down in the hold. That one to the crew was rather perfunctory, as I recall. More of a brief recital than a concert because there weren’t a great many gathered down there in their lounge to hear us. Most of them had better things to do, I’m sure.
That brings to mind another thing I remember well. That was climbing even further down into the very bowels of the ship, into the belly of the whale if you like, and how impressed I was. As you know, it’s only far down below, there in the engine room with the hairy apes, that you can fully appreciate the power it takes to push an ocean liner through the sea. All that heavy thumping and booming and knocking of those enormous engines. And all the hissing and whu-ush-ing of those slick and ponderous pistons, as they pulse and plunge themselves back and forth, back and forth, in their incessant to and fro.
One other thing. I misspelled the word contemptible. But that’s not unforgivable in someone with just year of college. I’ll bet a lot of people would make that mistake. I was all of nineteen years old when I wrote those letters home, and now, when I read them aloud, it gives me an eerie feeling. A feeling that someone’s walking around in the graveyard where I’m to be buried. And then, when I take a closer look, I recognize that someone, and that someone is me. Not me as I am now, but me when I was nineteen. Imagine it! The warp of space is of course the warp of time, and so, as I hear my voice reading those letters, I’m listening to the boy I was sixty-five years ago. I’m hearing myself talking to my parents. But not to worry too much. Just another short flight of fancy.
There was one final thing that caught my eye as I was reading. I do not remember myself as being at that time much interested in government or politics, so I can hardly believe that I would offer my parents a definition of Fascism. But see here, I’ve personified the Third Reich as a man who would make the image of the state more sacred than the precious identity of the single human being. That’s what I say, isn’t it? And all these years I’ve thought of myself as having been a boy who would have been largely oblivious of what it was that lead all those German people to do what they did.
Let me tell you this much about that first concert in Rio. Villa-Lobos—Heitor Villa-Lobos—was, of course, himself in the opera house at that opening concert, but that was not all. When we first walked out, Villa-Lobos left his box to come up on stage with us and stand there beside Barty. This had all been prearranged, and it was not Barty but Villa-Lobos who conducted us in the first thing we sang that night. Naturally, it was the Brazilian national anthem. And fortunately, it didn’t much matter how our new friend Heitor conducted it. We could have sung it at any tempo he set and done so in our sleep if he’d asked!
But then, after hearing a few bars from us and being pleased with what he’d heard, Villa-Lobos turned away from the stage to conduct the house full of Brazilians sitting out there. And guess what? There was almost no response from the audience. From his own countrymen came almost total silence. They didn’t know it! They couldn’t sing their own national anthem!
Except for the reviews of the concerts we gave in Rio, I have a copy of all the reviews of all of our formal concerts down there. Those reviews in the Rio papers have mostly disappeared, but I do have a fragment of one writer’s review of our opening concert the evening we arrived. It’s in the second paragraph that he describes what happened when Villa-Lobos came up onstage with us. I’ve got it right here with me, so I can quote you the end of what that reviewer had to say. This is all I have of it, the last two paragraphs.

The propaganda by these students is of the very best: artistic, a perfect performance in the field of choral singing, because it was a most edifying example which might be followed by our university students who choose much less interesting pastimes.

The truth is that in spite of the titanic efforts of Villa-Lobos, we still do not know how to sing in Brazil. And the proof of this, sad as it is, was when the Maestro directed the Brazilian National Anthem and turned toward the audience to lead them, but could find only a half a dozen who could sing it.

Those reviews might make interesting reading for anyone with a personal interest in such things. One encomium after another, everywhere we sang. They’re something else for an appendix. That is, if ever I do knuckle down and bite the bullet.
I’m sorry you can’t stay to hear more about that tour but maybe another time? As it happened, those two letters I just read to you were the only letters I wrote home on the whole trip. My parents never heard another word from me. Not until they met me at the boat on our arrival back in New York. I couldn’t write another letter. No time. Too busy. Something going on every minute of every eighteen hour day for the rest of the tour.
After our opening that night in Rio, it was only about five days later that the Brazil was steaming past the Graf Spee, and then, less than six months later, the elegant S.S. Brazil was having her own insides scoured out to be refitted for service as a troop ship in the war. That’s how fast things everything moved along after Pearl Harbor.
Before I let you go, I want you to hear something that Peggy said in Southern at lunch the other day. When I’d described to her how Mr. Marquand had snubbed me that day on the way to Rio, Peggy said, Well, now! Wasn’t he the tacky one!
Away to Rio!

