Photo caption: Roger Latzgo and his brother Thomas on the Glee Club Tour of 1971 in Czechoslovakia
Kathryn Tracy Rizzi: This begins an oral history interview with Roger Latzgo, on February 24, 2022. I am Kate Rizzi, and I am in Branchburg, New Jersey. I am joined by my co-interviewer, Chris. Chris, can you state for the record your full name and where you are located today?
Christopher Wolfe: I am Christopher Wolfe, and I am located in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in Murray Hall, on the Rutgers-New Brunswick campus.
KR: Roger, thank you so much for joining us for this second interview session. Can you please state your full name and where you are located today?
Roger Latzgo: Yes. Roger L. Latzgo. I am in Germansville, Pennsylvania, zip code 18053, north of Allentown by about twenty miles.
KR: Chris, we will turn to you to start off with some questions.
CW: Roger, I am really interested in Glee Club culture. I know that you are an alumnus of the Rutgers University Glee Club, and in your previous interview, you talked about the performances and the tours. I wanted to get some of your thoughts on the social aspects of the organization and wanted to ask about how inclusive did you feel Glee Club was at the time in comparison to other organizations, so if you could talk about that for a little bit.
RL: All right. Well, the Glee Club was a very welcoming place at that time. I always felt very included. The fact that I was an out-of-state student, I was a little nervous about that at first at Rutgers in general because I didn't really know anybody. I didn't have any personal contact with anybody at Rutgers. I wound up there--I think I went into that last time, how I first came down to Rutgers--there's a song. [laughter] Okay, if I quote Glee Club songs every now and then, that's what it is. [Editor's Note: This is referring to the lyrics, "When I first came down to Rutgers, having left my native plow," from "Bow-Wow-Wow" by William S. Cranmer, Rutgers Class of 1882, and Loren Bragdon.] I was what you might call a Glee Club walk-on, similar to an unrecruited athlete who shows up at practice and wants to try out. Now, a lot of Glee Clubbers, present and past, got to The Club because they knew someone, or they had heard The Club in New Jersey, where there're a lot of Glee Club performances, and they figured, "I'm going to audition for The Club when I get there." So, they kind of had a beachhead, you might say, into this organization. But I didn't know anybody. I heard The Club at the old Commons. It might be torn down by now. Is it torn down? On College Avenue, across from the old gym, is that building torn down? I know they were talking about tearing it down.
KR: It is still there.
RL: It's still there, but it's not used anymore, right?
KR: Brower Commons is still being used at this point. [Editor's Note: In 2015, the Rutgers Physical Master Plan 2030 called for plans for a new campus center to replace the Rutgers Student Center, the Student Activities Center and Brower Commons Dining Hall.]
RL: Okay. Anyway, there was the Glee Club singing for incoming freshmen. I thought, "Wow, this is really cool," because I always sang in high school. I played football. I played tennis at the high school level, and I thought, "Yes, maybe one of these things I'll try at Rutgers." I debated in high school. I thought, "Maybe I'll try that at Rutgers." I'll get to debate in a moment, but The Club, I thought, "Wow, this is really cool." I talked to one of the singers afterwards, Dave Politziner, RC '69, and I said, "This is cool. How do you join?" He goes, "Oh, well, you've got to talk to Soup." I said, "Who's Soup?" "Well, it's our director, and there he is." I made an appointment and went over to McKinney Hall and sang for Soup, did typical audition things, sight reading and a little bit of a prepared piece, and went through some scales, found my vocal range. "Well, you're a tenor, and we need tenors. We rehearse on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings." That was it.
At Rutgers, I figured, "I'm going to be in a bunch of activities at this college." I tried soccer, believe it or not. I looked at the football team, "Wow, these guys are big," and I weighed about what I weigh now, about 170 pounds. Then, I said, "Well, maybe 150 football." I looked at the 150 guys, "These guys are big. Am I in the right room?" "Yes, these are the 150s." "Oh, I thought they were supposed to weigh 150." "Well, they will by Thursday." I thought, "No, this is not for me. This is not for me." Then, I tried out for the soccer team. Now, I never played soccer in high school. We didn't have it at my school--that's kind of a new thing in my area of Pennsylvania--at that time. I thought, "Do they have like a string at the end of the ball connected to their foot? How do they do that?" [laughter] They were so far advanced from my ball handling that I thought, "Oh, I'm not going to do this." Rutgers, famously, was a landing spot for a lot of refugees from the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. A lot of these guys were from European families, and they breathed soccer since they were old enough to walk. They were incredible players. I thought, "Oh, this I cannot do. I'll never catch up." I tried debate, and the debate club was a very elite thing. I thought, "Okay, I'm going to be up here debating some topic." [They said], "You freshmen and sophomores, your job will be in the library to research, pro and con, these topics. Type them all up on three-by-five notecards and get them to our star debaters, and you will sit in the background. When they get to a topic, you riff through your cards and hand them the quotes" and so forth. I thought, "I'm not going to go do this for two years before I get up to speak." I thought, "No." I wanted something where I could actually participate, and the Glee Club was perfect for that.
Our rehearsals were then--I think as they still are--Wednesday nights, Saturday mornings. Saturday morning was nine o'clock, preceded by coffee and donuts. Who paid for the coffee and donuts? The late fees. If you were late to rehearsal, at that time, it was twenty-five cents. These days, I think it's like two bucks or something. [Editor's Note: The interviewer, Chris Wolfe, nods his head in agreement.] Yes, all right. Well, twenty-five cents, don't forget, we're talking 1967. That's a long time ago, and a quarter meant a little bit of something. You could buy a gallon of gas for thirty cents, thirty-five cents. You could buy three quarts of cheap beer for a dollar. So, a quarter was a fair bite out of your student budget. Anyway, that's what paid for the coffee and donuts.
The rehearsals were serious. We'd begin with Soup vocalizing, warming up, stretching, shoulder rubs to the person next to you--that's all very, very helpful to the singer--and then rehearsing old repertoire, looking at new repertoire. Our goal, in those years--I'm sure it's similar now--our coming-out party was to perform for Douglass College at Voorhees Chapel, and we looked forward to that. We prepared our program, our new material, our Rutgers songs, and the place was jammed. The place was full to the rafters with Douglass girls to hear the Glee Club. That was a real nice kickoff to our performing season. That would have been in like late October, something like that, when Soup felt we were ready to go out in public.
We had quite a number of performances at various community centers within, let's say, an hour's drive of New Brunswick. Eventually, we had our schtick pretty well in hand. The culmination of the fall semester, musically, was the Christmas [performance] at Kirkpatrick Chapel, and that still is. That was a very beautiful event. For me, it was really special because my parents were able to be there, and I was a first-generation college student. [Editor's Note: Roger Latzgo starts to get choked up.] Anyway, for them to be able to see that, at that level, was very important to me. Sorry, I'll get it together in a moment.
KR: Yes, that is okay, Roger. Sure, take your time.
RL: Thank you. That performance, it was like once on a Saturday and twice on a Sunday, I believe, at that time. That was kind of the end of your first semester. I felt over the moon at that point. I really felt very on the inside of Rutgers. At that time, The Club was--and you can look at the pictures--it was a busload, one busload, about thirty-five singers. I think it's larger now. I think it's about seventy, eighty, something like that. You probably know, yes. That's more than one bus. On one busload, we would travel around like that, and naturally, you hang with certain of your buddies. Now, as a freshman, I lived in Demarest, and I don't think there were any other Glee Clubbers in Demarest. "There goes Roger off to the Glee Club rehearsal," blah, blah blah. My next-door roommates were in crew. Every morning, at the crack of dawn, they'd be on the Raritan [makes a rowing motion]. They'd be doing that. The guys next door were in ROTC. They would be off to march around in a building that's now torn down, I believe, Records Hall. That was a big Quonset hut type of building. Is it no longer there? Records Hall. [Note added by Roger Latzgo to the transcript: I walked behind Demarest on June 11, 2022, and Records Hall was demolished, except for the brick front facade.]
KR: It is still there.
RL: Is it?
KR: Yes, it is by the College Avenue Parking Deck.
RL: All right. Anyway, that was a big indoor space. A lot of these buildings, especially what we used to call the Heights, which is now Busch Campus, that was leftover territory from Camp Kilmer. It was an Army base at one time. Then, it was a landing spot for a lot of the refugees from the Hungarian Revolution. The Quonset huts and the little barracks type of buildings were still there, and they became classroom spaces for us. I had chemistry classes in there, lab classes, and eventually, when Livingston began, some of those buildings were repurposed yet again.
The Glee Club was quite a commitment. If you were in the Glee Club, I really couldn't see branching out into too many other things. Wednesday and Saturday, plus performances. I don't know how many performances The Club has these days per semester. I'm not sure if they're fewer than we had, or if they're more than we had.
CW: We still have our spring concert, and we have a few concerts that we are sent out to perform. So, I'd say between two or three concerts a semester. I also wanted to ask you about the interactions between the Glee Club and other choral groups or music groups at Rutgers. I know that you said that you went to Voorhees Chapel to sing over there.
CW: Did you interact with other music groups at the time?
RL: Well, the Voorhees Chapel performance for Douglass, that was the Glee Club only, but we did joint concerts mostly with women's colleges, with Wilson College, for example, and Bryn Mawr. We traveled to Bryn Mawr to do a joint concert with Bryn Mawr. The way these performances would usually go, The Club would have its short set, Wilson or Bryn Mawr would have their set, and then we would have rehearsed a piece to do together, a SATB, soprano, alto, tenor, bass, that we would do as an ensemble. We rehearsed those parts individually on our respective campuses, but we'd put it together, let's say, the Saturday morning of the concert. That was a lot of fun. It led to some interesting situations, like Wilson--and it was right about this time of year (deep winter). We went out there. Wilson is still in business, although it was close to shutting down at one point. It's in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, out in the center of Pennsylvania, a very lovely school, historic women's college. So, we went out there, at this time of year, and we had our Saturday night performance. Everything went great. But Sunday, a big storm came in. Now, we did take a bus, but some of The Clubbers went out in cars, you know, went out in their personal vehicles. We had a heck of a time getting back. There are some pictures, some still photos, that I have, and if it helps the project, I can maybe come up with those, but it shows some of the snow in New Brunswick outside of Ford Hall. It's really, really deep. I guess, historically, Rutgers, because everybody lived there or lived very close to there, it almost has never shut down for snow. I don't know if that's true still today.
KR: It is pretty rare. Usually, there will be a delayed opening.
KR: Now, things just switch to remote instruction instead of actually shutting down.
RL: Right. No more snow days, right? [laughter]
KR: Yes, exactly.
RL: Yes. I recall, at Wilson, one of the guys hit it off very well with one of the Wilson women, and he did not make the trip back. He wound up staying over there for a day or two. [laughter] The Club could be an adventure. It was always wonderful. Yes, where was I going?
KR: Chris had asked you about the Glee Club's interaction with other choral groups and concert groups.
RL: Yes. One of the things I did branch out with, while I was in The Club--and we're just having his memorial in a couple of weeks--Dave Drinkwater, a long, long presence at Rutgers, conducted the Kirkpatrick Chapel Choir. I joined that choir. I was in it for two years, for my sophomore year and junior year. This was a mixed chorus, a small group, fairly small group, and it was a paid chorus, so that was nice. It was not a lot of money, but it was still something. Somehow, I remember the number being--you look at the consumer price index--fifteen dollars in 1967 and '68. That's about what we got per week, and it was nice. I mean, it certainly beat waiting tables or anything like that. That was a very beautiful group. We would rehearse there on--it could not have been a Wednesday night because I was at Glee Club--it might have been a Tuesday or a Thursday, so Tuesday and Thursday night, and then Sunday morning, just before the service, we'd rehearse at nine a.m. Something like that kind of kept you honest. You didn't get too crazy on Saturday night if you knew you had to show up Sunday morning to sing. That was good, but that was quite a commitment.
