Yo Ho for Bernie the Roach

BERNIE KRIEGER has been singing with the Harvard Glee Club since before any of the group's current members were born. A veteran of roughly a quarter century of Harvard choral music, Krieger--by profession an Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at Boston University Hospital--has become something of a legend among several generations of campus singers.

But perhaps "legend" is a misleading word. Bernie Krieger is by no means the William Tell of the Cambridge choral set; his name inspires neither awe nor tremendous admiration. And, unlike Robin Hood, he will probably not be the subject of many great tales of heroism and warm-hearted concern. Indeed, if Bernie Krieger is a legend, he is a legend after the fashion of Pinnochio: all the stories about him are tales of misadventure, tinged ever so slightly with a reluctant love.

Krieger began his long association with the Harvard Glee Club as a freshman in 1955, when he served as an accompanist for the group. With the exceptions of years taken off for medical training and military service, he has played the piano or sung for the group ever since. He has worked under the direction of four different Glee Club directors; has served as the group's graduate manager since 1968 and as tour physician since 1967. In addition, he has been graduate advisor to the Collegium Musicum since its founding 11 years ago, and, until this year, has sung with that group as well.

All of which raises the question, "Why?" Why does this man--who, besides holding a professorship, is a board-certified internist with an M.D. from Western Reserve and a Harvard Masters in public health, and a researcher in epidemiology (the study of risk factors contributing to the outbreak of epidemics)--spend many of his evenings singing with undergraduate men and women half his age? Is there an element of the Peter Pan syndrome at work here, an attempt to retain youth through proximity to it?

The answer, quite simply, is "no." Krieger does not feel any mystical attachments to the changing young faces of the Harvard choral scene. Indeed, he says, "I like them most of the time, but not all of the time. It's disappointing, sometimes, to see then reinventing the wheel year after year."


What is it that keeps Krieger performing year after year, in the front row of Glee Club and Collegium concerts? To that question, he offers two answers. Officially he says, "I am the graduate manager to the Glee Club and the senior graduate advisor to the Collegium. By singing with the groups and helping out with the management first hand, I think I achieve a better idea of what my advising is all about. I don't think any previous advisor has ever been so involved with the groups. I am a very effective--and instrusive--graduate manager." The second answer is far more simple, and for Krieger, far more forceful. "I like the music," he smiles.

HE HAS ALWAYS liked the music. He started with piano lessons when he was four. In junior high, he won the Griffith Foundation New York-area piano competition; in high school, after his third attempt, he won the New New York Times/WQXR piano competition. Judges for the latter competition included Horowitz, Rubinstein and Serkin, Krieger recalls, "and if I don't remember which one judged the contest, I can tell you this: they all had blue eyes."

During high school, he played a Concert Artists' Guild recital in Steinway hall, played the Beethoven Third Piano Concerto with a local orchestra, and taught himself to accompany choral music on piano. It was this skill that brought him into the choral music circle that was blossoming his freshman year under "Woody"--G. Wallace Woodworth. Krieger accompanied the Glee Club throughout his undergraduate years, after which, in one of his two breaks away from Harvard choral music since 1955, he attended medical school at Western Reserve. During his time there, he accompanied the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, under the direction of Robert Shaw.

Yet even with such an auspicious start, he did not pursue a musical career. "I suffered from a lack of confidence, and from an awareness of what the competition among pianists really was," Krieger says. His decision not to pursue professional piano-playing also resulted from an incident that occurred during his public school years: his piano teacher's husband died--died, in fact, in Carneige Hall on the night of his biggest public recital ever. "He left an estate," Krieger recalls, "of roughly fifty dollars. I asked myself then, 'You get that far and that's what you've got to show for it?'"

Krieger has never regretted his career decision; even his busy medical career allows him time to pursue his ardent musical interests, not only with the Glee Club and Collegium, but in other places as well. He plays chamber music with friends, does music directions for shows, and gives at least one formal recital each year at Dunster House, of which he is an affiliate.

BUT THAT IS THE FORMAL Bernie Krieger, the medical/musical Bernie Krieger. It is not the Bernie Krieger that most Harvard undergraduate singers have come to know and--well, sometimes, at least--love. The Bernie Krieger they know is not so much the talented pianist or the gifted sightreader as he is the subject of a sort of "fable of ridicule." Krieger is the central character in dozens of comic stories of bumbling and outrageous behavior. "Sure," says a recent Glee Club graduate, "I know lots of Bernie stories. But are you really sure you want to print them?"

Bernie Krieger gesticulating madly at the piano during the Yale game in '55. Bernie Krieger calmly eating the carnation off the lapel of a fellow Glee Clubber in San Antonio during the Club's U.S. tour. Bernie Krieger stumbling into a ladies room in Omaha and crying out, "It's all right--I'm a doctor!" This is the Krieger of Harvard legend. And if you haven't heard one of these stories, he will gladly fill you in on the details. "The best person on Bernie Krieger is Bernie Krieger," says Archie C. Epps, III, dean of students and a former Glee Clubber himself, who went with Krieger to Asia on the '67 tour.

Krieger can, for instance, tell you just who it was who came up with what is now his universal vocal community nickname: Bernie the Roach. He can tell you which member of the Harvard Krokodiloes (in the early '70s still a subset of the Glee Club) thought of rewriting the lyrics to "yo ho" during which rehearsals in which room in Sever. (The produce of that effort appears elsewhere on the page.) He will even tell you he doesn't mind the nickname. "I have never been sure," he will tell you, "whether the roach they referred to was something you held in a clip or something you stepped on." And he will note with some amusement that, in spite of many efforts and even a contest held expressly for the purpose of creating one, "no one has ever come up with a successful penultimate line for the Bernie Krieger song."

The nicknames, the songs, the stories would seem to indicate a stronger fondness for Krieger than many of the undergraduate singers are willing to admit. Krieger is for them primarily a social focus rather than a musical or managerial one. The chronicle of any Harvard singer's Glee Club or Collegium career is bound to include a few very amusing stories about Bernie the Roach.

BUT KRIEGER APPROACHES it differently. His fondest memories of the undergraduate singers will not be of their misadventures on tour or of their behavior during rehearsals, but of their art. Ask Bernie Krieger what his best times with the Glee Club have been, and he will spend most of his time talking about specific concerts--singing a Sanders concert under Nadia Boulanger, performing tudor music, music "in the halls for which it was written," singing under Bernstein for Pope Paul VI. There are other memories, of course: private conversations with members of the Czechoslovakian chorus, watching the sunrise with other Glee Club members on the North rim of the Grand Canyon.

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