Too bad you arrived in time to hear only the end of it. So fare ye well, my bonnie young girl, we are bound for Rio Grande! You should have heard the whole song. We recorded it in the very late autumn of the world into which I was born. That was the autumn of 1941, just before Pearl Harbor when the long winter of the war set in. By we, I mean the all-male chorus with which I sang nearly the whole of the time I was at Yale. The Yale Glee Club.
About thirty or thirty-five of us went down to New York and recorded it in the most famous recording studio of the day, Liederkranz Hall. Liederkranz? Well, Liederkranz is the name of that cheese, of course, the one with its own distinctive, shall we say, “nose”? But in German, Liederkranz means something like a garland of songs. I’d be pretty sure that it’s in that sense that Liederkranz Hall was named. But there’s another sense in which the German uses their word Liederkranz, another meaning for it, and that’s to mean a men’s singing society. And that was just what we were when we went there and made that album, a men’s singing society.
That was a sea chantey, that song you heard only the end of. Sea chanteys were the songs sailors sang as they worked. You may know this one as Away Rio!, but some years before that summer of 1941, when we ourselves set sail for Rio, Barty made his own arrangement of it, and the title he gave it was slightly different. Away to Rio!
Who was Barty? Barty was Marshall Bartholomew and he was our music director and he was our conductor and he was the arranger of many of the things we sang, including that song you heard on that disk. We recorded some dozen or more songs for Columbia Records, but only two or three were chanteys. That one, Away Rio!, is one of the more popular of those work songs that seamen sang in the days when iron men sailed wooden ships flying canvass sails. It’s an old standard, and every time I hear it, the memories of that long ago summer come crashing over me in wave-after-emotional-wave, and I’m taken right back again into the midst of all that intense excitement, that taut sense of expectation followed by the relaxed joy of fulfillment that came to us from singing to all those tens of thousands of people down there in South America. Most of them had never heard a good male chorus sing and they were stunned but it. That summer may have been the greatest, the most wonderful summer of my life. The summer of 1941. The last summer before the war.
The Yale Glee Club had sung its way through Europe many times, but ours was its first-ever concert tour of South America. We went at the behest of the State Department, as part of our South American foreign policy. Something called The Good Neighbor Policy. That’s why it was not only sponsored by our government, it was strongly supported by all our embassies everywhere we went. Best of all, the government picked up the tab, so that whole trip cost me almost nothing. Well, not me, my parents.
It was in the fall following that tour that those of us who hadn’t graduated went down to New York and recorded those songs for Columbia. It was just last year that my own old copy of that four-record album turned up at the bottom of the stack, but I couldn’t listen to it. I found a turntable but I could never locate a needle of the right size, so I sent it off and had those four records transferred to a disk. It was just last month that I discovered in some of my father’s old files two letters I’d written my parents from shipboard on our way down to Rio. On our way to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where we arrived barely in time to sing our opening concert.
The liner we sailed on from New York was named, appropriately enough, the S.S. Brazil. I remember that I used the typewriter in the purser’s office to write this first letter I’ll read to you. It was posted home when we reached Barbados. That was our only port of call before Rio. Remember now, this is 1941.

Via Air Mail
On Board
S. S. Brazil

(Barbados-June 25) The Yale Glee Club has completed the first stage of its combined good-will mission and concert tour of South America. We have called at Barbados, a small British island in the eastern Caribbean, and it is from there that I airmail this account of the first 1836 miles of a seven weeks’ trek that will carry us some 13,000 miles before we arrive back in New York on August 11.
Ours is a big job: we must sing to the America “down under,” learn their ways, and show them ours in an attempt to strengthen Pan-American unity through the medium of music. I have heard and read that South Americans are an emotional people. Music might well be a better way to impress our kindred, free, singing spirits than much talk or a distant declaration of friendship. Anyhow, we mean to have a try at it, and in the process we shall certainly experience enough to keep this typewriter clicking for a long time.
We sailed on the S.S. Brazil from New York at midnight June 20th. A sailing for South America is something a little different from ordinary sailings, and because of the then recent sinking of the Robin Moor, there was a high excitement which touched the voice of the crowd with a tense tone of possible danger. We were to be twelve days at sea. Much can happen in twelve days these swift times.

Let me interrupt myself here to say something about that ominous sense I was trying to convey of the danger of those times. There was a dark foreboding hanging over our country then and the danger was real. But as you know, danger can also be not a little exciting. What’s more, we’d hardly put out to sea, when news came that Hitler had launched his great eastern army against the Soviets, and that further confirmed our fear that war was imminent. That we might not ever see safe harbor in Rio but might fall off the edge of the world instead.

There could never have been such a ship as this for good will. Just as “National Defense” has become in the United States a slogan for the sale of everything from hair pins to yachts, just so has “good will” become the cry of many who are interested rather in the satisfaction of their stomachs. But you could hardly find a more interesting passenger list. Traveling Tourist Class with us there are seven ballet dancers, each with lines decidedly Zorinesque — only more so. It is therefore clear that we have already set about the business of being Yale-fellows-well-met. I might say that these graceful creatures are somewhat disappointing as partners in the dance; it is too much like driving a high-powered automobile down a dirt road. One of them, Vela Ceres, is a New Orleans girl.
There are also two West Pointers on a semi-official visit to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile. It seems that their chief occupation will be to bestow wreaths on the tombs of the heroic dead and to kiss the either cheek of the less heroic but more appreciative living.

I’ve got to stop again for a word or two about those West Pointers. Let me read you this diary entry for April 12, 1942. Shot West Point in skeet today at Lordship. Saw Lee Hamerly. Met two cows: Conrad Koerper & Ed Bennet. They said Bill Knowlton (sp?) West Pointer I met on S. American trip sent me his best & I returned it. Even now, I can picture Bill Knowlton. Tall, nice looking, gentlemanly fellow. Just the man for The Point to pick for a good will mission by our military to South America. I was on Yale’s skeet team all the while I was in college and we went a number of times to West Point to shoot against their teams. In fact, we were quick to go there because at every post there were unlimited shells and we could shoot as many practice rounds as we liked, and all of it was free.
There was another attraction. We’d go there on weekends, shoot skeet all afternoon down under the bluff by the Hudson, have supper with them at the visitors’ mess table and then go to a movie or a dance. And there were girls there, too, those weekends, and those girls would all have to be off the base by midnight and they’d all be staying at the Thayer Hotel, just outside the gate. That’s where our skeet team always just happened to stay, too, at the Thayer. I mention Lee Hamerly, Conrad Koerper and Ed Bennet. Their names all find a resonance in my head but I can’t find their faces.