By senior year, framing things in the late '60s, early '70s, it was a challenging time. We had Vietnam. Most of us were looking at the possibility of being drafted on graduation. At some point, I just had enough of New Brunswick because I had lived off campus, and the kind of places that a student can afford in New Brunswick, it was a challenge, shall we say. I lived on George Street at number 206 and out on Suydam Street somewhere--I forget the number there. They were student apartments. They weren't very fancy. My parents said, "Why did you do this? What's wrong with the dormitory?" "Oh, I want to be independent." When you're twenty years old, you have a lot of crazy ideas. It's about what you can do, and what you want to do and what might work out, but life was an adventure. Senior year was much more interesting. I moved pretty far out of New Brunswick and lived in Griggstown. I don't know if you know where that is, but Griggstown is along the Raritan Canal. It's about halfway between New Brunswick and Princeton, and it's a historic town. I lived with a family named Terhune. The whole deal was this--the way I got that place--I went into the little country store there, Tornquist's, right on the canal, and I said, "You know, I'm looking for a room." The guy says, "Oh, let me call my mother and see what she says." So, he calls his mother. His mother is aged, but she's living alone, and so they figured, "All right, a college kid wants to have a room. Maybe he can sort of keep an eye on her a little bit, and that'll be good for everybody," and it was not very expensive (fifteen dollars per week sticks in my mind). Plus, I was able to do some work for the family. They were entrusted with keeping the lawn at this Revolutionary War cemetery clean, so I mowed that for a while. They also were a farming family in New Jersey, and so I did some tractor work for them every now and then. That was good, and Mrs. Terhune and I got along okay. So, I lived out there for my senior year, and it was a quaint New Jersey town ("In a Quaint Old Jersey Town," E.J. Meeker, Rutgers Class of 1896, another Rutgers song). Where was I? Help me get back on track here.
KR: Chris was asking about the social fabric of the Glee Club.
KR: Along those lines, what were the relationships like between the lowerclassmen and the upperclassmen? I was wondering if you could comment on that and what your experiences were when you were a freshman and sophomore to upperclassmen. Then, as you were an upperclassman, what were your relationships like with the younger people in Glee Club?
RL: Good. Well, the Glee Club was and still is very, very well organized, kind of a hierarchy. There are officers. There are tour managers. There are business managers. There are uniform managers. There are technical assistants. We had risers, which are--maybe the same ones--the three-step aluminum risers. They fold up or they disassemble, and they get tied together. The bunch of risers might weigh twenty pounds, something like that. It's the freshman's job to carry that stuff from concert to concert. We even, at some times, would have to carry our shell, which is the panels of wood that form an arc to reflect the sound. Do you still carry that around? [Editor's Note: Chris Wolfe, the interviewer, nods in agreement.] Yes, okay. So, that's the shell. That's a lot of equipment, and that was a freshman's job. So, you were doing that. You weren't treated poorly for that, but you were expected to do it and not complain. That was a freshman's job.
See, The Club--still today, I'm sure--is very independent in its organization. It has a budget, but the college can't really tell it too much what to do. The college will approve things. When I was in The Club, Mason Gross was president, and Mason Gross really liked the Glee Club. If we needed help with transportation, if we needed a bus to go somewhere, we'd get the bus. If we needed to have a room for an event, we got the room. If we needed some space for a picnic, we got the space. That was very, very good. On campus, at that time, I was never in, let's say, a social fraternity, a Greek organization, but some of those people who were in those fraternities really were nasty to some of their pledges and there was a lot of hazing. You know what? Even for general freshmen at that time--not a Glee Club freshman--but even for a general freshman, there was a fair amount of hazing. Yes, let's call it hazing. I just happen to have here, close at hand, my freshman dink. As a freshman, you were expected to--let me get you a good shot of this--you were expected to wear this, Rutgers '71, and you had to wear it all the time. [Editor's Note: Roger Latzgo shows his dink.] No matter what else you were wearing, you had to wear your dink. You also had to wear the school tie, which I still have, of course. You had to wear your school tie even with a t-shirt. School tie and dink. As if nobody knew you were a freshman, if that weren't immediately obvious, you had to wear this outfit that made you look a little bit silly, but you did. [Editor's Note: Roger holds up his tie.]
KR: Roger, for the record, what colors are your tie?
RL: It's red and black.
KR: Red and black, okay.
RL: Red and black, Rutgers colors, yes, and I got it at the Rutgers Bookstore [in] 1967, fall of '67. So, you had to have your tie and dink on, and if an upperclassman saw you walking around and knew that you were a freshman--and they could tell by the books you were carrying to class, they could tell all the freshman kind of marching together--they would stop you and say, "Where's your dink? Where's your tie?" Even if you had a dink and a tie, they would say, "Okay, sing the alma mater right now." If you couldn't do it, especially if these were fraternity people, they'd say, "Okay, frosh, Saturday morning, eight a.m., you're at Chi Phi fraternity raking leaves. Be there." That kind of stuff would happen. I don't think we do that anymore, do we? [laughter] At that time, it happened, and you didn't really get that in The Club. First of all, it was a very small group, I mean, thirty-five people. The upperclassmen had authority. You listened to them, you really did. As you're coming in as a freshman, you don't know quite how things run. You do know you're expected to know your music. If you don't know your music, the upperclassmen would definitely lean on you and say, "Roger, that Fauré piece, you're off. We're going to have sectional rehearsal, and you're going to be there." So, we would do that. Soup, sometimes, would--let's say we were working on a piece, and at that time, we sang mixed parts. In other words, I was a second tenor. The person here would be a bass. Over here, it'd be a first tenor. That's the way we had it. I don't think The Club does that anymore. I think you're all by section, right? [Editor's Note: Gabriel Urbain Fauré was a French composer.]
CW: All by section.
RL: Yes. The feeling by Soup was that you got a better feeling for blend, and you also really had to know your part. If everybody here is a second tenor, you kind of pull each other along, but with different parts here, you had to be really listening for the entire ensemble. At rehearsals, Soup would say, "Okay, I'm hearing something funny here. Down the line. Second tenors, up." All the second tenors would stand up. He'd give you a pitch, and we were expected to sing your part unaccompanied, bop, bop, bop, bop, bop, bop. "All right, good, good." If it was good, you'd get the finger snap. If it was bad, "Oh," okay, and if it was bad enough, then there would be sectionals on that piece, meaning all the second tenors or all the first basses, et cetera, until you get it right. Soup was very demanding. It was serious business. You hear a club like this, and it sounds effortless. It sounds, "Oh, my God, that's wonderful," but there's so much work that goes into that, so much work.
CW: Roger, I wanted to ask about Soup's influence on your music philosophy as you took it into your career. Was there anything that you took from Club and you took learning under Soup that you may have brought into your career later in life? Does anything stick with you even today?
RL: Oh, sure. Well, Soup was really inspirational in so many ways. He felt that music was a way that would make the world better. That sounds like sort of a cheap philosophy, but he really did believe that. When we did our tour to Czechoslovakia (1971), what he told us and what he said many times was, "Look, there's a lot of tension in the world between …"--Czechoslovakia was Communist at the time--"There's a lot of tension between the Communist East and the Democratic West." He really felt that by The Club going there, meeting young people our age, meeting people our age, performing for people of all ages, we would sort of break down some of those barriers, and that's a very brave thing to do. There would be a lot easier ways to do a concert tour, but that was one of Soup's ideas. That boldness, you might say, you've got to take your shot. You don't get that many shots in life, I mean, to do something that you really, really want to do, as opposed to something that would be a straight-forward path. Performing with The Club and touring like that, I thought, "Wow, this is really cool. This is really a great way to live. Now, if I can make a living at it, that would be the real trick." Again, you don't get that many shots. If you don't take the shot, you'll never know, and if you don't take the shot, you will regret it for the rest of your life. That's kind of what led me to where I am. [laughter] It's been great. It's been great. It's been very challenging at times, but the idea of making one's living doing what one loves, I think I got that from Soup.
CW: Roger, you mentioned something about the draft when you were about to graduate, and there were fears about the draft.
CW: Kate, you had some questions regarding this.
KR: I do, yes. We can circle back to the Glee Club a little bit later. During your years at Rutgers, the Vietnam War is going on. The draft lottery happened on December 1, 1969.
KR: I want to ask you, how were you impacted by the draft?
RL: All right. Well, here's what happened. Okay, the draft lottery, 1969, it was brutal. [Editor's Note: The telephone rings.] I'm going to just hang up. What students would do, at Rutgers, they would get cases of beer and bottles of whiskey in the dormitory and, "We're going to watch this lottery," which is basically putting our meat on a hook, "and whoever gets the lowest draft number is going to get the bottle of whiskey, and we're all going to help you drink it." It was brutal for a twenty-year-old person. You were hoping--there were rough numbers, like if your number comes up after two hundred, two hundred-plus, you were probably safe from the draft. My number came up like thirty-five. [laughter] The people I [was] hanging with that night, Dirk Lahar, Glee Club member, Class of 1970, his number came up number six. We all knew that this was coming.
In The Club, if I would say there was one division, a division in attitude among Club members, there were a lot of people who said, "Well, you know what, if you join ROTC, you're going to be an officer, and you're probably going to stay out of harm's way, for the most part, especially if you have a skill that'll maybe keep you Stateside, maybe keep you farther from the trenches. You can do that." Well, that was one of the things that I really didn't want to do. I really did not want to sort of hedge my bet in that direction by saying, "Well, you know, you could compromise here." No! I'm going to take my chance.
I was very, very lucky. First of all, I didn't go to Vietnam, but the way that came about was serendipitous. I had and still do have some allergy problems, and I thought, "Okay, well, if you've got a health problem, maybe you can milk it into a 4-F." That was the idea. People had all kinds of strategies. I had a legitimate respiratory problem. I had been treated for it for many years. So, my doctor, who was a specialist in that, I had him write me a rather extensive letter about it, all the medications I was taking, blah, blah, blah, so I had that. Plus, I had my family doctor from Palmerton, Pennsylvania, who was a real good guy--during my childhood years, he would make house calls. He was that kind of guy. He'd show up with his bag, "Okay, what do I got here?" sort of a grumpy guy. So, he wrote a letter, very brief, "Roger Latzgo would not make a good candidate for the military," blah, blah, blah. [Editor's Note: 4-F is a draft classification that means "Registrant not qualified for military service."]
I go up for draft induction just days after college graduation. "Okay," [said] the sergeant, "Any of you guys with a letter, get over there." It was very, "All right, we don't like you at all." I'm up there with a lot of people I graduated high school with who are in the same situation. The local boards, there was a lot of corruption here. I'm saying that from my point of view. I felt there was a lot of corruption. The local boards were responsible to send x-number of people to the military. They had to come up with those numbers. So, they weren't very lenient on who was going to not go and who was going to go. "All right, anybody with a letter get over there. You come back, and you have to go to Wilkes-Barre to our doctor. It's a month or two from now."
Naturally, I did my best to make sure I wasn't in real good respiratory shape for that trip. So, I go to Wilkes-Barre, and the Army doctor there says, "Let's see this letter." He looks at the first letter, which I thought was the better one. He goes [makes grunting noises]. Then, he looks at the second letter from my family doctor and he goes, "George Prutzman, Palmerton, Pennsylvania. How is old George these days?" "Oh." "Well, I see that you're not a good candidate for the military at all. Go home." That's what happened there.
