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My Columbia
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Charles Saydah, Alum
Columbia College 1967

Columbia was probably more interesting than other university campuses musically not just because it was in the middle of a thriving musical marketplace but because musical things happened so serendipitously and had such unexpectedly pleasant consequences.

As a freshman, I recall dragging a friend to a broadcast of Beethoven's Choral Symphony (in Latin, of all things) in the Furnald TV room. He wasn't much of a musical person. But being a Columbian, he was up for anything new. He didn't appear particularly moved by the whole experience, which he sat through dutifully and about which he politely (perhaps even politically: he didn't want to appear stupid) expressed approving remarks. But I could tell he endured more than he enjoyed. Years later at a reunion, his wife told me that that experience had propelled him into learning violin. He was a teacher (either bio or sociology) at Russell Sage College, where he also was a member of a chamber group that regularly performed quartets in public.

Then there was that glorious spring evening when I was a sophomore. The air was like crystal, the bricks along the walks in the south campus glistening with condensation, and the sky going through the purple sector of the color spectrum. I always tell people that no campus is quite as beautiful as Columbia's on a perfect spring day. Somebody from the heights of Hartley had turned his stereo speakers out toward the quad and at peak volume started blasting the "Heaven's Are Telling" chorus from Haydn's "Creation." Perfect.

And there was the time Duke Ellington came to Ferris Booth Hall for what I believed was an unannounced performance. I would suspect that at any other campus in the country, any Ellington appearance would have been scheduled and flakked unmercifully for weeks. Not Columbia. Ellington could virtually sneak onto campus and play to a packed house, using his considerable charm to turn Ferris Booth's spacious auditorium into a salon, and treating the audience like we were guests in his home. The music wasn't half bad either.

But what I remember most was the KCR-FM signoff each morning at 2. Each day, the station would broadcast an old glee club recording of "Sans Souci," much more slowly than I'd grown accustomed to both singing and hearing. It was sung a cappella, very quietly in the spirit of the early morning. It had a haunting quality that fit the moment -- a few hours past the bustle of one day, a few hours before the hubbub of the next. It expressed all the yearning of "Taps" without being "Taps."

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