There is a group of Experimenters in International Living which includes two sisters from Smith and a boy from Harvard. There is a large number of assorted South Americans from whom I have learned a little of what to expect. One Brazilian lady who had gone to college at Penn State told me that we would be very well received in her country, probably better than in Chile and Argentina.”

She was right about our reception in Brazil, but not about the reception we’d receive elsewhere in South America. As it turned out, they loved us everywhere we went. Oh, my God! how they did love us down there! But let me read you some more of what I told my parents.

There are a great many professional entertainers on board, including a trick bicyclist and three dance teams in addition to our glee club and the ballet dancers. It would seem that American entertainers are in great demand by the casinos and bistros of Rio and B.A. (an American simplification of the mysteries of Buenos Aires) just as the Carmen Miranda and the Bidu Sayaos are at present among the brightest stars in our country.
Last and least there are six or eight Powers models traveling First Class, passive creatures who spend their conscious hours demonstrating an interminable wardrobe. And at night they usually come back to our [Tourist Class] bar room where they sit like tall, cool drinks of vinegar and long for the days when they were human.
As for the routine on board we have breakfast about nine, then rehearse from ten until eleven thirty. An hour in the sun on deck, swimming and playing games or chewing the rag, and then lunch followed by a half hour part rehearsal. More sun bathing and an hour’s rehearsal again at four. We have the rest of the day and night for bridge, dancing to the ship’s orchestra, star gazing, or just bending an elbow with the boys.
It might at first sight seem strange that we are spending so much time rehearsing; but there was not much time during May and June at college to spend learning the many new songs we are going to use on this trip, so we have been forced to do a lot of hard labor on the way down. We have two complete programs of thirty songs each, all of which were selected especially for South American audiences by Marshall Bartholomew. When we arrive at Rio de Janeiro we will have ten or twelve Spanish and Portuguese numbers which we will be able to use in addition to over fifty English, Latin,and Italian songs. This does not include quite a few Yale Songs. ThePortuguese compositions, most of which are the work of South America’s greatest composer, Villa-Lobos, and the Spanish things are to constitute a program early next fall by the Yale Glee Club in New York. They are top-notch. We are very anxious to know what Rio, where we give our first concert on the night of July fourth, will think of us, but we are not worried. Anyway, we shall soon know.