You might say, "All right, elitist white boy (am I?), you got away with it," but I'm telling you, this is the kind of stuff that stopped that war. Enough people decided not to go, and enough of America decided that this was enough. I'm saying this on kind of a black day in world history, as we listen to this stuff from Ukraine, but enough people said no. The fellow Dirk Lahar, RC '70, the Glee Club alumnus I mentioned a little bit ago, took a different approach to the draft, where he did whatever he could to make himself look disgusting. Before his draft physical, he stopped bathing for a couple of weeks. He wasn't on drugs, but he was putting puncture holes in his arm to make it look like he was. They took one look at him and said, "Nuh-uh, we're not going to have him." People went to those lengths to avoid the military. I feel, still to this day, perfectly justified in that, especially when you hear about--I don't want to mention names because so many of our political leaders from that era, my age or so, "Oh, well, I didn't go to Vietnam. I didn't think it was a legitimate war," blah, blah, blah. These people are in Congress. These people are in the halls of power, "Well, I didn't think it was a good idea." They didn't think so. Well, neither did I think so and I didn't have the kind of pull that they did, but I wasn't going to put up with it either, so there. You may know the film "Full Metal Jacket," a war film. Well, we would say about some of the men who used fancy connections to get soft Stateside duty during Vietnam--"Full Dinner Jacket."
KR: What do you remember about the protest movements on campus? I am wondering about the anti-war movement, but I am also, in broader terms, wondering about the other student protest movements, the Black student protest movement, which was seeking inclusivity and representation. There was also the budding gay rights movement at the time and, in larger society, the women's rights movement. What do you remember about the student protest movements on campus?
RL: Well, quite a bit. I had a brief flirtation with SDS, Students for a Democratic Society. After going to a couple of their meetings in the basement of Frelinghuysen, second level down (B level), I gathered that these guys probably weren't going anywhere with their approach. They wanted to build a worker-student alliance. I didn't see that that was going to happen. They were going to try to organize students connecting with unions, which in terms of leftist approaches to political problems, that's one of the ways you do it, but I didn't see that happening. I didn't see Rutgers students sort of buddying up to New Brunswick blue collar.
I was involved at the time when the ROTC [pronounced "rot-see"] building on College Avenue there was under siege, and it was set on fire a couple of times. I didn't hold a torch, but I was certainly present. Right across College Avenue from the ROTC building, diagonally across, where they Chabad House now stands, was a fraternity house that was very much pro-war, figure that out. They were pro-war, and they were very antagonistic to those of us who were protesting. I think it was as much political as it was "hippy versus preppy." The fraternity was Lambda Chi Alpha. This would have been the fall of '67. A couple of times, there were flare-ups about the ROTC building and ROTC on campus. Usually, what happened, there would be these flare-ups and, "Why do we have ROTC?" and the students are asking, "Why is ROTC here?" blah, blah, blah. The Board of Governors at Rutgers [said], "Well, we're going to talk about this," and they'd talk about it, talk about it. They'd wait until June when everybody went home, "Okay, we're going to keep ROTC." [laughter] That's what would happen. They'd wait until the heat was off from the students, but that was sort of a smoldering thing all the time.
Of course, May 1970, May 4, when the students were shot at Kent State, that added a whole different level of seriousness to this because they're shooting students. They're shooting unarmed students and four people dead. The students were antagonistic, but they weren't armed. They might have thrown some rocks, but they didn't have weapons, guns. That was a whole different level. At Columbia, the students sort of ransacked the place, came into the president's office, tore the place up.
Rutgers [had] a lot of ferment in the anti-war movement. The fear was that that would happen at Rutgers. What Mason Gross said was--because the New Brunswick Police Department said, "Do you want us to occupy the campus? Do you want us to come in with riot troops to keep these students from tearing the place down?" Mason Gross says, "No, I don't want you coming in like that. These students are my guests." Yes, students occupied Old Queens, but they didn't tear the place up. Mason Gross had the makings for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches brought in to Old Queens, so that the protestors would calm down a little bit. He said, "Listen, we're not enemies here. We're on the same side, but we need to figure out how to handle this." At that time, he declared--or the college declared--a grade amnesty, so that it would be pass or fail for all grades because it was really chaotic at that time. Some classes had finals, but many did not. Instead of finals, there were convocations in the old College Avenue gym, and a lot of opinions were aired and a lot of fingers were pointed and the college came up with various resolutions to be serious about this. [Editor's Note: Following President Richard Nixon's expansion of the Vietnam War to Cambodia, a nationwide student strike commenced in the beginning of May 1970. The strike began at Rutgers on Friday, May 1. On Monday, May 4, two thousand protesters gathered on the Old Queens Campus, and Rutgers President Mason Gross addressed the crowd, calling the protesters his guests. That day, two hundred students occupied the second and third floors of Old Queens, including Gross' office, resulting in a two-day sit-in of Old Queens. On May 4, Ohio National Guardsmen opened fire on anti-war protesters and bystanders at Kent State University, killing four and wounding nine. In solidarity with the National Strike, the Rutgers College faculty voted on Tuesday, May 5 to make classes and final exams optional and instituted pass/fail grades for the spring semester 1970. On May 5, massive demonstrations continued at Rutgers, and protests and counter-protests continued for several weeks at Rutgers and on campuses across the nation.]
That's how Mason Gross defused that antagonism, and he was very good. People, at that time, said what a great job he did, "Would you consider running for governor?" Here we go again. [Editor's Note: Roger Latzgo starts to get choked up.] Mason Gross famously said, "Do you mean to say that being governor of New Jersey is more important than being president of Rutgers? No." That's the kind of guy he was. He was a college president. He was a faculty member in the Philosophy Department. He was no nobody just chasing down donor dollars. He was really a philosopher-king type of person. So, that guidance, I think, got Rutgers through some stormy times.
There were actual riots in Newark and in New Brunswick. I came back to Rutgers, I think, for my junior year, and there was smoke, and I was coming in from Route 287, coming in as I typically would. There were police barricades, "Why are you coming in here? Let me see your ID card. Where do you live? Okay, you can come in." That was how serious it got. That was how serious it got. Question here, folks, can I take a health break? I think that's what you call it online. [Editor's Note: In the summer of 1967, there was widespread social unrest in cities across New Jersey, notably Newark and Plainfield. Minor property damage occurred in New Brunswick.]
KR: Sure, I will pause.
RL: Okay, thank you.
KR: We are back on.
RL: Okay, I was saying how I love the college campus, the Rutgers campus, by Willie the Silent and the expansive lawn and the beautiful trees. I was in New Brunswick recently--and it's not that far from my home in Pennsylvania. I'm about an hour and a half from Rutgers, an hour and a half west. At that time (late summer), the campus was fairly deserted. There was not a whole lot of people there. So, I would park at a convenient spot and walk around, and I like to sketch. So, I made some sketches of those parts of the campus, and I emailed them to my buddy Ron Levao, RC '70. He thought it was cool. [laughter] Murray Hall, where his office is, Ford Hall, where we both used to live. Now, I have to ask you this, is Ford Hall still standing, or did they knock it down? [Editor's Note: Willie the Silent is a statue of William I, Prince of Orange, that was donated to Rutgers University in honor of its Dutch heritage. It is located on Voorhees Mall on the College Avenue Campus.]
CW: Yes, I think so. I think Ford Hall is still there. I am not sure if it holds students.
RL: No, there are no students there anymore. Ford was a very interesting place to live. It was very modern at the time it was built, 1910, but they thought, "This is great. We're going to have four floors, one, two, three, four, and five houses." So, they're like this [arranged vertically], four floors, four floors, et cetera, times five. For college men, a bathroom at the top and a bathroom in the basement is fine. If you were on the second floor, you could either go down two floors to the bathroom, or if that's busy, up two floors to the bathroom. If you study something about the topography of Ford Hall, there was a tributary stream running into the Raritan that eventually they put underground, but there had been a stream there. So, it's soggy, and the basement lavatories would get flooded. If you went down there to go to the bathroom, there would be this much water [6 inches], all the way up, so you went upstairs. So, this was Ford Hall.
When Rutgers became coed in 1972, Ford Hall had women and men living there. They would have two floors of men, two floors of women. I forget how it was separated, but that was the way it was. I think women were on the top floors, top three and four floors. One of my buddies from Rutgers was once a preceptor at Ford Hall, and when he was there, there was a fraternity right across College Avenue from Ford. There was no air conditioning in Ford Hall, so the windows were open all the time. The guys at the frat house were looking across the way at the women. They would hook up these catapults and shoot water balloons across College Avenue and try to get into the windows of the women students. So, he had to go over to the frat house--and he knew a lot of these guys--and said, "Guys, could you stop doing that? Could you please stop doing that?" [laughter] That was one of the things about Ford.
Anyway, it was August when I was visiting the campus for a Rutgers Glee Club alumni event, and Ford was uninhabited. I really enjoyed living in Ford Hall. It had fireplaces. We weren't supposed to use them, but they worked. So, we'd make fires every now and then. You weren't supposed to do it, but we did it, very, very small fires, couple of candles we'd have. I noticed a couple of loose bricks that had fallen off the building. I noticed also, on the northwest end of the building, some of the granite of the step had broken off. Do you know what I did? I picked up the chunk of granite, I picked up those couple of bricks, and I brought them back here to my home in Germansville, and I worked them into a wall that's part of my house right now. Ford Hall will live on.
KR: Roger, I want to follow up on something. You talked about the demonstrations at Old Queens that were part of the National Student Strike, and that is when the students were killed at Kent State.
KR: Were you active in the demonstrations?
RL: Yes, I was, and when I say active, I was not an organizer, but I was a participant. We had the placards, "Strike, strike, strike," and there were stencils where you could stencil something on a placard or something like that, and I had one of those things stenciled on the back of my jacket. Again, as I said with the certain fraternity that was opposite the ROTC building, there was a lot of pushback from many of the--you wouldn't call them pro-war, but that's what they were--factions on the campus. A lot of the fraternities were sympathetic--I don't want to paint fraternities with a broad brush, but many of them were sympathetic to the protestors, and many of them acted as marshals, unofficial. They were there with armbands, "Marshal," trying to keep people in line, trying to keep things from getting out of hand. They didn't have any real authority, they certainly didn't have any kind of weapons, but they were taking names of anybody who was really stepping over the line. It was, as protests go, fairly peaceful, certainly way more calm than what we've witnessed lately.
KR: Were you a member of the students who were actually occupying Old Queens in that two-day sit-in?
RL: I wasn't one of the occupiers, but I did visit and I did walk around in there. I thought, "This is something I don't want to miss." I mean, you're a college student and this is a protest against the war and I wanted to be aware of what was going on and see what was happening, but I didn't hang around to stay too long. I did have a look, though.
CW: I remember you mentioned that you had the concert over at Voorhees, and I wanted to talk a little bit more about Rutgers going coed in '72. There was a split while you were an undergraduate. I was wondering, what kind of conversations were going on at Rutgers, during your time, about it going coed? Do you remember anything about some of those conversations that were going on?
RL: Yes. Well, I'll tell you what, there's a lot to be said for single-gender colleges, there really is, both from the women's point of view and from the men's point of view. From the men's point of view, there was not a whole lot of distraction, trying to chat somebody up when you're really supposed to be listening to your lecture. I mean, that's part of college. Also, there is a tendency, if it is a mixed-gender activity, especially at that time and still to this day, the men become the bosses and the women become the schleppers, to carry out the orders. That didn't happen because there weren't women in these clubs. So, it tended to democratize--let's say, the Glee Club, if it was a mixed club, what would happen? I'm not saying it would happen, but just the general social tendency would be for the men to take leadership roles and the women to kind of follow. I don't know if that would happen, but, historically, that's what did happen. From the women's point of view, women's colleges, they didn't have to deal with that inherent hierarchy. They ran their own place.
Coed didn't begin while I was at Rutgers. It began in '72. So, we were still all male at that time. We would cross-register for classes. Sometimes, I want to take this same course, but I want to take it at Douglass, so that I can be around some women, and likewise, some women, the same way, did that at Rutgers. They cross-registered, you might say. Any course throughout New Brunswick, you could register for, if you could get yourself over there and back in time for your other classes. That was already a sign of loosening up. At that time, the Rutgers undergraduate population might have been like four thousand, 4,500, something like that. Douglass population, at that time, [was] maybe like fifteen hundred, two thousand, or something like that. So, there were, as the song goes--it's the reverse--two boys for every girl at Rutgers-Douglass. However, the Rutgers men didn't necessarily appeal to the Douglass women with Princeton right down the road, which is another reason why we hate Princeton. Am I right? [laughter] "Why should I go with a Rutgers guy when there's a Princeton guy possible?" The Princeton guys were always looking to Douglass events. From a Douglass woman's point of view, "If there's a Rutgers fraternity party, why should I go there when I can go to a Princeton fraternity party?" So, that would happen. Naturally, that just stoked further the antagonism between Rutgers and Princeton, but we did beat them in the hundredth anniversary football game in 1969. That was a great one. [Editor's Note: The first-ever college football game was played on November 6, 1869 between Rutgers and Princeton. On September 27, 1969, the two teams faced off in the centennial game, and Rutgers won 29-0.]
