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Nichols reels in sounds of good cheer Tape conveys songs sung to spur teams

The date on the slightly yellowed envelope first caught Sarah Gelman Carney's eye: 1919.

Carney, director of the Nichols School annual fund and alumni relations, had been searching for back issues of the Nichols News, the student newspaper, in the attic of Mitchell Hall in preparation for a ceremony at the Amherst Street school.

The 90-degree September day was not the best time for lingering in the hot attic, digging through the archive shelves.

But typewritten on the envelope were the words "Nichols School Band circa 1919" and "This is a 3 1/2 IPS tape given by Frank Willis and Jack Smith '39."

Inside was a small reel of tape -- and Carney was hooked.

Her glance and the subsequent follow-up give a glimpse into one of the school's longtime, but almost forgotten, traditions: singing fight songs.

The "Nichols School Songs" as identified on the envelope were the instrumental versions of several songs students -- at that time all boys -- sang with vigor at pep rallies before football games.

"Fight, Fight, Fight. Victory for Nichols to the end," and "Sweep down the field again, Victory, or die!" and "For we'll fight with a vim, That is dead sure to win, For the Green and White!"

Identifying the songs fell to William F. "Kim" Kimberly Jr., 78, a longtime teacher, campus photographer and Nichols alumnus.

"As soon as I heard it, I recollected all but one," Kimberly said, "and I knew all the words by heart -- to this day."

But listening to the songs required finding a reel-to-reel machine to play the tape.

Carney said she asked Ben Sorgi, a senior she describes as the resident student expert on sound, what he made of the tape. Sorgi, who served an internship last summer in the sound department at the Metropolitan Opera, had not run across many reels in his lifetime.

"It turns out it was a nice surprise," he said.

Sorgi took the tape to Curt Steinzor, technical director of the Flickinger Performing Arts Center at Nichols.

"It was relatively simple playing it back. The hard thing was getting a machine," Steinzor said.

Several staff members had machines, but they were broken.

"I got lucky with the fourth one, and it played back immediately," he said.

He converted the tape, which contained five songs, to an MP3 file on his computer. When Kimberly heard it, he could sing along and started writing down the lyrics. Most are old college fight songs with the Nichols name substituted in appropriate places, he said.

Kimberly recalled pep rallies in the early-1940s, when several seniors, wearing green sweaters with a white varsity letter "N," would come in during study hall and lead the seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders in the songs while Frans Thompson, a teacher, played the piano.

"It's clear that tradition went on from 1919 until the time I was there," Kimberly said.

The envelope lists Thompson as the conductor.

"He was a teacher here for a long time, maybe longer than me," Kimberly said.

Steinzor says he believed the recording might have been made around 1919 on a wax or acetate cylinder. He doubts that Willis and Smith converted it to reel-to-reel in 1939 but may have done that in the '50s or '60s and presented it to the school.

School administrators were not sure what will become of the songs, but plans call for posting them on the school Web site.

Since Kimberly was able to provide the lyrics that went with the music, a new generation of Vikings supporters can sing them -- and cheer for the green and white.


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