That’s the end of that first letter. Did you hear that reference to a ship named the Robin Moor? You didn’t notice? Well then, I’d better explain. Exactly one month before our ship departed New York, a German U-boat operating in the Atlantic had stopped an unarmed American freighter some 900 miles of the coast of Brazil and sent her to the bottom. We weren’t yet in the war, you know, and she had American flags painted all over her, but that didn’t save her. She was the Robin Moor, the first American merchantman sunk by the German Navy. In Homer’s war, we’re told that Helen launched a thousand ships, but how many were sunk, I don’t think Homer says. Virgil doesn’t either, as I recall. In Hitler’s war, to the contrary, I have no idea how many were launched, but I do know how many were sunk—50,000. Can you even imagine such a number? But it’s true. 50,000 ships were sunk during the war!
And then on June 20, 1941—the very same day we sailed for Rio on the Brazil—President Roosevelt addressed a message to Congress in which he said that the sinking of the Robin Moor was a warning to us from the Germans that our country’s ships could henceforth use the high seas only with the leave of the Nazis. Sinking the Robin Moor was Hitler’s proclamation to the world that the high seas would now belong to him.
And in addition to all that, we knew that very soon we’d be putting in at Montevideo, and that we’d be sailing past the visible remains of the Graf Spee. The Graf Spee was the German pocket battleship scuttled in shallow water just outside Montevideo only eighteen months before. Only one life was lost, and that, the life of her Captain. It seems only yesterday that we steamed past the Graff Spee. Only her superstructure was out of the water, sticking up like a grave stone set in the sea. I can see myself now, standing there at the starboard rail when we passed her by. But of the Robin Moor, I could remember nothing. I had to go to the Web to find out why I’d even mentioned her. So it was no wonder that as we prepared to cast off, the excitement lit up the sky all around us the way heat lightening does on a heavy summer night.
Here now, take a closer look at the paper these letters are written on. This is the Brazil’s own letterhead. The purser gave it to me. And look! That stationary is marked specifically for delivery by air mail. Par avion! Wow! Air mail, you see, was something then still rather new in our small world. You see how small these sheets of paper are? They’re less than five inches wide, really only note paper. And you see there? I’ve written on both sides of every sheet. That was common practice then. Saved a lot of money.
In that letter I’ve just read, I’ve described only a few of the ship’s passengers, but there were others I could have written home about. There was one gentleman on board, one gentleman in particular whom I completely left out of that letter. And although he’s left out, I remember that gentleman very, very well indeed. I can see him now, clear as a bell. He’s on the promenade deck, amidships the port side, stretched out in his First Class deck chair. He’s had the deck steward place it so he’d have the afternoon shade. He’s reading. There’s a young girl, ten or twelve years old, in the chair beside him. I’ve seen them together before. I’m guessing she’s his daughter, maybe his niece. They’re definitely related.
But it’s him I’m interested in. And I’m interested in him because of who he is. Because gossip about him has already spread instantly among the passengers. I would use that old, thread-bare expression—the news spread like wild fire—but in this case, there’s a more apposite simile, so I’ll use it. The news of his identity spread among the passengers like food poisoning on a cruise ship.
People nowadays would say he was a celebrity, but I’m not at all sure that in those days the word celebrity carried with it the sense it does now. I think that people then were more apt to have said only that he was a famous writer. But writers just don’t count as celebrities. That’s because writers are actually required to write something, while celebrities aren’t required to actually do anything at all. In fact, I’ve been told that the official oath of office required of celebrities before their ascension specifically prohibits them from producing anything other than an inane, photo-op smile. So it’snot the celebrity’s glitz and glitter but the celebrity’s complete uselessness, his utter nullity as a human being, that’s at the very core of his celebration. Everybody knows that. That’s why nowadays every couch potato would give anything to be one. Wouldn’t you?
You might already have guessed that I’m not much impressed with celebrities. My parents weren’t either. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that, under the pancake and wig, celebrities are extraordinarily ordinary people? Of course it does, and if you don’t believe it, you just ask one, they’ll tell you. That’s right! Just go out anywhere, right now, and walk up to a bunch of celebrities and ask them straight out, whether or not they’re just ordinary people. I guarantee you that every one of them will tell you the same damned thing. They’ll all tell you—Sure thing, Buster! We’re just regular folks. We’re no different at all from you. I’ve been told that some of them actually believe it.
But now about this Marquand fellow. I’m standing there on deck looking at him. That was his name, J. P. Marquand, and you won’t believe what it is he’s just about to do. In 1937, I think it was, he’d published a book with which at the time I had some familiarity. It was a book about proper Bostonians and I’d read even it. Not because it was a popular fiction, but because I’d long before fallen under the spell of the Forsytes and was interested in what I took to be their Bostonian equivalents. People whose calling it was to be proper. I hadn’t known any such myself. Propriety meant something quite a bit different in the South in which I grew up.
The only Bostonians I’d ever known were members of a men’s club on Canal Street in New Orleans. Although that club was called the Boston Club, I knew the Bostonians one found there were somehow not quite the same animal as those in Marquand’s book. In my young mind, true, proper Bostonians were all Harvard men. They had to be, I knew that much. But I didn’t know any Harvard men. In fact, to this day the only Harvard man I can recall knowing well is Buddy. Buddy’s my only son, Charlton, III. He graduated from Harvard way back there in 1970.
Mr. Marquand’s book was called The Late George Apley. Two years earlier it had won the Pulitzer. And here I am, not forty feet from its author. I’m that young man you see standing there at the ship’s rail on this late June afternoon in 1941. You don’t knowthat young man but I do. Because he’s me. Or, he was me. I seem to remember hearing someone say that as we grow older, when we age, we don’t really change, we just become more ourselves. But if that’s true, then am I not now more him than at that time he was him, himself? I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over that, if I were you.
I can say with some confidence that, as I stand there, I am quite presentable, rather mannerly, not forward or familiar in the least, certainly not abrasive or even brash. In a word, I’m just a young fellow who’s not a threat to anybody. I also happen to be a very serious and sincere young student, not only of language and literature but of human behavior and culture, and there is certainly something about The Late George Apley that I very much want to discuss with its author, and its author is sitting just over there. I have no idea now what it is I feel the need to talk with him about. It could be a matter of form or of substance. Even then, one was as important to me as the other. It may possibly be some ideas I’ve been having about Apley in the light of The Forsyte Saga. Anyway, those are the sorts of things that interest me. Literary matters. That’s the reason I want to speak with Mr. Marquand, and I’m waiting to approach him when I feel that he is most approachable.
Mr. Marquand closes the book he’s been reading and lays it aside before rising from his chair. He stands there for a long moment, stretching himself and straightening his tie. He’s dressed in a suit, you see. Never mind that it’s quite warm. He then strolls over to the rail and stands there, looking out over the sea. He’s not ten feet from me. The moment has arrived. I walk over at my most casual to stand beside him. When I speak to him, it’s the moment I’ve been waiting for, and I’m completely at ease. I can’t remember any details, of course, but I’m sure this is about how it must have gone.
I introduce myself, tell him I’ve read his book about George Apley and liked it very much. I must certainly then have told him that I would very much appreciate an opportunity to—but then I’m suddenly left with nothing more to say—left suddenly speechless, because Mr. Marquand, even as I’m talking to him, has looked me directly in the eye, registered his complete distaste, and abruptly turned his back on me and walked away. An unspeakable, fully intended, carefully choreographed, affront!
I have no idea what could have got into that man—what could possibly have prompted such inexplicable behavior on the part of someone represented to be a gentleman of Boston and a Harvard man. For his was the very sort of calculated, personal insult which, a hundred years earlier, would have guaranteed the firing off of pistols at dawn the next day. At least, in the Deep South it would.
But there were to be better days. There would be another writer whose path would cross with mine on that concert tour. An ambassador who entertained us in his home, and that writer’s reception of me and another Southerner, my friend from Savannah, Sam Ross, would be an entirely different affair. I’ll try to remember to tell you about that some time.
But here, let me read you the other letter.