CW: Speaking of football, I wanted to get on the record the Rutgers University Glee Club Soup Bowl.
CW: You were at the first one, and I would really like you to speak on that and maybe how that got organized, and if you attended, and how many you attended or participated in.
RL: All right. This was a time when a lot of modern or new things were starting to happen in The Club. You have the office, which is now kind of official, of El Supremo. El Supremo is the chief enthusiasm officer of The Club, and El Supremo, at that time, was Pavlica, Joe Pavlica, RC '71. Anyway, Joe [would say], "Let's go. Let's do this. Let's do that. You know what? Let's have a Soup Bowl. Let's challenge the band." "Hey, that's a great idea! Let's go! Okay, who can play?" We had some really good people. We had--I'll think of his name in a moment [Steve Scharf, RC '71], but he had been backup quarterback in high school to the guy who was the Rutgers full-time quarterback in college. He was pretty good, and so we had him. We had a couple of very good people. The Club was much smaller than the band. The band was like a hundred people, the Rutgers Marching One Hundred, but The Club was only thirty-five. Yet we were tighter. We were a tighter group. So, I think that's what helped us defeat the band in the very first Soup Bowl, which was my sophomore year, fall of '68. A very informal kind of thing, but you got to be there for the Soup Bowl. I played football in high school, and I was a lineman. I was a center too, so I could snap the ball, so that was very helpful to the Glee Club team. I forget what the score was, but we beat them pretty bad. That was in Buccleuch Park. We went over there, and you know Buccleuch Park, right? Very big place. I forget what part of the park it was, but we tore the turf up pretty well that day. We didn't have spikes, but we had sneakers, probably, we were wearing. The quarterback, he was very good. He threw like three touchdown passes. That's the origin of the Soup Bowl. Well, it's the fiftieth anniversary of the Soup Bowl just recently, right?
CW: I think in 2018 was the fiftieth anniversary of the Soup Bowl.
RL: Okay, so that was 1968, right?
RL: Right, that's when it was.
CW: You mentioned the El Supremo as well. Was this a formal title that was bestowed upon somebody?
RL: No, it was colloquial. You didn't vote for the guy, just he was--Joe was El Supremo. [laughter] So, he sort of earned it by his actions. You will know them by their deeds, and we knew the El Supremo. Is that an elected thing now?
CW: No, it's still the El Supremo chooses the next El Supremo.
RL: Oh, okay. [laughter] It's like a Supreme Court justice. [laughter] Yes, well, that's great. That's one of the things that you love about The Club. It's got a democratic aspect, plus it's got sort of a hierarchy and a hereditary aspect. It's an important part of Rutgers.
At the time I was there, of course, other musical things [were] on the horizon at that time. You had the Rolling Stones. You had Jimi Hendrix. You had Woodstock, and I attended Woodstock, the real one, the 1969 one. So, all this stuff was going on. If you look at a male chorus, a college chorus like this, singing a lot of college songs and classical stuff, that, to many people's eyes, was very uncool. That's really very Ozzie and Harriet. Well, Ozzie Nelson was a Glee Club member, but that's really a throwback kind of thing. Well, it was, but that's "ever changing yet eternally the same," as we say about The Club. Not everybody thought that that was the epitome of college life. [Editor's Note: Ozzie Nelson graduated from Rutgers College in 1927 and Rutgers-Newark School of Law in 1930. With a background during his college days of being a musician and band leader, Ozzie Nelson turned to a career in entertainment. He hired Harriet Hilliard as a singer in his band, and they got married in 1934. They starred in the radio show Ozzie and Harriet Show and the television series The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. "Ever changing yet eternally the same" refers to lyrics in the Rutgers song "In a Quaint Old Jersey Town."]
Interesting thing, Glee Club wise, Rutgers, at that time, played West Point, we played Army, and it was a home game for Rutgers. The Army Corps of Cadets was going to come to New Brunswick. They were going to march on the field as they usually would. This was in the middle of Vietnam. The Army Glee Club was also going to be there, and the Army Glee Club, Soup and The Club officer said, "Who can take some of these guys in? They're not looking for anything fancy. They're plebes. They live pretty much like you do." There might have been thirty-five--a similar number to the Glee Club--to bunk up with some Glee Club members. So, we had some of these guys, and they let their hair down a little bit. I don't know if they allowed beer or some other recreational substances at West Point, but we gave them a little taste of some of that New Brunswick life. [laughter] It was an interesting time. The Glee Club made an impression, I think, on the American military that weekend. I don't think we beat Army that time. I think Army beat us.
CW: I have one other question about your relationship with other music groups on campus. You said, in the Soup Bowl, it was up against the marching band, the Marching One Hundred. Did you have the opportunity to interact with a lot of these other music groups, including the Kirkpatrick Choir as well?
RL: Well, we didn't have a sporting event with them. David Drinkwater would have parties at his place, which was right near Ford Hall. It was like up Mine Street. I don't know if he lived there until the end, but he would have these wonderful parties, very sophisticated. It wasn't like a beer keg type of party. It was like a wine and cheese and hors d'oeuvre kind of party, very nice; everybody behaved very well. We would meet members of the Kirkpatrick Chapel Choir at that time.
I sang with this group also, the Rutgers University Choir, which is a little bit different again. This is the SATB community group, and I think that it would be open to anybody in the Rutgers community. So, it's all ages; it's not just student-aged people. Soup would rehearse this group, and this group--and I went with them--would go to Carnegie Hall to perform choral works, let's say, the Beethoven Ninth, let's say, some of the Mahler symphonies that require chorus, the Bruckner symphonies that require a chorus, and we would perform Carnegie Hall with that group. I thought, "Wow." I really felt like I was on top of the world yet again with that kind of a group.
An amusing thing for me happened one time at one of these Carnegie Hall events. This was, again, tie and tails, very formal. You pack all your stuff. I forgot my shoes. [laughter] So, I went on to the stage of Carnegie Hall in black stocking feet. That's the way it went, because you couldn't wear sneakers on stage. We had a couple of things like that with The Club. Maybe, Chris, you've seen some of this. You get to somewhere, and you've got your risers, you've got your tails, you've got your blazer and vest, and it seems like you always forget something. One of the guys completely forgot his shirt and tie. All right, what do you do? Well, okay, we got a piece of white cardboard for him and put it down his shirt, and we colored a tie on there for him. [laughter] He didn't stand out too badly, but that was interesting. We had situations like that. Again, he probably got fined fifty cents for that one, but you pool together and you make it work.
CW: I think now they have a dedicated uniform manager to bring things in case someone inevitably forgets.
RL: Oh, really, yes?
CW: Yes, that is a remedy to that.
KR: What other traditions were carried on in the Glee Club that we have not talked about yet?
RL: Well, one of them--and this is very étrange [French for strange]--you wouldn't have this anymore probably--but every now and then, there would be a smoker. Probably every frat house on campus had these regularly. What's a smoker? A smoker is where you get together on a Friday night and watch dirty movies in the downstairs room in McKinney Hall. That would happen now and then, not too often, but it would happen. There was a lot of joshing, and this stuff is, again, very mid-twentieth century, but that happened. I shouldn't even tell you that, but it did occur. There was a very big part of me that thought that, "This is a little too much. This is a little too much." I didn't know what a smoker was. "There's a smoker Friday night," but everybody was there, and I thought, "Okay." That was a tradition that I'm not sorry to hear if it isn't carried on anymore.
Another tradition was the occasional "Dated Concert." For these performances, perhaps twice a semester, Clubbers could be accompanied by their dates. Such performances were more swank than usual, involving receptions, etcetera. They also required two buses, a "dated bus" and one for everybody else. The non-dated bus ride home often rang with non-repertoire singing, and the occasional ribald ditty.
The tours were always very--I'll think about this tradition thing for a bit--but during the tours, we all had certain jobs, freshmen, in particular, the risers, but everybody had to cooperate in getting around, thirty-five people, plus there was a faculty advisor. There was Soup. There were a couple of other people; one of the deans came along with us to make sure that we behaved. Getting from one point of transportation to another was often tricky. The European trains were very punctual, and our tour managers knew this because they had done this on previous tours. So, if the train comes in at 10:30, and the one you have to connect to leaves at 10:43, and you can save two hours of sitting around by getting on the 10:43, "Let's get on the 10:43." So, our tour managers booked that 10:43. Now, we've got to get out of this train and get on to that train in, let's say, under ten minutes. How did we do this? Okay, you're on the train. We had certain runners, and the runners were mostly freshmen, but they'd go outside without their bags. They would wait outside the windows [of the train cars] where we were and we would push our bags out the windows to these guys. They would run the bags to the other train, which is sometimes a couple platforms away. Sometimes, you have to go down stairs and then come back up. So, that would be a way that we would do like a Keystone Cops drill to get our bags from one point to the other. So, that was fun. [laughter]
On the tours, we had a couple of interesting experiences. One time, we were taking the boat train. We're getting on a train in Denmark, and we were going to Sweden because we were performing in Stockholm. I think our train originated in Hamburg, but we're going up through Denmark. The Glee Club is getting around; we're chatting with some of the other people, looking to impress the European women with our suave demeanor, and we were walking all over the train. We get to Denmark, where the train goes on the boat. Now, we figure, "Okay, we all go on the boat." Well, some of the train cars go on that boat, some of the train cars go on this boat. The boat that we were supposed to go on is this one, but some of the guys were in some of these back cars and got on a different one. So, we get on the ferry boat. Now, we're sitting on the deck, looking at the other boat, and we look across. There's another boat leaving. "Isn't that Sandy Harte (RC '71) over there? He and a couple of others got on the wrong boat." [laughter] So, he went somewhere else and really far away. He went like to Norway or something. [laughter] At his own expense, he had to get back to The Club. That was an amusing thing. That can happen; tour managers, keep that in mind. You can really make some big mistakes on the trains in Europe because they're very precise. We were there, and you're looking at--we were in the train station--[a] glass case and it looks like a model train in the glass case. "Isn't that cool? I used to have a model train when I was a kid." Oh, no, that's very specific, that's this train coming in, and whichever car, whichever class ticket you have, you go to that car. It's going to stop at the place numbered on the platform, one, two, three, four, et cetera, so you don't have to scratch your head wondering, "Where do I go on this train?" so you don't get off on the wrong boat. That was interesting.
At this point, I'd like to recognize the Jennie Jelin Travel Agency of New Brunswick, New Jersey, which worked with The Club on the airline end of things. J.J.T. also set guidelines and dates for passports, health certificates, etcetera. Another key player in The Club's European tours was Wobina Kwast (Miss Kwast). Miss Kwast helped to arrange details of The Club's activities, particularly in her native Amsterdam.
CW: Roger, I wanted to ask about Paul Robeson.
CW: Paul Robeson was a topic of University discourse, and I know that he is an honorary member of the Glee Club. I wonder if there were any conversations going on during your undergraduate time about Paul Robeson.
RL: Well, we all knew about Paul Robeson, and a lot of the repertoire that The Club did at the time was basically in tribute to his pioneering thing with the gospel music, with the American spirituals and so forth. When you look at a photograph of The Club from those years, you say--again, looking at it with twenty-first century eyes--"Oh, look at all those white guys," and there were a couple of Black members, not many, at that time. However, if you look at it more closely, [you'd] say, "You know what, some of those faces are more Jewish-looking and more Italian-looking than Princeton would have had on their campus, not to mention Slavic." So, there was always this feeling of diversity and a commitment to the ideals of Paul Robeson, who was a huge--how do you sum him up?--political and moral presence, that The Club was very much behind that idea and sort of trying to bring that further on. But we always did a repertoire that was resonant with the feeling that Robeson had brought about. Today, The Club is much more diverse, and Rutgers, I think, is on record as being one of the most diverse campuses anywhere in the country. Am I right about that?
