by Joe Sheppard
With a little help from his friends...
Although Joe officially retired in June 2013, he remains active at LA, continuing as a contributing writer and editor for the Academy Journal. We trust you'll enjoy Shep's Place and check back often to read Joe's habitually witty, often poignant, and always insightful vignettes about life at Lawrence Academy.
As you read this, many Lawrence students will be scattered across the globe on trips, while others will be on campus doing something they’ve never done before, often with students they’ve never known until now. This is Winterim—the forty-third, I believe. It’s both a great educational experience and, as it became clear after the first year, a brilliant solution to a nasty problem: how to survive the last two weeks of the winter term without waking up screaming every morning.
We had to do some gerrymandering of the calendar to get the new program into those two weeks. Some people were unhappy with the need to start the winter trimester after Thanksgiving instead of in January, because, as Arthur Ferguson would have put it, “It’s always been that way.” And others were uncomfortable with the mandate that everyone had to give a Winterim course unrelated to his or her primary field of endeavor. This provision relaxed over time, and faculty who prefer working in familiar territory can offer courses in an area that they know. For a while, too, it was verboten to give the same Winterim course two years in a row.
Like many colleagues, I had no idea what to do when the first Winterim rules came out, but my lifelong love of fixing up old things came to the rescue. Heaven knows how I ever got into it, but at one time I had a hobby of repairing antique reed organs, which, back in those days, were still fairly commonly found in “antique” (read “junque”) shops, for little money, as the market for them was not exactly hot. I had fixed up three or four over the years, we owned one in need of some serious help, and Don and Martha Morse, who lived upstairs, had a beauty that was wheezing and gasping its last.
My course writeup stipulated that you had to bring your own organ if possible. Five or six kids signed up for the class, a couple of whom actually supplied an instrument. We took over the woodworking shop in the basement of Spaulding, and by the end of Winterim we actually had three or four instruments in some kind of working order. The last night of the term was devoted to a big show-and-tell in the Library, which meant we had to lug those things across campus into the old Conant art gallery. The preferred wood of parlor organ builders was black walnut, and most of them had casters that rolled in one direction only—from side to side—so we were all pretty sweaty by the time the gallery doors opened.
One of the most fun Winterims I ever did was called “Be a Faker,” which Jim “Daddy” Draper and I put together. Jim played a wicked alto sax, and used to sit in with the school band, which I directed for a few years. We often lamented the fact that the kids weren’t taught to improvise, so we decided to build a Winterim around teaching a bunch of young musicians how to play jazz as it should be played—from the head instead of from a printed page. I don’t think any of them went on to become the next Louis Armstrong or Paul Desmond, but we had a great time and put on a pretty good show for Winterim Night, playing “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” and a hand-tailored arrangement of the old standard “Bye Bye Blues.”*
One year, Dick Jeffers and I indulged our love of things on tracks with a course called “End of the Line?”, during which six kids and we spent several days working on the old trolley cars at the Seashore Electric Railway in Kennebunk, Maine. We prepared for that with a week of riding around on the Boston subways, escorted by the trolley museum director, who arranged a non-stop, end-to-end ride on the Green Line aboard one of the brand-new cars before they were even placed into service (Like the museum director, Jeffers, and me, most of them are now retired).
Winterim is like garlic: its effects often last far longer than the initial contact. After “Be a Faker,” the old school band became a jazz ensemble, which it has remained to this day; and “End of the Line?” saw the founding of the Lawrence Academy Model Railroad Club and construction of the HO-scale Squannacook and Nissitissit Railroad, which ran on a somewhat erratic schedule in the loft of the Loomis House Garage for several years. Our courses certainly weren’t unique in producing the Garlic Effect; I’m sure many of you reading this column can recall a Winterim experience that influenced your choice of major in college or perhaps even of a career. Drop me a line and tell me about it. Your recollections would make good reading!
*Because the original Edison cylinder recording of the Winterim night concert was lost in the remodeling of the Ferguson Building, we offer these somewhat less exciting versions for your listening pleasure:
- Here’s the classic Glenn Miller version of “Chattanooga Choo-Choo”. There hasn’t been a train through Chattanooga since 1968.
- And here’s an upbeat “Bye Bye Blues” by a German jazz band. We chose this tune because is has lots of nice, long whole notes in it. These guys use a few more notes than we did.
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