Via Air Mail
On Board
S. S. Brazil

(Rio de Janeiro – July 3, 1941) The first section of this letter concerns the seven day trip from Barbados to Rio, and I am writing it in the afternoon of July 2 as we make our way down the Brazilian coast, watching a heavy ground-swell break and toss itself up in tall, white towers against the rocks three miles away. We have had near-perfect weather during the twelve days of our trip down. Although Rio is usually uncomfortably warm at this time of year, the report has spread around that our concert there tonight will be blessed with cool weather.
Barbados was a pleasant surprise to me. It is more heavily populated than any region on the earth with the exception of China. We hired a cab (an old Dodge made in Canada and with its steering wheel on the right) and went on a twenty mile drive around the island. By far its chief source of income is sugar cane, and the population is something over ninety per cent Negroid. Even in this out-of-the-way bump in the road they are feeling the effects of Europe’s war and our own National Defense effort. On the door of a dilapidated stone shed near one of the churches we visited there wasfixed a proclamation announcing the registration of all aliens. The girl who waited on us at the “Tip Top Tea Shop”, where we had tea and crumpets in the tradition, told us that the defense work being done by our government on Trinidad had caused a great many people to leave Barbados and make the night’s trip over to Trinidad, where they could expect an answer to the universal cry of shorter hours and more pay.
When we crossed the equator, the ship was cursed, as usual, with the presence of Neptunus Rex, who held court just aft of our swimming pool. We four who had been freshmen, “than which there can be nothing more contemptible on the face of the earth”,were given the dubious honor of heading the list of eighteen selected from the ship’s company to go through the rigors of initiation. Everyone else received a diploma without the discomfort of the “royal works”, which included the “royal doctor””, the “royal barber” and the “royal bath”. The charges trumped up against us were a disgrace to the intelligence of man, but as we finally threw King Neptune (Marshall Bartholomew, our director) and all his court into the swimming pool, the party ended on a brighter note.
Ship life had continued much as it was begun. We have had parties and women and dances and women and bridge and women and drinks and women. The only unpleasant part of the trip has been the service on the boat. The waiters in the dining room seem not so intent on serving the meal as on preserving their explicit equality with the passengers, and the same holds true for stewards and everybody else. It is unfortunate that they do not yet realize that the performance of their jobs has little to do with their personal pretensions. We must all be forever serving someone else, and the one of us who can do that most competently has the best claim to equality if not superiority. The service on the American ships has always been very poor, I understand, but I think probably the present labor shortage has made the situation more acute. I cannot help but feel, however, that it were better for these people to be too aware of our equality, even to confusing it with the performance of their job, than to be too careless of it – to trust its safekeeping to a man who would make the image of the state more sacred than the precious identity of the single human being. You must excuse me if I stray from the matter at hand. From here on I will tell you about our first twelve hours in Rio.
*********
I am afraid that yesterday, when I said that I would tell you about Rio, I set a task for myself which could be done only in part. I cannot tell you about Rio. It is a feeling that I have. It is a song without words.
The boat was rather late making port so we came into Rio harbor, the most beautiful in the world, after dark. Coming slowly in past Sugar Loaf, a high dark mound guarding the entrance to the bay, we were suddenly surrounded by a sparkling horseshoe which revealed only dimly the white buildings of a clean, new city. And standing alone in the sky was a pure white figure of Christ, looking down with open arms to welcome the visitor to a place of refuge. There was a thin mist that completely obscured the soaring pinnacle of rock on which the statue is placed; and the lights focused from below on the monument gave it a mystic aspect. But we knew that it was real
Our concert at the Rio Opera House was scheduled to begin at 9:00, and it was not expected that the boat would dock before 10:30. However, we had arranged to be taken off the boat in launches at the quarantine station. We were half an hour late for the concert after a five thousand mile voyage, and if the Brazil had not been late in leaving New York we would have been right on time.
We sang to a full house, and they received us wonderfully. I have not had time to read the reviews in the Rio papers, but while I was standing out front after the concert waiting for a friend of mine, at least fifteen people came up to me and in everything from perfect English to pure Portuguese poured out their praises. I think that Rio was a little dubious of a university glee club as a top-notch musical organ. But we gave them what they wanted to hear, I suppose.
After the concert we all went to a party at the Copacabana Palace, Rio’s best night spot. My companion for the evening was rare. She spoke excellent English, much better French than I do, and a little German in addition to Portuguese and some Spanish. She had been to the United States, and most rare, she had the imagination and a feeling about things. Her imagination and feelings were both well trained and suited to a certain modesty that would grant her precedence anywhere. She was the best part of the evening for me. I regret that I have not the time to pound out a more detailed account of my impressions of Rio. As I have said, this is a city whose soul you are only aware of. Its secret does not lie about in the gutters nor in the casinos nor anywhere, but only appears half veiled and mysterious like the figure of Christ in the sky, just beyond us, promising to whisper a secret to our hearts delight.