KR: Yes, it is, especially the Newark campus.
RL: Glee Club traditions. Coffee and donuts. I don't remember smokers after my freshman year. Soup would invite us to his place, out on Easton Avenue at Highwood Drive, and I would drive. Just as I joined The Club, he had just bought that house. So, it was his first personal home that he had, and it was really cool. He had a Steinway piano, of course, and he would have events for The Club around the holidays. He would make wassail. We hear about the, "Here we go wassailing." What is that? That's a drink that's a combination of rum and anything else that you put in there. That's wassail, and he would have wassail parties. He'd do a whole bunch of cooking. The Club would be around, and we'd be singing. We weren't allowed to sing repertoire songs. Why? Because if you are having a few drinks and you start singing repertoire, you are doing it in an unsupervised kind of way and you can wear off some of the corners of precision in that repertoire. So, you could sing other stuff, you could sing other things, and we would sing many, many other things. Some of them would tend toward the risqué, and that was fun. I mean, that was a good dirty song or something everyone can enjoy, but we would do a lot of that kind of repertoire at a time like that.
One time, just the kind of person Soup was, I'll tell you what it was, it was St. Patrick's Day, and Rutgers had vacation (spring break). So, I was leaving New Brunswick to come home for the weekend, spring break or whatever it was, and I was passing by Soup's house on Highwood Drive. I thought, "What the heck, I'll stop in and say hi," which I don't know if people think about doing that with profs or with that distance between a student and a Glee Club leader these days, but it seemed very natural to me. So, I knock on the door, "Hey, Soup, how are you doing?" "Hey, Roger! Hey, come on in!" What he was doing, at the moment, was sight reading through "The Well-Tempered Clavier," Johann Sebastian Bach. He says, "Oh, I do this every year. I sight read through 'The Well-Tempered Clavier' one year and the next year through the Beethoven sonatas." That was Soup, continuing his deepening in the great music repertoire. What kind of an inspiration is that? That's something I try to do also. He was making corned beef and cabbage, and, "Roger, stay for dinner." [laughter] That was the way he was. He was very informal and very spur of the moment. I'm sure I wasn't the only Club member who had a similar experience with Soup.
KR: During your undergraduate years, outside of the Glee Club, what influenced your development as a musician and as a composer?
RL: All right. One of the reasons I picked Rutgers was because there was a lot of music going on, not just the Glee Club, but a lot of concerts, big name concerts, small name concerts. We had a very famous string quartet visit New Brunswick for a series of concerts while I was a freshman. That was the Budapest String Quartet, and they did a Beethoven cycle, all the Beethoven string quartets. So, I made sure I got to see that. We had famous jazz people come to Kirkpatrick Chapel, which is a great place for that kind of an event, you know, intimate, and I would try to get to those events. In spite of the psychedelic thing, I wasn't so much into the psychedelic thing, although I was certainly aware of it, and I would sort of dip my little tootsie into it just to say that I was there. Some of these things, you say that you were there at that time. I mean, I heard Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock like from forty feet away, that close to hearing that experience. I heard Jim Morrison at the Fillmore in New York. Those were things that were just in the air at the time. Someone said this to me, and I'm not a new-age kind of person, but just for kicks, someone wanted to do my horoscope. So, she's looking at my chart and looking at my hands and so forth. She goes, "Well, you have this and that and the other thing going on, but also, you've got that Aquarius line going." I said, "What's that?" "Well, anybody born between 1946 and 1952 has a high level of creativity for the arts." "Oh, really?" If you believe that or not, I don't know. I think that anybody can be creative if given the opportunity, given the training, and given the right environment, but there was so much stuff going on.
The Rutgers experience was certainly taking most of my headspace, but I also had some other experiences outside of Rutgers that were important to me. A good friend--and he's still a friend of mine--was involved in a commune in Western Massachusetts, and these people were very serious. Marshall Bloom was sort of the guiding light behind this group. What happened was, they were part of the University of Massachusetts at that time, and they were documenting the Vietnam War and the Vietnam peace talks. They were the Liberation News Service and they were giving the real dirt on what was happening in Vietnam. When the peace talks started happening in Paris, the Vietcong said, "We don't want AP. We want this group from Massachusetts, the LNS." They were students. They were still college students at the time, but, "We want them covering us. We want them covering it." That's the level of political commitment that they had. Anyway, they had a commune in Western Massachusetts near Wendell, is the name of the town, a little tiny place, but in the orbit of Amherst. So, I would go up there for weekends and party on with them, and some of the people who would hang out there would be Kurt Vonnegut. He was there any number of times. Oh, boy--he's still playing. He's a blues player, Taj Mahal. You know what, I've got to take another health break, if I may. I'll be back. [Editor's Note: Marshall Bloom was a journalist who co-founded the Liberation News Service with Ray Mungo in 1967.]
KR: Yes, sure I will pause the recording.
RL: I'll think of his name by then.
KR: Okay, we are recording.
RL: Okay, the musician who would hang out there from time to time--and I think he was an Amherst student or graduate at that point--Taj Mahal. I mentioned Vonnegut, who would come down there. Also, a poet, and she's still with us, Verandah Porche. That's her nom de plume [pen name], Verandah Porche. Now, this was a true hippy commune. I mean, these people bought a hundred acres in Western Massachusetts at a time when it was very, very inexpensive. The place was totally rundown. It had no central heat. If it had electricity, it was very basic. They contributed their work and their money. Mostly, it was their parents' money, and I think that there were a couple of parents who thought this might be a good long-term investment, a hundred acres in Western Mass, "Pretty soon that'll be worth something." It wasn't worth much at the time. Anyway, I thought, "Now, this is pretty cool." A Rutgers buddy of mine would say, "Yes, commune life, I could live on a commune. I could get together with any kind of woman. I could eat just about anything," because the food was often abysmal. It was like throw everything in a pot and cook it up. What I thought was interesting about it was the recycling attitude. That is, these were buildings that were falling apart and that they were fixing up, the cliché back to the land, but now back to the land has gone fast forward into farm to table into all this kind of other stuff. So, it's what's old will be new again.
I don't know if you can see it in the background here, but all this wood here and these beams, what I did in the summer of '72--this is after Rutgers--there are some elements of this commune lifestyle, without the commune--I don't want to do that--but this idea of recycling materials is a very good one. There are a lot of buildings right around here, Eastern Pennsylvania, that were unused but taxed. They were still paying taxes on it, and you could have them, really, for the asking, which is where I got a lot of these beams, like up there. This entire house is framed and built with some of that stuff. Some of my summer jobs in college, I was a carpenter and a brick mason's helper, not a bricklayer, but a brick mason's helper. What does that mean? It means an hour before the bricklayer gets there, you are there mixing the mud, and you are there carrying the bricks up to the scaffold. (Then, he does all the work.) That's the bricklayer's helper, but you see how the guy does it. So, I learned a lot of stuff there. That's how I could work the Ford Hall bricks and stuff into my house. So, I had that. In a way, I have a different approach than a lot of my fellow students at Rutgers. That is, I don't know how that would have been possible, let's say, in New Jersey at that time. My home is in Heidelberg Township, which had no zoning at that time in the early 1970s. It was more possible out here. That experience, that running into the commune lifestyle, was a good one for me.
When I'd go up there to the commune, I would bring my guitar, and I would play. There were people up there who kind of played music, but I had a little more experience, and I would always draw a crowd. I thought, "Well, this is good." At that time here in Pennsylvania, I was recruited into a country western band. It seems a little bit away from the Glee Club, but eventually, it will dovetail with the Glee Club because during the Czechoslovakia tour (1971), I brought the guitar along and I did a special separate set of American folk music and some of my own stuff as part of the Glee Club concerts. One of the upshots of this was, after being in Prague for a couple of days--and Prague is incredible, especially at that time. It was under Communism, but the music, the museums, the culture was incredible because the Communist attitude toward culture was, "This is one of our selling points," at least in Czechoslovakia," culture should be very accessible to all people. It shouldn't be terribly expensive, and everybody should be educated in it from the elementary school level on." So, everybody played. Yes, I mean, I didn't meet one person in Czechoslovakia who wasn't knowledgeable about music, number one. Number two, many of them played instruments to a pretty good level. We were [in] Prague for a couple of days and then said, "Okay, now, The Club, we're going to this youth camp in Soběšín. It's in Eastern Bohemia, and we're going to go out there and do some concerts." "Oh, no! We're going to a youth camp. What is this? We want to be in Prague. It's so cool, with everything going on in Prague."
We get out to this youth camp, and this was incredible. This was amazing. It was like young people from all over the Soviet bloc and some from Western Europe too. We were met at the train station by a Czech bluegrass band, and a Czech bluegrass band is serenading us as we were getting off the train. I said, "What the? Where have we landed here? What planet is this?" My brother was in The Club at the time also, and we both had our guitars. So, we'd join in, and, "Oh, yay, Americans! Oh, Roger and Tom!" To make a long story short, we wound up doing concerts with them, and they invited us to go back to Prague with them to do a show at a place called Riegrovy Sady, which is a big outdoor amphitheater in Prague. We did, and we had to be a little bit circumspect about it because at that time, this is very shortly after the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia. We're seeing this now in Ukraine, but it was not many years after the Russian invasion. We had to sort of soft pedal the fact that we were Americans, but we played. Even during a concert, there was a boom--and this happens in totalitarian places--boom, all the power went out in the whole place, all the power went out, "We'll shut them up."
Also, during that same tour--this is August of '71--we were supposed to play somewhere on the date of the Soviet invasion, the third anniversary of the Soviet invasion. The concert promoter came to Soup and says, "Dr. Walter, we request that you do not play your performance as scheduled." He said, "Why not?" "Well, it might cause a provocation among our people, and that would be bad." So, we didn't sing. I mean, we would typically have begun our concerts with our national anthem, and [makes the sound of an explosion] something like that could have been explosive on that date. That's the kind of stuff that went on. [Editor's Note: In 1968, Alexander Dubcek instituted liberal reforms in Communist-controlled Czechoslovakia in what was known as the Prague Spring. On August 20, 1968, the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact nations invaded Czechoslovakia and reinstated the authoritarian wing of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, which continued to rule until the fall of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe in 1989.]
My country western experience was very interesting, a sort of interesting counterpoint to the Glee Club. You learn a lot when you're playing in bars. One of the things I learned was I don't want to do this forever, but it was fun at the time. I tell people that I've graduated music-wise from playing the timeslot ten to one to playing this timeslot, like seven to ten or seven to nine. That's more my timeslot, playing second shift, not third shift.
KR: Let us talk about academics at Rutgers.
KR: In your first session, you talked about visiting Rutgers as a prospective student, and you were thinking, at that time, of majoring in chemistry.
KR: What did you actually end up majoring in, and why did you choose that?
RL: Okay, I'll tell you, I wound up switching from chemistry to an English major, mostly because I was seriously deficient in calculus, and that was a combination of a couple of things. I think that I was misadvised as a high school student. I was told, "Eh, you know, you can get calculus when you go to college." Well, by the time I got to Rutgers, some of my fellow students had two years of high school calculus. They said, "Oh, yes, we've had this. We've had this," and to me, "What's a derivative?" It was a steep slope, and I really didn't see myself catching up to that. I love chemistry, and this goes along with what your parents maybe have planned for you. My dad, a World War II veteran, got out of the Navy and took some courses at Penn State under the GI Bill to become an engineer. Then, he wound up having a family, getting married, and that was the end of that. His plans for me probably were to fulfill that dream. As a chemistry major, sort of a scientific kind of guy, the idea was that I would become a chemistry major and then team up--and this is what I talked about in my interview for Rutgers with Dr. Susman and a couple of other profs who were there at scholarship candidate interview weekend about this time of year in 1967--I said, "Yes, I want to team up with a lawyer and a couple businesspeople, and we're going to do great things. We're going to invent plastic or something." [laughter] That was my thought at the time, but then the calculus was the stumbling block there.
