In Which I Get Teary

The Groton School Chapel
The Groton School Chapel

I just returned from a trip to The Groton School where I met up with the other rogues and ne’er-do-wells from the Class of 1970, and it was a wonderful reunion.

These are people I know better than almost anyone in the world, having spent five years together in the formative stages of our lives.

We had a great time recalling the old days and catching up with one another, culminating in a memorable class dinner on Saturday night.

On Sunday my friend Tom and I met a new friend, Mike Smith, the choirmaster and organist at Groton’s splendid chapel.

It was built by  J.P. Morgan as a memorial to his wife, so of course they used shoddy materials and cut all kinds of corners. It’s a wonder it’s still standing.

This building holds many memories for me. For five years we had services there every day and twice on Sunday.

Here I heard the Reverend Charles Sheerin deliver his stirring sermons, demolishing every comfortable belief that any of us might have been holding on to and challenging us to peel off a few more layers of the onion and look for the fundamental moral issues that each of us faces in his or her own way.

Carvings in the Groton School Chapel
Carvings above the choir stalls

He had a great voice, too. I’ll bet he was the last to sing the entire Evensong service. I’m so glad I had a chance to hear him do it.

With my friend Philip on my right, by my good ear, providing the right notes, I sang many many beautiful hymns and anthems under the direction of the late Ned Gammons, who also favored us with countless processionals, recessionals and other musical interludes on the organ, one of the finest in the world.

And here I had my fifteen minutes of fame as the Third Priest in a production of T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral directed by Carl Tucker, who also played Becket and played the organ as well.

Tom and I went to the choir rehearsal Sunday morning, and Mike asked us to sing with them. We even suited up. Processing in and taking our places in the choir stalls brought on a flood of memories.

I even got teary singing the Groton School hymn, which is kind of surprising, since I was expelled. It was written by Phillips Brooks, founder of Andover and Exeter and a supporter of Groton.

One always remembers the bit about “make our Father’s business ours,” which is kind of funny, and the lovely melody: “Shine on our school, and let us be / Teachers and scholars taught by thee.”

But I forgot there’s this stirring bridge: “Oh world all bright and brave and young / With deeds unwrought and songs unsung. / For all the strength thy task will give, / We greet thee, we about to live.”

The Chapel at Groton School
The Chapel

That last line, of course, is a play on the salutation of the gladiators to the emperor: “We who are about to die salute you.” I think Brooks wrote the whole thing just to work it in.

But there they were, all these bright brave young people, singing so beautifully. I was overcome. Utterly. And the stupid cassock didn’t have a slit in the side, so I couldn’t reach my hanky.

I thought of all they could achieve, with God’s help and a Groton education, and, I suppose, by implication, my own life of indolence and wastrelsy.

I saw this school as a river of brave bright young people merging with other rivers around the world, and I felt a new measure of hope for the future. They don’t all have to turn out like the class of 1970.

Mike is no slouch on the organ, and he even added a brass ensemble, so the music was absolutely superb. It was a great fun to be a part of such an exquisite performance, and to relive the memories of my callow youth.