I see now that I say here that our opening concert was given in the Rio Opera House. I could hardly have been mistaken about that since I’m writing that letter right after the concert. The day following, in fact. But there’s an itinerary I saw somewhere in one of my files that gives the basic data for the whole trip, and according to that itinerary, the venue for that opening concert in Rio was to be the Teatro Municipal. Something seems wrong. That itinerary was printed sometime in the spring, before final arrangements were made, and maybe our opener was changed from the Teatro Municipal to the opera house. Or maybe those are only different names for the same theatre. Small matter.
There’s something else a bit strange. I just noticed that in neither of these letters do I even mention the two concerts we gave on board ship. One, I know, to all the ship’s passengers, probably before dinner one night. That would have been the first time we were able to sing all our new Portuguese and Spanish repertoire to an audience before launching it upon Rio. I seem to see everyone assembled in the First Class lounge to hear us, but that’s all I remember.
The other concert was to the ship’s crew, down in the hold. That one to the crew was rather perfunctory, as I recall. More of a brief recital than a concert because there weren’t a great many gathered down there in their lounge to hear us. Most of them had better things to do, I’m sure.
That brings to mind another thing I remember well. That was climbing even further down into the very bowels of the ship, into the belly of the whale if you like, and how impressed I was. As you know, it’s only far down below, there in the engine room with the hairy apes, that you can fully appreciate the power it takes to push an ocean liner through the sea. All that heavy thumping and booming and knocking of those enormous engines. And all the hissing and whu-ush-ing of those slick and ponderous pistons, as they pulse and plunge themselves back and forth, back and forth, in their incessant to and fro.
One other thing. I misspelled the word contemptible. But that’s not unforgivable in someone with just year of college. I’ll bet a lot of people would make that mistake. I was all of nineteen years old when I wrote those letters home, and now, when I read them aloud, it gives me an eerie feeling. A feeling that someone’s walking around in the graveyard where I’m to be buried. And then, when I take a closer look, I recognize that someone, and that someone is me. Not me as I am now, but me when I was nineteen. Imagine it! The warp of space is of course the warp of time, and so, as I hear my voice reading those letters, I’m listening to the boy I was sixty-five years ago. I’m hearing myself talking to my parents. But not to worry too much. Just another short flight of fancy.
There was one final thing that caught my eye as I was reading. I do not remember myself as being at that time much interested in government or politics, so I can hardly believe that I would offer my parents a definition of Fascism. But see here, I’ve personified the Third Reich as a man who would make the image of the state more sacred than the precious identity of the single human being. That’s what I say, isn’t it? And all these years I’ve thought of myself as having been a boy who would have been largely oblivious of what it was that lead all those German people to do what they did.
Let me tell you this much about that first concert in Rio. Villa-Lobos—Heitor Villa-Lobos—was, of course, himself in the opera house at that opening concert, but that was not all. When we first walked out, Villa-Lobos left his box to come up on stage with us and stand there beside Barty. This had all been prearranged, and it was not Barty but Villa-Lobos who conducted us in the first thing we sang that night. Naturally, it was the Brazilian national anthem. And fortunately, it didn’t much matter how our new friend Heitor conducted it. We could have sung it at any tempo he set and done so in our sleep if he’d asked!
But then, after hearing a few bars from us and being pleased with what he’d heard, Villa-Lobos turned away from the stage to conduct the house full of Brazilians sitting out there. And guess what? There was almost no response from the audience. From his own countrymen came almost total silence. They didn’t know it! They couldn’t sing their own national anthem!
Except for the reviews of the concerts we gave in Rio, I have a copy of all the reviews of all of our formal concerts down there. Those reviews in the Rio papers have mostly disappeared, but I do have a fragment of one writer’s review of our opening concert the evening we arrived. It’s in the second paragraph that he describes what happened when Villa-Lobos came up onstage with us. I’ve got it right here with me, so I can quote you the end of what that reviewer had to say. This is all I have of it, the last two paragraphs.

The propaganda by these students is of the very best: artistic, a perfect performance in the field of choral singing, because it was a most edifying example which might be followed by our university students who choose much less interesting pastimes.

The truth is that in spite of the titanic efforts of Villa-Lobos, we still do not know how to sing in Brazil. And the proof of this, sad as it is, was when the Maestro directed the Brazilian National Anthem and turned toward the audience to lead them, but could find only a half a dozen who could sing it.

Those reviews might make interesting reading for anyone with a personal interest in such things. One encomium after another, everywhere we sang. They’re something else for an appendix. That is, if ever I do knuckle down and bite the bullet.
I’m sorry you can’t stay to hear more about that tour but maybe another time? As it happened, those two letters I just read to you were the only letters I wrote home on the whole trip. My parents never heard another word from me. Not until they met me at the boat on our arrival back in New York. I couldn’t write another letter. No time. Too busy. Something going on every minute of every eighteen hour day for the rest of the tour.
After our opening that night in Rio, it was only about five days later that the Brazil was steaming past the Graf Spee, and then, less than six months later, the elegant S.S. Brazil was having her own insides scoured out to be refitted for service as a troop ship in the war. That’s how fast things everything moved along after Pearl Harbor.
Before I let you go, I want you to hear something that Peggy said in Southern at lunch the other day. When I’d described to her how Mr. Marquand had snubbed me that day on the way to Rio, Peggy said, Well, now! Wasn’t he the tacky one!