I think I would have eventually gotten pulled toward the music direction. English major was very flexible, and it was a kind of thing that sort of fed a lot of the songwriting and poetic aspect that I would eventually get into. I got to hang out with people like Ron Levao, and the Rutgers English Department was tremendous, really one of the best in the country.
The chemistry still served me well. I do a lot of stuff with chemistry here at home. I'm a home brewer and a winemaker. You've got to know basic organic chemistry to make beer and to make wine. We were making beer at Rutgers, and at that time, home brewing of beer was illegal. So, you were not allowed to do it. They sold the stuff (ingredients like malt syrup) in the grocery store, but they sold it as stuff for baking. I'm still seeing the label, Blue Ribbon Malt Syrup, but malt syrup, you would bake with it. So, we would make beer at various places. Anybody who had an apartment that had running water and sort of a dependable stove and some closet space, we would make beer there, and some of these things turned into fiascos and very amusing things. I'll tell you--I don't know if you know anybody who makes beer. Any beer makers among us here today? No. Anyway, it's fun, but the next best thing to being a beer-maker is having a friend who is a beer-maker. That way you can benefit without having to do all the work. We would make beer, and we would bottle it. One time, we were bottling beer-and this was my brother's apartment on Morrell Street, which is right near the Student Center--and suddenly, the primary fermentation vessel, which is like twenty gallons, thirty gallons, sprung a leak. Okay, what do we do? Well, it was too soon to bottle this beer, really. That is, it had too much residual sugar, and as the fermentation goes on like this, the residual sugar goes away, and the alcohol goes up. It was about here [higher], and it should have been here [lower], but we have to bottle it anyway. What are we going to do? We've got to bottle it or else it's going to be all over the floor. So, we bottled it and hoped for the best.
Now, this beer is now fermenting in the bottle, the way champagne does, but it's building up pressure in there. Sitting in the apartment one day, someone hears, "Pop, pop." What's happening? These bottles are exploding. All right, so, what are we going to do now? Now, it has fermented more in the bottle, so it's close to where you want it to be, but it's still a little too gassy. So, we send somebody in there wearing very protective clothing and like a nylon stocking over his face and glasses, so that in case anything else blows up, you're not going to die or lose an eye or something like that. We start opening these, and we start calling up everybody we know, "Hey, we've got to drink some home brew tonight. It's going to go bad otherwise." [laughter] So, everybody came over.
These days, when you talk about country western music or when you talk about bluegrass music or anything of that sort, people assume it's got a certain sort of political connection. At that time, it definitely was not. At that time, bluegrass in particular was far enough off everybody's screen that you could do it and not be judged a redneck. You know what I mean? It just was a fun thing to do. You'd get a bunch of people, three, four people, who can play guitar, banjo, mandolin, and that's about it, bass. You can just unpack your instruments and go to town. So, we would do that, and we'd have these home brew sessions. That turned into one that night with the home brew on Morrell Street.
When I was living in Griggstown, Mrs. Terhune, my landlady, said, "Well, you don't drink, do you?" I said, "Oh no, Mrs. Terhune, I do not." She says, "Well, you know what I did? I called the dean at Rutgers, and I called the dean and asked what kind of a student you were, and whether they would recommend you as someone to rent a room from me, and they recommended you highly." I said, "Well, that's very nice to hear." So, she called Old Queens to find out about me. [laughter] Anyway, but I had all this home brew, and I was not going to go back on that end of my life. One day, I'm having a home brew at her place. She said, "What is that you're drinking, Roger?" I said, "Oh, this is cider, Mrs. Terhune. Would you like some?" "No, I don't drink cider." I said, "Okay, good." [laughter] So, I had my home brew. Yes, we had a good time.
KR: What do you remember about graduation in 1971?
RL: All right, Rutgers Stadium, 1971. I remember that I was one of the rebellious people who did not purchase a cap and gown. I just had my three-piece herringbone suit. There was a certain renegade aspect to me. I regret some of that, mostly for my parents' sake, because they would have liked to see that cap and gown, but I didn't do that. It was in the Rutgers Stadium. Our speaker was U Thant of the United Nations. He was the head of the U.N. at the time, and I was over the moon. I mean, I was really thrilled to be graduating because there were many times during the four years that I thought, "Can I make it?" not just academically, because the academic thing was challenging enough, but all the other stuff going on in my life. Vietnam and what's going to happen there, that was a challenge. Money was okay. I had a Rutgers Alumni Scholarship that paid for everything. When I tell people what we spent at that time for a year at Rutgers, they don't believe it. I'm an out-of-state student, so I paid double tuition. Even with that, it was under fifteen hundred dollars for the year, tuition, room, and board, not including books, but tuition, room and board, under fifteen hundred. Even with the consumer price index, you'll find that that is still very, very low comparatively. What is it now at Rutgers, about thirty-five thousand, forty thousand, something like that? [Editor's Note: U Thant served as the third Secretary General of the United Nations from 1962 to 1971.]
KR: I think it is twenty-eight thousand total. Is that about right, Chris? You are a more recent alum than I am.
CW: That's about what I paid. Well, I also commuted.
RL: At that time, it would have been possible for someone like myself, with a scholarship and a summer job, I graduated, I had money in the bank. I did take out some college loans, but this was a strategy my father [suggested]. I tell people, "My father lived through the Great Depression." He was born in 1921, so he was just old enough to be a little kid at the time the depression hit. It was a tough time. So, he gets out of the depression. Okay, now, we've got World War II. He had some very difficult historical and economic times to live through. When I was a student, my parents were so thrilled when I got the scholarship to Rutgers, and that I was going at all. I had three other choices for college, but Rutgers was by far my preferred landing spot. My dad had a great strategy; you would take out the college loans, take out the interest-free loans, and start paying them back after you graduate. If you have the money around (which if you're smart, you will), if you have the money reserved to pay that off, then you'd be okay. So, I was in very good shape when I graduated.
That, again, gave me a little bit of a cushion to do the next thing, which was, 1972, I bought this place where I'm sitting right now, six acres in Eastern Pennsylvania. Again, the price at that time, it's way different than it is now. Some of these roads around here were dirt, dirt roads, and the services were minimal. You didn't have garbage pickup. Every now and then, they'd plow the snow, things like that, things that we expect now, but I wasn't going anywhere. I didn't go too many places except to work on this place, and the music work was fairly infrequent. If you work on the weekend, you're lucky. All right, so that's good, but that gave me a lot of downtime to get things set up here. It took a while. I lived three years without running water. [laughter]
CW: I wanted to talk a little bit about your decision to enroll in graduate school.
CW: Around that time, the Mason Gross School of the Arts was also forming. [Editor's Note: Founded in 1976, the Mason Gross School of the Arts, or MGSA, is the art conservatory at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.]
CW: Can you talk about that and how that happened and your experience looking into graduate school?
RL: Well, yes. After a couple of years out of Rutgers, I realized that for me to do what I want to do musically I have to have as much training as possible. When you're a student of music at a serious level, at the graduate level, your profs, they're your role models. I wanted to be like Soup but with something that I can do. I wanted to get a college job somewhere, and I thought, "Well, you can't do that unless you have a master's at least." So, that's when I went back to Rutgers.
The Mason Gross School was just forming at that time. I had tremendous, tremendous training at that time from Rutgers, piano study with Wanda Maximilien, music theory study with Robert Dix Lincoln and Robert Moevs, a tremendous, tremendous experience. Our classes, if we had five people in class, that was a lot. That was a lot. There's also no place to hide in a class like that. "Well, what do you think about that Beethoven sonata movement, Mr. Latzgo?" Okay, you'd better be able to say something. So, it was a very serious time for me to get my chops down. I realized, "Hey, I might be sort of out in the country here," but I had a piano. I had a very good piano, not the pianos I have now, which are extremely wonderful, but I had a grand piano and a lot of my fellow grad students did not have that. They didn't have pianos at home. Being a pianist, these days there are keyboards that are quite good. I won't say they're excellent, but they're quite good. You can put the headphones on and you can play, and nobody can hear you. You don't bother the neighbors. At that time, there was no such thing. If you wanted to practice, you have to get to an actual piano, and that can be a pain in the neck, or you have to have your own house, which is a very different experience for a grad student. It's hard to do. I was in pretty good shape that way.
Shortly after my graduation in '76 from what was just becoming MGSA, I had a job at a place for disturbed youth. It's called Wiley House, out here in Pennsylvania, and I needed the money. I needed the insurance coverage because I had bad teeth. I had to have wisdom teeth out. I had resumés out to some of the colleges that I thought were a possible fit. At that time, getting a music faculty job was difficult--I'm sure it still is now--but I got a call from a community college around here, not far from here, in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania, L-tri-C [LCCC], Lehigh Carbon Community College. They wondered if I would teach some non-credit music courses, and I said, "Yes, I will." So, I quit the counseling job. It wasn't really even counseling; it was basically driving these young people around to the various activities and making sure they didn't kill each other, or me, because some of them were bigger than me. I was there for just a couple of weeks, and then I made the transition to really a part-time, temporary thing, which was a little bit of a bold move. I lost my insurance coverage, but I did get my teeth taken out before then. That was the beginning of my professional employment.
By now, the country western band is over, but I started playing events, and, again, inspired by Soup, "What's my repertoire going to be?" There are a million young white guitar players, white piano players, doing stuff. "Okay, well, what do I have that's a little bit different, that's somewhat unique?" What I do have is an ethnic background of Slavic music, which I heard all the time growing up from my parents and grandparents and all the tales, all the stories. [At] church picnics, we'd have--you might call it a polka band, but it was more like a Csárdás band. It was that kind of a thing, where they'd be doing all these waltzes and Csárdás, polkas, all this kind of stuff. It was amazing. So, I thought, "Okay, I'll do that, and there's probably enough of a market there and I'll get enough of a niche thing going that if you need somebody like that, I'm the guy." That worked out pretty well. I was eventually getting calls from groups in New Jersey, New York State. I played at the Slovak Embassy in New York City, played at the Czech Embassy, played in Washington, D.C. for those groups also. So, that turned out to be a pretty good thing for me, and I'm still doing a lot of that music.
I was at a festival one time, and the next act after me was David Amram. He's like in his nineties right now, a great guy. He said, "Roger …" I'm coming offstage, "Roger, I love that ethnofunkology you're doing." I said, "Hey, that's it, ethnofunkology, that's what I do," ethnic music with a jazzy kind of twist, ethnofunkology. That's been my sort of tagline, and it continues.
Inspired by the taste for travel and musical travel that I got from Soup and the Glee Club, I thought, "You know what? Western Civ 101, 102, we're hearing all about the Byzantine Empire, about the continuation of the Roman Empire. Why have I not been to Turkey?" is what I said to myself. It's now a while ago, but 2009, I made my first trip to Turkey, incredible experience. I went back several times since then and picked up the Turkish instrument the saz, S-A-Z. The bağlama saz, it's the short-neck saz. When you say saz, there are probably ten varieties of saz. So, I've started to learn it, and I just got a call within the last couple of weeks to do a sort of--this is, again, a very Soup kind of thing--to do a sort of friendship cultural interface kind of event that will take place on June 16 in Bethlehem. June 16, if you know your literature, that's Bloomsday. That's the day that Leopold Bloom had his experience in James Joyce's Ulysses. That's Bloomsday. So, I'll be playing the saz for that event. There will also be a guy, he's a Mark Twain impersonator, so he'll be doing a tribute to James Joyce, and possibly he'll be reading some things from James Joyce. So, that's the kind of thing that I get into, the ethnofunkologist inspired by Soup.
