Fossils on the bench

As I celebrate the appointment of a fellow Glee Club alum to the bench of the fifth judicial district in Virginia, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the company he joins of fossils who’ve been judges.

John W.G. Blackstone (1879–1880 season). Blackstone (1858–1911) was one of the more notable politicians of the 1879–1880 class (Wilson aside), serving in the Virginia State Senate from 1884 to 1896 when he was appointed the county judge for Accomac and serving as a judge on the Eighth and Eleventh Judicial Circuits until his retirement in 1908.

Oliver Whitehead Catchings (1891–1892 season). At Virginia, he was a law student, captain and quarterback of the football team, member of Phi Kappa Psi, the Z Society and Eli Banana, and editor of both Corks and Curls and College Topics. He completed law school at Virginia and practiced law in Washington, DC while his father, Thomas Clendinen Catchings, was in Congress, then returned with his father to Vicksburg to establish the practice of Catchings & Catchings. He was appointed judge of the 9th Mississippi District in 1905, and died unexpectedly of heart disease in 1916.

Duncan Lawrence Groner (between 1894 and 1896). As Wikipedia records, Groner served as a judge of the Eastern District of Virginia and as chief justice for the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, as well as serving six years in the United States Senate for Virginia.

George Latham Fletcher (seasons between 1895 and 1898, music director 1897–1898). A member of the Z Society and Eli Banana, he practiced law, served as judge of the 28th Judicial Circuit of Virginia in Warrenton, and served two terms as a state senator. Possibly the most memorable case over which he presided as judge was the divorce of future Duchess of Windsor Wallis Simpson from her first husband, in 1927.

Frederick Garner Duval (1905–1906 season). A member of T.I.L.K.A. and the dramatic troupe the Arcadians while at Virginia, Duval was an attorney in Alexandria and later became civil police justice there.

Sheffey Lewis Devier (1917–1918 season). Devier practiced law in Harrisonburg, and served as both a justice of the peace and judge of the juvenile and domestic relations court for Rockingham County. He later served a term as mayor of Harrisonburg.

Absalom Nelson Waller (from 1922 to 1925). Vice president of the Glee Club, he served as a county judge in Spotsylvania County for 32 years.

Robert Fitzgerald (1939–1940 season). An engineering student at Virginia, he served in the US Marine Corps during World War II at the Pacific front and and was discharged a second lieutenant. He practiced law in Falls Church, was appointed a trial judge in Fairfax County, and was later elected to the Virginia Senate.

Charles Stevens Russell (from 1945 to 1948). A Raven, he was appointed to the Seventeenth Judicial Court of Virginia in 1962, and served there until he joined the Virginia Supreme Court in 1982, retiring in 1991.

Edward Earle Zehmer (from 1949 to 1951). Another Marine, Zehmer practiced law for 23 years before his appointment to the First District Court of Appeal in Florida in 1983.

There are probably other still-living Glee Club fossils who sit on the bench, but those are the ones we know of for now. So my friend is in very good company!

Back in the saddle

I started rehearsal last night with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus for an upcoming series of performances of the Kancheli Dixi. Giya Kancheli is new to me; he’s a composer from Georgia who wrote the Dixi, apparently, partly as a memorial to his mentor, conductor Jansug Kakhidze. It’s going to be a fun work, with huge dynamic swings, lots of interestingly intricate writing for the chorus, and some meaty chromaticism. I’m also interested in seeing what the orchestration looks like—the one recording I have has some passages that sound like they might be written for Ondes Martenot…

“Has a Bacon number of 3”

I added a line to my Twitter bio recently that probably bears some explanation. Here’s my current bio:

Grammy Award winning product guy for Veracode, building the most powerful application security platform in the world. Has a Bacon Number of 3.

Most of this is self explanatory, as I’ve written about the Grammy and my employer before. But what the heck is a Bacon number?

Turns out, it’s an established measurement of celebrity that even has a (portion of) a Wikipedia article about it. The “Bacon number” of an individual is the number of degrees of separation he or she has from Kevin Bacon, where a degree of separation is usually understood as “has worked with.” You can use the Oracle of Bacon, online at the University of Virginia since the mid-1990s, to determine an individual’s Bacon number.

As for mine: I can justify it two ways. One is via former Boston Symphony Orchestra music director James Levine, with whom I share a few recording credits (including the Grammy), and who has a Bacon number of 2.