Escales: Ports of Call

If you remember, one evening some time back I was telling you about that concert tour the Yale Glee Club made of South America in 1941. I told you only how it began. Well, now I want to tell you the rest of the story. It won’t take long, I promise.
Immediately after the second of those two formal evening concerts in Rio, we boarded a train at midnight that took us to São Paulo. São Paulo is now the largest city in the southern hemisphere, did you know that? We sang there at nine that night and once again we left right after the concert, this time by special train. We were the only passengers on board when we headed back to the coast, to Santos. At that time there was more coffee shipped out of Santos than out of all the other coffee ports in the world combined. Right there above Santos the coastline is so severe, so steep, so precipitous, that, quite literally, our train had to be slowly lowered down to the level of the station by cogs laid between the tracks.
It was on July 5th that we arrived in Santos, and what did we do when we got there but climb right back on board the Brazil! We’d left her back in Rio, you remember, but Santos was her next port of call on her way down the coast of Brazil to Uruguay. That’s where we were to sing next, in Montevideo.
A day and a half of steady steaming gets you from Santos to Montevideo, where we were scheduled to sing on the night of the 7th. We badly needed the rest and we could have slept in, but we didn’t. No, we were all up especially early that morning. I can see us now, strung out along the starboard rail as the Brazil coasted close inshore on her approach to the harbor. The war had begun in September of 1939, and we were waiting to catch our first sight of it. Hostilities had hardly begun when the Admiral Graf Spee was sinking enemy shipping in the South Atlantic. If you’ve never heard of her, the Graf Spee was a much feared German pocket battleship. She, along with the Bismarck, was the most famous of all the ships in the whole German navy. Both those battle ships died early. The Bismarck had been sunk only the month before, as all of us stood there on deck, looking at the ghost of the Graf Spee.
The first real naval battle of the war was between the Graf Spee and three smaller British men of war, and it had taken place very close to where we were, in the estuary of the River Plate. I’ll spare you the details, but her captain, Hans Langsdorff, had scuttled her not far out of Montevideo. I can still see the head and shoulders of the Graf Spee’s bony carcass. She was right there between us and the shore, only a couple of hundred yards to starboard. Right there! All of her superstructure and even a bit of her deck still showing, her captain having sunk and abandoned her, half-buried in the sea. It gave us all a sense that something dreadful had happened there. And that something equally dark and dreadful was impending over our own lives. The silence was eerie. No one said a word, as we sailed past the grave of the Graf Spee to sing concerts that night, and the next, in Montevideo. We sang in a handsome hall called the Auditorio del Sedro, just as though nothing at all had happened.
Although he had doubtless saved the lives of all his crew, Langsdorff, by electing to send his wounded ship to her shallow grave, had also effectively sent himself to his. He and the skeleton crew he had with him, after opening the veins of that great gray vessel up to the ocean, had made their way in a small boat across the broad mouth of the Plate to Buenos Aires. Langsdorff went straight to a hotel and, as I understand it, wrote some letters to his family, before picking up his pistol, lying down on his ship’s battle ensign and blowing his brains out.
I’ve always wondered what he might have said in those letters he wrote home. Maybe there are scholars somewhere in Germany who know. I’d like myself to think that he killed himself to protect his family. That’s what Rommel did. Maybe Langsdorff had come to realize who Hitler actually was, maybe not. But think about it now. That Adolph Hitler we all see as so malign, was he not one of us? Of course he was! And more than that, someone beloved, even idolized by millions. No doubt tens of thousands still do. Oh, yes, Hitler was one of our own all right. One of our very own!
You don’t understand that at all, do you? But I’ve got to say it, got to constantly remind myself of it, because I believe it’s true. Even looking down from my ivory tower, I see myself as part of the main whether I like it or not. But being part of the main doesn’t, in itself, make us responsible for the acts of all those others, does it? Bearing the burden of our own is quite enough, don’t you think?
Oh, yes, I am quite sensible of the enormous efforts made since the war by the Germans—especially the people of West Germany—to acknowledge the horror their country became under Hitler. The enormous damage their country did to a very large part of the world. I have the distinct impression that they’ve made every admission, performed every act of contrition and remorse that I could have reasonably expected, ever imagined. And most of it coming from people not themselves responsible. But then, these Germans of today are the descendants of that highly cultured, hard working people I so much admired when I was a boy, so there’s got to be something left of that.
For a long time I hated the living hell out of that country and every damned person in it, but now I think I’m OK with it. I can certainly exonerate all of those who played no part in committing those ghastly crimes. For instance, those hundreds and hundreds of little children we found warehoused there in Bad Heilbrunn when we first moved in. Most of them had been brought—God knows how!—from the firestorm that had been Hamburg. Only a few of them had mothers left. And those little children, they, too, were among those who were left to apologize! My God Almighty!
Here’s a couple of scraps from El Dia, Montevideo’s leading newspaper. This is from the July 8th edition.

It should be pointed out that the presence of this chorus in
Montevideo is one of the most pleasing and the most positive aspects of the cultural exchange which is taking place
between Uruguay and the United States. The Yale students
are typical exponents of the North American colleges. Tall,
gay, with an air of tranquil ease, they showed by their
manners the characteristic freedom and poise of the North
American. Even while still on board ship, waiting to land,
they sang several beautiful songs of their country.

The writer then went on and on, expatiating on the virtuosity of our singing. If I haven’t mentioned it, not only did we sing regular formal concerts at night—two such in Montevideo—but during the day we’d go about to schools and colleges and that’s where we’d sing and mix with people our own age. Just listen to this little sound-bite from a very lengthy piece that appeared in El Dia on July 9th, the next day. This was by no means all of it. The writer went on and on in the same vein.

North American and Uruguayian students were gathered
together yesterday in the University in a beautiful act of
brotherhood. The Yale Glee Club in a public function
organized by the Uruguay Student Federatio, was
welcomed and honored in the university assembly hall.
Our students wished to express the pleasure which they feel
in the visit of these boys who have come to Montevideo to
ring an example of the spirit of American youth, a pleasant
mission of cultural exchange.