KR: I want to do a time check with everyone. We have been going for about two hours today. Now, I have about a half dozen questions, Roger, about your career. So, I just want to check in with Roger first and then Chris also.
KR: Should we take a little break and then keep going? Should we stop for today and reconvene for a third session? What works best for you, Roger?
RL: You know what? Right now is a nice window for me, if it is for you. My daughter's at school, so she's not online. My wife is at work, so she's not here online. So, I have access to the Zoom technology here at the moment. With another health break, I could go for a little more.
KR: Okay, sure, all right. Chris, does that sound good for you?
CW: I think I may have to take my leave just to monitor stuff at the office, but this is great.
CW: Thank you so much, Roger, for providing all your stories and answers to our questions. I think I may have to leave the session for today.
RL: Okay, Chris, nice being with you, and I will probably see you in the near future at the Dave Drinkwater event. Will you be there for that?
CW: Yes, I will try to be there, and I will also be there for the spring concert, which will be on April 30 at Nicholas Auditorium.
RL: At Nicholas Auditorium?
CW: Yes, it is no longer in New York.
RL: No longer at New York.
CW: Yes, we are trying to get that message out now.
RL: Oh, okay.
CW: If you are interested, I can get you the contact info.
RL: Yes, I'm receiving Glee Club emails, so I'm sure I'll get it that way. I have it on my calendar already. I was looking forward to Lincoln Center, but you know.
CW: Yes, me too, but what can you do? [laughter]
RL: That's right. Sometimes, you've just got to go with what is flying.
RL: Okay, Chris, thank you.
CW: All right, thank you. I am going to leave now.
KR: Okay. Bye, Chris. I will catch up with you later.
CW: Thanks, Kate. Bye.
KR: Roger, let us take a quick break. Does that sound good?
CW: Okay. Very good.
KR: Okay, excellent. I am going to just pause the recording.
KR: Okay, all right, we are recording.
RL: I've been in touch recently with [Dan] Robertson of the Glee Club about the Glee Club's 150th anniversary celebration. One of the things that I should have mentioned while Chris was here, one of The Clubbers, still a good buddy of mine, Mark Shane--he was called Mark Shangold, RC '68, in those days--made Super 8 film of one of The Club tours, of the 1968 European tour. Now, he didn't make it from the audience. He didn't make it from our performance, but he made it of activity during the tour, like us on trains and us at the beach and other kind of shenanigans that we did. Dan Robertson, the Glee Clubber working on the 150th, Mark lent me the videotape, and I've transferred it over to disc. I shared a copy with Dan Robertson, so he's got that. He may use some--there's some footage on there of Soup conducting. There's no sound, but it is in color. So, it's interesting stuff, and he will have to talk to Dan about that.
KR: Just to follow up on something from earlier, as you got into your junior and senior year, did you take on any leadership roles in the Glee Club?
RL: No, I did not. Again, in the spirit of the times, I was very much a free form kind of guy, and I was not sort of a bureaucratically-minded person. I was very happy to be simply a participant, and the leadership of The Club, I think, was in good hands without me sticking my fingers into it. [laughter]
KR: When you were in graduate school at Rutgers, what was the department actually called then?
RL: It was called the graduate school, and it was music, the Graduate School of Music. The Mason Gross School was just forming at that time. The feeling was that we have all these [departments], a music department here, a music department there, [and] profs teaching in both places. So, there was a lot of overhead that was cumbersome to getting everything together. Plus, physically they were distant. The Nicholas Music Center, that stuff was all kind of in the future. Eventually, those places did get built, and that made a focal point for all the graduate programs. The Mason Gross School is one of the most respected places. It'll give Juilliard, I'm sure, a run for its money.
KR: You got a master's degree.
KR: Is it in music?
RL: It's officially a Master's of Arts for Teachers, but my focus was piano and composition. Similar to the way things are at the Mason Gross School, you could get a conservatory degree, which is, let's say, all piano, or all clarinet, or all trumpet. That's all you did. Or you could get a more, let's say, music education type of thing, where you have other courses. You have music history courses. All the coursework was all music. There was no non-music stuff in there, but it was a broader-brush approach to the music career. I think that was a more appropriate thing for me.
KR: What challenges do you think you faced over time as a composer and as a musician?
RL: I would say you have to have a thick skin for this; you have a certain concept about yourself and what you can do and what you are able to do, and the fact that not everybody recognizes that, that's a challenge. You say, "Well, you know, I think I'm this, and I think I'm that, and this is a great song," but you send it off somewhere, and you don't get the response that you want. But you have to get used to that. That happens all the time. That happens all the time. So, you just have to say, "Eh, whatever. I'm confident in what I do. I'm confident that my performance went well, that I did my best preparation for it, and I'm still here." With music, it's unlike many other careers in that the distance between, let's say--name any top artist--Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen are about my age--the distance between that and where I am, the gap, in many ways, is enormous, in terms of record sales, in terms of income, in terms of prestige and fame. However, that's like the tip of an iceberg there, those performers who are at that level, but the rest of us, if you are at a more mundane level--that's probably not a good choice of words--if you're at a level where you're not Billy Joel and you are still doing it and still making a living, that in itself is a success. If you are still present, that in itself is success, and that's the way I look at it. It's a little bit like baseball. There are pitchers who are making twenty million a year. There are very good people who are struggling in the minor leagues for under a hundred thousand a year. Are their dreams unfulfilled? If you're playing baseball, it's a pretty happy thing, and getting paid for it. Even as a break-in Major Leaguer--there's a strike going on right now, a lockout--a break-in Major Leaguer with no league experience, I think they make about 570,000 dollars a year, something like that. They might get run back down to the minors a couple times, but you have to give it a shot. If I had not given it a shot, I mean, you never know. You never know. I've had a couple of pieces picked up by TV, like NCIS has picked up a couple of my tracks, and so I get a royalty check. Yes, it's nice, and I would not have gotten that had I not persisted here. I get radio play. It's a thrill to get a royalty check, I must say, but that is something that I did my homework on.
KR: You have recorded several albums.
KR: Tell me about your albums and what it was like recording them.
RL: All right. We have, in this area of Pennsylvania, especially closer to where your--is it your in-laws or your parents?
KR: Yes, it is my parents.
RL: Yes, where your parents live, right near there, in Saylorsburg, Saylorsburg address, is Red Rock Recording, and that is a world-class studio. Kent Heckman runs it, and he has had all kinds of very top talent because this eastern part of Pennsylvania, we are close enough to New York that we attract a lot of people for whom the urban thing isn't friendly, but they like this environment out here. They like to be able to get to New York if there's an event where they're playing. A recording studio takes a lot of square footage. You need to stretch out a little bit. That's where Red Rock is, Saylorsburg, and that's where I've gone to record. Most of these tracks I've conceived of solo. That is, I've not conceived of them with a band, so I'd have to put the band together to make the recording happen. Fortunately, I mean, you work with good people. I send them the score, they learn the notes, they learn the music from there, and we get together for rehearsal once here at my place and go to the studio, bang, you're done.
They had a great inspiration. Some of these people I'd worked with over the years playing these things live. Some of them are no longer with us. One of them, a Hungarian woman [Ilona Fixel], a Gypsy-style violinist, I bumped into her at a music store, and we're talking, and, "Oh, you've got a Slovak background. Do you know this? Do you know that?" "Yes." "Okay, let's get together and try some things." So, we started a duo playing acoustic Gypsy music, violin and guitar, "strolling tables," playing music tableside for diners, very chic, how about that. We were pulling down some serious money doing that kind of thing because nobody else was doing it around here. If we were hired to play for a cocktail hour for a big reception, we'd go in there--no equipment other than a guitar and a violin--we'd go in there, play our thing, they love us, they give us tips, putting the tips in the sound hole of the guitar. Meanwhile, the band, for later in the evening, the, let's say, eight-to-midnight group, have been there since four o'clock bringing their gear in. So that the patrons don't see them, they bring them in the back door. They have to hang around until we're done playing; then they play. Meanwhile, we're getting back in the car and going home. [laughter] So, that was a nice way to do it, and so she was one of the people who I was fortunate to include in those recordings.
Another one was Al Meixner, who is also no longer with us, he was about my age, died a couple years ago, but he was an alumnus of the Duquesne Tamburitzans, a group that is like the Glee Club. It was--how many were in The Club?--as many as can fit on a bus, and the second bus carried all the gear. They played all kinds of Eastern European instruments, domras, balalaikas, all kinds of stuff like that, and they'd be in costume. They'd have a couple costume changes, there'd be dancers, but that was his undergraduate experience. So, he was fluent on the accordion, fluent on a couple of other instruments, stringed instruments, including the bass. His son, Alex, an incredible trumpet player, he's still more incredible as an accordion player. He was on some of my recordings, so he was part of it. I'm still in touch with Alex, who has moved. He was living around here for a while, then he moved to Florida, and now he moved to Texas because Texas is a huge polka fan area. So, he's down there in New Braunfels, Texas, and he's got a master's degree. His undergraduate degree is from Ithaca, a top music school. His graduate degree is from Penn State, also in trumpet, but where does he make most of his money? Playing polkas on the accordion. So, figure it out.
One of the other players on my recordings, Jim McGee, a bass player from around here, also has a recording studio. Some of my compositions on the recordings are in unusual time signatures. Most of the music we listen to is, "One, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three," or, "One 2, 3, 4, one 2, 3, 4," but some of the stuff I write is in seven. [Editor's Note: Mr. Latzgo vocalizes the time signature.] 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2, 3; seven. Not many people can do that, but Jim, boom, right on it. He was doing these incredible solos on the seven-eight stuff. [laughter] So, you get a reputation for this, "It's a Latzgo session. There's going to be some unusual stuff."
I've also recorded using some Eastern European instruments, the balalaika, the Greek bouzouki, and I have yet not recorded with the Turkish saz, but I probably will be doing something with that soon. The Turkish saz is a very unusual instrument. It's like the national folk instrument of Turkey, and many, many people play it over there. You walk in small towns, and people are just casually playing the saz after dinner. Not that they're hired to do it, but they do it just for fun. The thing has seven strings grouped two, two, and three. So, it also has what we call in music a reentrant tuning, where the middle string is higher than the outer two strings, so bom, bam, bom. [Editor's Note: Mr. Latzgo vocalizes the notes, low, high, low.] It's not like the guitar, where they go from low to high. This one goes low, high, and then low again. So, you have to find your way around on that fret board, which is very narrow.
The other thing about Turkish music--if you look at a piano, you look at a guitar fret board, there are twelve different notes. That's our music system, C, C-sharp, D, and so forth, twelve half steps. Turkish music has eighteen half steps. Where are those notes? They're between the two adjacent keys on the piano keyboard. They're between the frets in the guitar. The Turkish instrument, the saz, has some extra little frets, and if you look at the saz, the frets are unevenly spaced. When you look at the guitar, they do get reduced in size but uniformly, but they are not on the saz; they're all over the place. So, that's another challenge. I'm getting known as a saz player around here. [laughter] Ethnofunkology.
KR: What are the names of your albums?
RL: One is called Swing Bohemienne. Bohemian is the native culture of the Czech people. Swing Bohemienne, I-E-N-N-E, is like a nod of the head to Django Reinhardt, who did a lot of Gypsy things in a French mode, referring to bohemian, i.e., the lifestyle of the artist, the "bohemian." It's Swing Bohemienne. That's my first one. The second was called New Wine in Old Bottles, which kind of tells it all. I do a lot of music connected to winemaking and wine drinking, and some of them are on there, New Wine in Old Bottles. Are these completely new songs? No, some of them are old songs that I'm putting into new approaches, and some of them are completely new but in old style. So, that's New Wine in Old Bottles. The third one is called Wild Nights, Wild Nights after an Emily Dickinson poem, which I set to music. I had been working for some years with the recently deceased singer named Marcia Boyesen, and Marcia was very much enamored with the poetry of Emily Dickinson. So, I wrote a song cycle based on a number of Emily Dickinson poems, and Wild Nights was one of those poems that I set to music. I had been getting quite a few calls for that kind of thing, April, National Poetry Month, but a lot of the pandemic has curtailed some of those events. I'd written a song cycle to the Emily poems, also to the poems of Robert Frost, and that also was a project I did with Marcia. But those are on Marcia's CDs. [Editor's Note: Jean Baptiste "Django" Reinhardt was a Belgian-born Romani-French jazz guitarist and composer who lived from 1910 to 1953.]
