A Celebration of Music
To you Southern High we sing…
‘Twas a seasonable warm Saturday night in May. The moon shone bright upon our building lighting the geometric murals marking the entrance of South Philadelphia High School. The clean, teen abandoned Halls of our Alma Mater, usually sporting the khaki and black colored outfits of its’ weekday attendees, were this night sprinkled with white shirts, black pants, black skirts and white hair.
Your praises forever ring….
There were hugs of recognition and stories of antics gone unpunished in these our hallowed halls. There were compliments on how well we had aged. There were soft spoken sympathies for those who could not be here.
Your sons and daughters pledge to you…
Mostly, there was joy. And, befitting the hip and groovy graduates of Southern, there was music.
Our own South Philadelphia High School Alumni Choir performed ‘A Night of Song, A Celebration of South Philadelphia High Schools’ own Mr. William Yeats.
Organized by John Tenaglia ’81 as a tribute to this teacher who had a profound impact on his life as a student and subsequently as an opera singer. Mr. Yeats gave of his time, without cost to give John the voice lessons he needed to be able to apply to college to pursue his passion. Over the years, Mr. Yeats became a mentor, confidant but most of all a friend/family member who has been involved with him throughout his adult life. As Mr. Yeats is 88 years ‘young’, John felt that this special concert would be a tribute and a ‘thank you’ for all his years of service to South Philadelphia High School. Wanting no ‘attention’ drawn to himself, he worked tirelessly to organize, assemble and produce the concert held in his honor. This concert a labor of love, proved to be a most special event that will be treasured memory for all that participated and attended.
Their faith anew, their honor true….
Mr. William Yeats, for the few who are unaware, was the Choir Director at our school from 1958 to 1993. During his 35 years at Southern, Yeats created choir ensembles of 150 voices, and produced and directed 20 Broadway Musicals.
Wherever our paths may lead….
Mr. Yeats had a legendary career before his time at our school. He served in the National Guard 45th Infantry. He served in the Korean War in 1950, stationed in Japan and Korea. He earned his master’s degree in music at the University of Indiana. While attending the University of Indiana, he developed his rich tenor voice under the instruction of singer and teacher Anna Kaskas. He performed leading operatic roles around the United States, including the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont.
Throughout his notable, musical life, Mr. Yeats has been invited to sing with the Mendelssohn Club, Choral Arts Society at the University of Pennsylvania, Orchestra Society of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra and the Reading Symphony.
He joined the Philadelphia Board of Education in 1958 where he respectfully earned the leadership of many school organizations. Fortunately, his primary focus was as Choir Director here at South Philadelphia High School.
The Celebration for the beloved Choir Director was composed of past members of the choir who held semi-secret rehearsals in the months preceding the performance. The tribute was a surprise for the dedicated, retired Choir Director so rehearsals were hush hush!
We’re with you in thought and deed…
All that reserved energy came bursting through onstage and in the audience. Voices from the past brought tears of joy and sadness to the stage. From, ‘It’s a Grand Night for Singing’ performed by the entire Choir to heart wrenching, tear jerking solo of ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story sung by Soloist Grace Palidora Pezzano ’81 there was dancing in the seats, off key singing along and unrestrained sharing of emotions.
Sitting in the lobby handing out program books to those who came out to celebrate our musical legend could have, at any other school, been a rather boring job. Instead the prime location gave the opportunity to enjoy spirited conversations with Alumni and Guests!
We spoke with Alumni going as far back as 1956 and as recent as 2016. Many wanted to stop and chat about the school, their memories of their time here and the beauty of the entry mural.
We listened, laughed and high fived everyone who gave us the year of their graduation!
Mostly, our friends and neighbors wanted to share their memories of Mr. Yeats.
We were told the story of the student who frequently skipped Choir rehearsal. We laughed when he told the story. When Mr. Yeats arrived, he remembered the wayward member by name then immediately admonished him for missing rehearsals!
There was the student who took home the Music Book more than 40 years ago and did not return it at the end of his school year. He bought the book with him that Saturday to present to Mr. Yeats. Yeats told him to keep it! The book delinquent kindly handed over the 2 decades old music books to the Alumni Association Executive Committee to be donated to the historic book collection in the School Library under the care of Marc Adelman. Thank you.
Dear Alma Mater Southern High…
We would like to say a special ‘Thank You’ to Officer Seaborn of the school Security team. Several times throughout the night we ran out of Programs, seems we underestimated the reach of John Tenaglia and the team who organized this Celebration. As I held up the last of the programs in dismay, Officer Seaborn came over, whisked away the program to return in a few minutes bearing 100 additional copies! Not once, but twice, she rescued us from disappointing incoming Guests wanting to celebrate and sing along! Thank you Officer Seaborn!
Also, our very special Thank You to:
John Tenaglia- Conductor- Musical Director
Maestro-Hugh Kronot- Accompanist
Assistant Director: Frank Nardo
Photographer: Donato Valentino Photography
Peacemaker: Giovanna Cavaliere
Printing & Alumni Executive Committee Liaison: Liz Juliano-Olivieri
Author and Promoter of ‘A History of South Philadelphia and its Stars’: Dr. Tony Evangalisto
Welcoming Committee: Yvonne Haughton and Henrietta Patrick
And a hearty Thank You to all those who Donated to the South Philadelphia Music Program by tossing cash into our ‘Keep the Music Playing’ jar or purchased a copy of ‘A History of South Philadelphia High School and its Stars’!
The Culmination of the evening was the singing of the Southern Alma Mater by performers, audience and the Security Guards and Custodians working in the hallways keeping us all safe. Yes, no shame, we cried.It’s just Farewell and not Goodbye…
May 15, 2019
PR & Media Chair
South Philadelphia High School Alumni Executive Committee