It ought to be said that we have never seen such a large
crowd as gathered yesterday in the assembly hall of the
university. Students from all schools and departments, from
private schools such as the Crandon Institute and Licee
Francais, came in great numbers to welcome these friendl
guests. The orchestra and the gallery were filled to the top
and even the entrance stairways were crowded. When the
Yale students appeared on the platform the unanimous
ovation lasting for several minutes expressed the respect o
these Uruguayian colleagues.

That was the sort of reception we received from young people all over South America. Here are snippets from each of the two papers in São Paulo, but I have eight single-spaced pages of encomia like these from papers everywhere we went. This is from the Diario de São Paulo.

The discipline, perfect pitch, perfect taste with which the
program was chosen deserves the highest praise. A beautiful
concert and even more a beautiful lesson to us.


And from the Correio Paulistano.

Much was expected of this chorus for its fame had preceded
it from the United States and there were excellent reports of
its concerts in Rio. Yet this performance far surpassed all
expectations and each number called forth a thunder of
applause. The theatre yesterday was too small to hold the
multitudes that wished to attend this concert. The enthusiasm
and applause lasted through the entire performance.

From Montevideo, we went to Buenos Aires for six days, with over-night side trips to sing in La Plata and Rosario. Then, off by train across the Argentine pampas to sing in Mendoza, a wine city at the foothills of the Andes. From there we crossed the Andes. Not all the way by train as scheduled but partly by bus. A stretch of track had been taken out by an avalanche a few days before we got there. We sang two formal concerts in Santiago, then five days of sight-seeing, a lot of singing to our peers and not a little socializing.
One of those social events was a large dinner party held for us one evening by our ambassador to Chile. All our ambassadors everywhere had honored us in some way, generally with a reception for the more important locals held in the embassy. Our ambassador to Chile was different, and so was the party he gave us for us in his home. His name was Claude Bowers, and not only was he an orator and diplomat but he was a writer of some importance. He’d previously been Roosevelt’s ambassador to Spain, but that was during the Spanish Civil War. It seems to me he had to keep office mainly in Paris. It was too dangerous for him in Madrid.
Sam Ross had been my friend and fellow first tenor both at Lawrenceville and at Yale. Sam was from Savannah, Georgia, and both he and I, like so many Southern boys of our generation, were, if I’m allowed to say so, more than simply knowledgeable about the Civil War, we were still living it, and Bowers was himself an expert in the field. A few years before, he’d written a rather sympathetic history of the South following the Civil War, and Sam and I had not only both read it, we could quote from it. Some time into that large and handsome evening, Sam and I introduced ourselves and spokewith Mr. Bowers about his book. You wouldn’t have ever heard of it. It was titled The Tragic Era. As soon as Mr. Bowers realized that he was talking with a couple of young buffs from the South, he told us, Come in here with me. He took us into his personal study and shut the door. How long he absented himself from the party to talk with us, I couldn’t say, but it was a long, long time. Thirty minutes?
Then, on July 26th, we went to Valpariso, sang there and departed Chile, sailing up the Pacific coast on the Grace Line steamer Santa Lucia. We stopped off, and sang concerts, I believe, in Lima and Quayaquil. Our final concert was in Balboa, as we were passing through the Panama Canal. The Santa Lucia then took us on back home to New York.
There’s one last thing I want to tell you about those two ships that took us down to South America and back. Late in the war, when I went overseas, we sailed from New York as part of a perfectly huge convoy. We were told it was the largest convoy of the whole war, fifty-two ships. That’s not counting the destroyers that seemed to be everywhere, churning past us at flank speed. It seems to me we couldn’t ever see more than a quarter of that convoy. With all those ships, and some of them pretty slow, it took us a long, long time—twenty days, something like that—but we made it over safe. The ship just ahead of ours in the convoy was the Brazil, the same ship our Glee Club had sailed on, going down to Rio, three and a half years before. But now she was a troop ship, and she was filled to the gunnels with boys just like me, all of us on our way to the war.
On that last afternoon at sea, we’d sailed past miles and miles of high, chalk cliffs lying close at hand to port, until, almost at dark, the whole convoy hove to and dropped anchor, one by one, in some little bay, hard up under the English shore. It was after midnight when our ship up-anchored to cross the Channel to Le Havre. We stood there by our bunks in the dark, wearing life preservers and listening to the constantly repeated dull click and muffled boom of the depth charges the destroyers were dropping all the way over. They were dropping them right there beside us. Only two or three weeks before, one of our troop ships had been torpedoed and sunk when making that same passage, so the Navy wasn’t taking chances.
If I failed to mention it, the name of my ship in that convoy going over was the Santa Rosa. The Santa Rosa, like the Brazil and the Santa Lucia, had been a passenger liner before the government took her over after Pearl Harbor and converted her to something they could use. The Santa Rosa and the Santa Lucia had both been Grace Line ships. In fact, the Santa Rosa and the Santa Lucia were sister ships. That’s the same Santa Lucia that had carried the Yale Glee Club home from Chile. Right after Pearl Harbor, the government had taken over the Santa Lucia and converted her to an amphibious assault vessel. They’d also renamed her and she was the USS Leedstown when she was sent to the Mediterranean. She arrived there just in time for the invasion of North Africa but she didn’t last long. No sooner had she put her troops and some of her cargo ashore than she was sunk. That happened in November, off Algiers, only fifteen months after she’d brought our glee club safely home all the way from Chile. She was first torpedoed and rendered helpless. Then on the following day a flight of German Stukas set upon her and sent her to the bottom.

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