KR: Yes, I noticed on your website that you have a Robert Frost line on the front page of your website.
RL: Yes, right. The Road Not Taken. That's one of the songs. Yes, again, [it] goes back to Soup, with the road not taken. If you travel the expected road, you get where people expect you to be, but the road not taken might be where you really intended [to go], where you personally wanted to be.
KR: As a musician and as a composer, how have you adapted to changes in the music industry over the years?
RL: Yes, well, it's getting harder. My material is available on the web, you can download it, and the little tiny slice of whatever that download amount is, eventually, that tiny slice will come back to me, but it's very tiny, that tiny slice. If you're not Taylor Swift or someone like that, that slice is very tiny. The way they have that algorithm set up on Spotify and so forth really doesn't favor someone like myself. I'm not making excuses, but that's just the way it is. They go for the big sales. I just saw a thing in The New York Times over the weekend, where some singer-songwriter had like forty, fifty-thousand hits of her song on Spotify, and the payout was like fifty bucks. So, it's very tough. The way you want to do it, you have to have a presence there and I do have a presence there, but you want to support that with playing live. Now, if you can't play live, over the last two years, that's been shut down quite a bit. It's opening up a little bit, but it's still not what it was. It's helped that I've had a lot of income streams going on. I teach here (in my home studio) piano and guitar, but I am no longer doing adjunct work. I had been doing adjunct work at L-tri-C and at Penn State, but I'm not doing that anymore. Penn State moved its campus from fairly close by to much farther away, and for adjunct money, it just was not worth it. So, that's a challenge to that income stream.
What I have tried to do--and just as I'm looking forward to this program in June--I'm going through some of my notes, you sometimes say to yourself as a composer, "Yes, I wish I had the time to do this, that, or the other thing." Well, these days I have had much more time to do some of this stuff. I'm going through some of my notes from my travels to Turkey and other places to see what is there, and one of the things I did in Turkey was to make transcriptions of songs that I heard people do, songs that I heard. I heard the janissary band in Istanbul. The janissaries are sort of the prototype of the modern marching band. The sultan, if he was planning to come into your territory, he'd send his janissary band in. [Editor's Note: Mr. Latzgo vocalizes what the band's music would sound like.] They have this long history of this music from centuries, and they still perform in Istanbul in costume. So, one of my first nights there, they were having a parade, and [I thought], "Oh, this is blowing my mind." I'm there transcribing some of these pieces, what they were playing. So, that's the kind of stuff that I'm looking at these days for new ideas in the ethnofunkological universe. That's some of the stuff that has been good about this (pandemic).
Also, I have a twelve-year-old daughter who keeps me busy, and she is playing cello at school and a lot of piano at home. So, she is now at the point where she's not exactly kicking me off the piano bench, but, "Dad, can we work on this? Can we work on that?" She's really interested in vampires, and there's a show on TV called Twilight. I don't know if you know that series. All right. Anyway, there are some songs on there and there's a lot of piano on there. [Editor's Note: Mr. Latzgo hums the theme song in Twilight.] "Dad, I really want to learn that." So, we're transcribing these. You can download some of the notes but not all of them from the almighty internet. So, I'm writing them out with her, and that's a very good musical experience for her and for me. I'm connecting with her that way over the Twilight series and the vampires. So, she's tearing it up on the piano. I like that. [Editor's Note: The Twilight Saga is a series of five vampire-themed films that are based on novels written by Stephanie Meyer.]
I'm on six acres here, so we have a lot of work to do outside. I cut a lot of firewood to stay in shape. I have an orchard. I have a vineyard. We have like a hundred grapevines, and last year, we made twenty gallons of Frontenac--it's a French hybrid, red, it's a red wine--and also, twenty gallons of pear wine. So, we do that. We have a garden, and yes, it's good. There's a variety of things, and I consider that part of the income stream that a musician has to have ready to go. It's not like a plan B, but it's like several plans A, another plan A that you have to do, or else the thing falls apart.
It's tough to adapt to this environment. There's all this stuff with Patreon--I don't know if you know about that--where a musician can set up a Patreon website. People can subscribe to your website, and they pay a certain amount per month. Then, you populate it with content, and every Thursday night, like, "Hey, here I am, everybody. Here's my next song." I don't want to bother with that. I'd rather be at the piano or the guitar. I'd rather be working on a new piece or reviewing old pieces, like I'm doing now. If I were more dependent on that kind of thing, on, let's say, internet record sales--which, as I said earlier, if you're not Taylor Swift, good luck--rather than do that, I'd rather do this other stuff. I'm still here doing it, so I think it's okay.
KR: You did mention briefly being impacted during the pandemic as a performer. In more general terms, can you talk a little bit more about that, but also what your pandemic experiences have been like?
RL: In general, they've been pretty good. What can one do if there's a pandemic on and you're a performer? So, I filled my time--I still do keep a notebook and a diary of what I do every day, but for a while, my daughter gave me one of these little tiny notebooks, the way kids have, and [I wrote down the] things I did in the pandemic. I had a little list of stuff that I did, figuring that at some point this would be over, and you'd look that and say, "Ha, ha, look what I did." It's much easier here than it would be, let's say, if I were in the New York Philharmonic or all the Broadway people. They shut them out. I mean, the opera and the Philharmonic weren't paying their people during the pandemic. What do you do if you are a violinist in that group and they're not paying you anymore? Okay, well, you say, "Well, I'm going to go back to my waitress job, or my waiter job, or my bartender job." Well, the bars aren't open either. Now, what do you do? Well, you go back to your parents in Ohio or whatever, and a lot of people did that. It's terrible. At least I feel like I'm somewhat defended here by the lifestyle, by the various plans A that I have, that I can go out and do some of this other stuff. It's not been bad.
I think psychologically it's worse for some people. My wife, before the pandemic happened and because of our daughter, she was working two days from home and three days at the office. That was kind of a special arrangement that she had. Well, then, all of a sudden, everybody's at home, everybody's working from home, and that kind of lost its novelty because now, guess what, you're always working. You're never offline. Her boss is always looking for her. Her boss is always looking for the next project that she wants by tomorrow. Of course, they know you're at home, so they can go looking for you there, and they know they can find you at all times. That's been a drag for her, but now, they're starting to filter back to the office. In fact, just today, that's what she's been doing. She's in public relations. Corporate communications is the current term for that, but she is working with one of the VPs, talking about--this is Air Products, where she works--they are just talking about how they're going to move back to the new building, and you have to have a mask, et cetera, et cetera. Is there going to be a cafeteria? Can anybody else come in? Blah, blah, blah. So, that's all part of the thing.
All this stuff has made some interesting subjects for songs. A lot of these songs come about because people overhear certain things that people say that weren't intended to be part of a song, like the famous song "Sixteen Tons." Merle Travis, growing up in West Virginia, coalmining household, his father [said], "Well, another day older and deeper in debt. I hope St. Peter don't call me 'cause I owe my soul to the company store." He's talking like this. Anyway, that turned up in the song. My wife, "Yes, I got to be at the chairman's talk tomorrow morning. They're going to be up there, blah, blah, blah. I'm going to be up there in the front row. They're going to be playing with a PowerPoint, getting all that stuff going, and he's going to be talking with the CFO. They're going to be answering questions about the Wall Street guidance and so forth." So, I thought, "All right, all right, it can go [makes a beat on the table and starts singing] 'I went down to the chairman's talk, sat down in the very first row/They started playing with a PowerPoint, and then they turned the lights down low/In came the big guy, and then he started talking real slow, and he said/'Blah--blah, blah, blah/Blah--blah, blah, blah/Blah--blah, blah, blah/Blah--blah, blah, blah.'" Okay, that's one of the things that came out of this pandemic. [laughter]
KR: I'm giving you applause, for the record.
RL: Thank you, thank you very much. It's not been a bad time. It's been a very, very different time. In many ways, it's been a good time because I am [an individual contributor]. I know this from my wife talking about it--there's the personality profile thing, the INFP. The introvert--I don't know what all these things are, but she calls me an individual contributor. So, I'm not a person who likes to work in teams. I'm a person who does best working alone. This is okay for me. This is right down my alley. Again, fortunately, I had enough of [an] income stream from various places that it worked out okay. It's still working out okay. Best of all, I mean, nobody really close to me got COVID or got impacted by that. I don't want to be glib about my own experiences here, but fortunately, none of us here at home or in our immediate circle suffered drastically. Some people did experience COVID, but nobody met their demise as a result of it.
KR: To go back to Rutgers, you have talked about this throughout the interview today, but how do you think your years at Rutgers shaped you, and what do your Rutgers years mean to you?
RL: Yes, I think they mean more to me as time goes on, and I don't think that that's an unusual thing for most alumni. You realize how good you had it, for one thing. You realize how special those years are and were, as you get more distant from them and go, "Wow, I didn't have to worry about grocery shopping, when I could go have my meals at the Commons. I didn't have to worry about the heat and electricity, when I was living in the dormitory." It was a nice bridge for me to adulthood, you might say, and it really was. I didn't get to be twenty-one until I graduated, but it was a wonderful way to allow myself to grow into those roles of being a grown-up person. My wife, she's got her reading list, I've got my reading list, but my reading list very often is stuff that I either read at Rutgers or should have read at Rutgers, stuff that was assigned that I maybe skipped over or hadn't looked at it recently. These days, the curriculum is different. It's a lot more career oriented. I'm not saying it wasn't career oriented when I was there, but it was broader when I was there. There were language requirements. If you were a math or science major, you had to take a certain number of humanities courses, and vice versa, if you were a humanities major, you had to take a certain amount of scientific courses. So, it probably was a broader educational experience than it is today, but I think Rutgers probably has more distribution of academics than a lot of other places I hear about. I hear people sometimes talking about, like if they're an engineer, "I don't want to take any of those useless humanities courses." That's the problem. That's one of the problems with our culture today, that not enough people have taken those humanities courses. They never encountered a thought about moral philosophy or something like that. They just think about their little niche specialty. I think that that is one of the things I'm most grateful to Rutgers for providing me, and again, you don't realize it at the time. You don't realize it at the time.
KR: What else would you like to add to the recording?
RL: Well, it's an amazing chasm between 1971 and today, between my four college years at Rutgers, starting in '67, ending in '71 and then graduate school, it's an amazing cultural span, but some things have not changed. The motto of the Glee Club is, "Ever changing yet eternally the same." I have tried to stay focused on what I think is important and what I think are things that I can live with, things that I have been working with and on for my life. Those things haven't changed a whole lot from my Rutgers years, but around that, almost everything has changed. Almost everything has changed. We thought that, at that time, when the war in Vietnam ended, when the draft ended, when the Soviet Union ended, "Okay, we solved all these problems," but now all these problems are very much back on us. So, I guess if you live through them one time, you're prepared for them the next time, or you're not too surprised by them the next time, although I'm not happy to see some of the stuff that's going on. But we'll prevail, I'm sure.
KR: Well, thank you so much for doing this oral history interview. I really appreciate it.
RL: Thank you so much, and it's been a pleasure being with you and Chris. I look forward to the transcript at some point, and that may take a while, I guess.
KR: Yes, sure. What I will do is I will stop the recording, and we can talk off the record.
RL: Okay, good. Yes, you had a couple things you wanted to mention.
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Transcribed by Jesse Braddell 12/5/2022
Reviewed by Zach Batista 4/11/2022
Reviewed by Kathryn Tracy Rizzi 4/29/2022
Reviewed by Roger Latzgo 6/23/2022