The second, and funnier, one is via the Soup Nazi, the Seinfeld character created by Larry Thomas. Larry Thomas has a Bacon number of 2, also, and he and I shared billing in Veracode’s trade show booth at RSA in 2013, when I spoke in the booth about application security. So there you go.

The author with Larry Thomas, Seinfeld's Soup Nazi, in 2013.
The author with Larry Thomas, Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi, in 2013.

The fabric of the University

Members and alumni of the Virginia Glee Club have contributed many things to the University, from musical theater to classical performances to “The Good Old Song.” But until this weekend I didn’t know that they had also contributed a piece of the University’s facilities.

I read through the 1905 edition of Corks and Curls in the San Francisco airport Friday morning. (I know, I know: the high life.) I found a page on the 1904-1905 Glee Club that I had previously missed. It listed two Humes, Howard and John, as among the officers of the combined Glee and Mandolin Clubs. Over the weekend I did some research on them.

Howard Hume, it turns out, was quite the adventurer. A physician, he got an officers’ commission in the Army Reserves in 1913 and went to Europe as a surgeon attached to the British Army during World War I. He was head of surgery and later head of the hospital at a series of camps, forts and other army posts for the next few years, even spending a few years on Corregidor in the 1930s. He continued to serve in Army hospitals across the American south in his early 60s during World War II.

His brother John Edmund Norris Hume worked as an engineer for GE. We know less about his background, except for one sentence in the finding note for the archives of the president of the University, John Newcomb: “J.E.N. Hume-Memorial Fountain.”

John and Howard were the sons of Frank Hume, Civil War veteran and noted producer of whiskey in Alexandria at the turn of the century. And apparently John was the major donor for the fountain and wall—the Hume Memorial Fountain, with its whispering wall—that once sat in front of Monroe Hall and now is at the end of Newcomb Plaza.

So Glee Club alumni have contributed not only song, but also physical monuments to the University.

Random 5: Going home edition

It’s been a long week at the RSA Conference in San Francisco and I’m happy to be headed home today. Thankfully I have a random 5 to help me unwind!

  1. Water WheelSteve Gunn (Time Off). An interestingly meditative song, this was my introduction to Gunn, who’s a heck of an artist of sunbaked American primitive guitar.
  2. TightlyNeko Case (Blacklisted). Still a great album almost 15 years later, the shambling grace of this track always makes me smile.
  3. The Bronx Bird WatcherAllan Sherman (My Son, the Celebrity). “On the branch of a tree sat a little tom tit, singing willow, tid willow, tid willow/An uncomfortable place for a boidie to sit, singing willow, tid willow, tid willow.” Even more than Weird Al, I owe my weird sense of humor to Allan Sherman, and specifically to this album.
  4. She’s Lost ControlJoy Division (Unknown Pleasures). Of Joy Division’s short canon, this is not one of the most essential tracks. The lyrics set the pattern for a bunch of bad songs from bands like Interpol and Black Angels. And yet. The tightly wound guitar that simmers until it boils, the metronomic regularity of the bone dry drum kit, that bass.
  5. Quiet SteamPeter Gabriel (Digging in the Dirt). Still by far my favorite take on this song from Us, it holds on by its fingernails to quiet, with only the guitar and slowly building organ chords hinting at what lies underneath. I’m not sure the song gained more than it lost when it transformed into the brass driven version on the final album.

BTW, If you’re interested in the sorts of things I was learning about at the conference, check out a few Storify stories here:

Links roundup

It’s been a busy week at the RSA Conference in San Francisco, so I’m just going to summarize a few things that interested me enough to put them on Delicious or otherwise check ’em out.

Doom and Gloom from the Tomb: Grand Banks – QB4: 1877–1896. This week’s Bandcamp Monday on this great music and bootlegs blog featured my friend and fellow Glee Club fossil Tyler Magill’s band Grand Banks and their first label release. I’ve been enjoying their self-released stuff a lot and am looking forward to this one.

Bill Peschel: Sherlock Holmes Outwitted: The Adventure of the ‘Hot Feet.’ Reprinting, with annotations, a Sherlock Holmes pastiche from the 1904 Corks and Curls. Usually student parodies are too full of in-jokes to be readable but this one comes off. It’s also notable due to its authorship by Armistead Dobie, future UVA law school professor and federal judge. Peschel gets most of the annotations right, only missing in calling College Topics a literary magazine (it was the school newspaper, the early incarnation of the Cavalier Daily).

Krebs on Security: Credit Unions Feeling Pinch in Wendy’s Breach. Two things: first, what is it going to take to get merchants to move away from swiping (extremely vulnerable to theft of credit card info) to dipping the chip? Second, if you use a debit card at merchants, please stop. You’re putting your bank account at risk with every swipe.

Virginia Memory: Forsaken: The Digital Bibliography. Fantastic project linking the plot and characters of the novel by Ross Howell, Jr. to their real-life counterparts using information from the Library of Virginia’s archives. Makes me want to go out and buy the book.


Historical marker in Hot Springs, North Carolina
Historical marker in Hot Springs, North Carolina

I’ve written before about traditional ballads and ballad collectors, but I always feel as though I am discovering new things about the way in which songs are written and passed down. The archetypal music developed (not written) by singers in places as diverse as rural England and western North Carolina and continuing into modern day provenance via folk singers like Dylan and Leadbelly, who then inspired a whole generation of rock musicians to embrace the ballads…

I always feel an electric shock when I find an artifact of balladry. In September 2015 I was lucky enough to discover UVa professor Ernest Mead’s copy of UVA professor and Glee Club alum Arthur Kyle Davis’s More Traditional Ballads of Virginia in a local used book store, documenting the work that he and other members of the Virginia Folklore Society did in collecting ballads from Virginia singers. Last week I had a bill for dinner delivered to me in an 1879 book collecting English ballads (albeit a little heavily focused on lords and kings for my tastes). And of course my discovery years ago that I have western North Carolina’s preeminent folklorist, Bascom Lamar Lunsford, as a distant relative was one of my early connections to the tradition.

What’s interesting to me is that the application of this “oral tradition” to other forms of song, like camp meeting songs and minstrel songs, resulted in some of the most enduring songs that we remember today in the context of universities and student songs. It’s one thing to note that the University of Virginia song “Glory to Virginia” is a football song with words set to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” It’s another to note that the “Battle Hymn” itself takes a tune that was previously known as “John Brown’s Body,” featuring words collectively written by the members of the 2nd Infantry Battalion of the Massachusetts militia as a marching tune. But the story doesn’t stop there; the “Tiger” battalion used a tune for their words that had originated as a camp meeting song in the late 18th and early 19th century, “Say, Brothers, Won’t You Meet Us,” with the earliest printed version of the tune appearing from 1806 to 1808 in camp meeting song compilations. And beyond that, credit for the inspiration of the tune is given to an African American wedding song from Georgia, a “Negro folk song,” and a British sea shanty that originated as a Swedish drinking song.

All of which is just to say that authorship is complicated and history is everywhere.

Virginia secret societies and North Korea

On Sunday, details emerged in the case of Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student being detained in North Korea after an arrest two months ago as he prepared to depart the country. In a televised press conference, Warmbier confessed to attempting to steal a banner bearing a North Korean revolutionary slogan. He apologized for his “severe” crime and said that he was encouraged to commit the crime by the Friendship United Methodist Church, the Z Society, and the CIA. He begged for mercy, saying, “I beg that you see how I was used and manipulated. My reward for my crime was so much smaller than the rewards that the Z Society and the Friendship United Methodist Church get from the United States administration.”

Let me be clear: I’m very worried for Warmbier and don’t mean to make fun of his captivity, and hope he is returned soon. But to be honest, were the stakes not so high, this would read like world class trolling. For one thing, it’s pretty unlikely that the UMC is involved in funding petty theft of the sort practiced by university students with road signs on their walls all over the world. But what is the likelihood that the Z Society is involved?

Answer: pretty low. While you can choose to accept or not the Z Society’s denial of contact with Warmbier, the likelihood of their encouraging international hooliganism is quite low. The Z Society has always been the most staid of the University’s semi-secret societies, especially when compared with Eli Banana and their tradition of public processions with a huge bass drum, or the IMPs and their devil costumes and pyromania (not to mention their predecessors’ fun with taxidermy).

So: I think Warmbier is being forced to confess to his crime by a North Korean government that employs scriptwriters with overactive imaginations and inadequate research. If you’re going to frame an undergraduate for espionage, at least blame the right secret society.