Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Yale Glee Club Brings Holiday Cheer To Train

There was a shampoo commercial back in the 80's in which a freshly showered Heather Locklear holds a bottle of Faberge Organics Shampoo.  She says that it was so good that she told two friends about it...and they told two friends, and they told two friends...and so on, and so on...

I know the feeling.  In December of 2015, I posted a silly video of me while working as a railroad conductor, musically "conducting " The Yale Glee Club aboard my train.  This video went viral and at this writing has over views on 3,348,126 Views on Facebook, and 52,321 people shared the video with their Facebook friends.  These numbers don't account for the thousands that watched/shared it on YouTube, or those who saw it on their nightly news programs across the globe.  Not bad for a silly video that I just wanted to post to a few Facebook friends.

Here's how it happened:

On December 4th, 2015, I was the conductor on the 2:45 PM Metro North train from New Haven to Grand Central Terminal in New York City.  A few minutes before leaving time, a swarm of college  kids headed toward the back of the train.  The rear two cars were closed, so I quickly opened them to accommodate the extra crowd.  We pulled out of  New Haven Station and I began collecting tickets.  I soon learned that the 80 students were on a single group ticket. I was directed to a gentleman who looked not unlike a professor.

"What group is this?" I asked.

"The Yale Glee Club." He responded.

Now I've had the legendary Yale Whiffenpoofs on my train before, as well as other assorted singing groups from Yale, but for some reason, it never occurred to me to ask them to sing.  But here it was, the holiday season...and I really wanted to hear a Christmas Carol.  I asked the professor (who turned out to be Jeffrey Douma, Yale Choral Director), if they would sing me a Christmas Carol.  He prompted them and they then sang the most beautiful version of "The Wassail Song" that I'd ever heard.  It sent shivers down my spine.  I thanked them for sharing their talents with me as they poured out of the train and into Grand Central.

Later that night I was boarding the 10:06 PM train from Grand Central to New Haven.  I heard  singing in the terminal, and sure enough, The Yale Glee Club rounded the corner, walked through the gates and down the ramp toward my train.  I quickly walked forward to the head of the train to open more cars.  On the way I chatted up some of the students.  I told them I had an idea for a Facebook video in which I'd say,"I'm the conductor, let me conduct."  They all laughed, and Dan Rubin, one of the Glee Club Presidents said, "Tell us that we're singing it all wrong and that you need to conduct us."  I loved that idea....but we still didn't know which song to do.  One of the students yelled "Carol of the Bells".  I knew this song pretty well from the dozens of Christmas CD's my wife continuously plays from Thanksgiving to December the 25th, so I said "I love it!"

When we pulled out of the station, I quickly ran through and picked up all the tickets. I then told my assistant conductor to take over the ship, I had something to do in the head end.  As I walked forward, I collected the group ticket from Professor Douma.  I asked for permission to borrow his glee club for a Christmas carol I liked to "Conduct".  He gladly gave permission and even offered to stand behind me to do the real conducting. "Okay," I said, even though I had no intention of using him.

This is what happened next:
I was floored by how amazing they sounded, and I was a little self-satisfied with my less than stellar choral directing.  You can see that I messed up at the end of the song when I raised my arm in a flourish, thinking the song was over, then realizing we weren't done.  I was a little embarrassed by this and briefly thought about yelling "Take two!"  But any subsequent execution would have lost the videos spontaneous feel.

I walked back to the rear of the train after the performance, and by the choral director Douma.  He asked me when he was needed to conduct the song.  "We already did it." I told him.

The next day I got an email from Greg Suralik with the video attachment.  I watched the video and was delighted...and a little abashed for being such a ham. I briefly thought about posting the video to my Facebook page, but I wasn't sure how well it would be received by my employer.  I decided that I better not post it in fear of getting myself into trouble.  I replied to Greg's email, saying it was great, but I was too chicken to post it.

That weekend, my family went up to visit my younger daughter at her college.  I hadn't shown anyone the video, but decided to pass my iphone around as I drove through Willimantic, and let them have a gander at it.  They all loved it.

"Dad, you HAVE to post this...you'll be on Ellen." said my daughter Caitlin.

I told my family of my trepidation about posting the video, and they all seemed to think I was being overly cautious.  Two days later, I sat at my computer, watched the video again...and decided to post it.  Almost immediately, people started "liking it" and sharing it.  By the time I got to work that day, I had something in the neighborhood of 250K views.  The next morning it was over 1 Million views then my phone started ringing.

I first got a call from a company in Los Angeles that wanted to buy the rights to the video from me.  They told me they'd give me a percentage of the profits.  I told them I didn't own the video, it that it belonged to a Yale undergrad named Greg. The phone continued ringing, we were asked to appear on Good Morning America (couldn't work out the logistics).  The next morning I did a radio interview with Vinnie Penn on a local radio station. Two local news stations interviewed me, one whilst following me down the aisles of my train with a camera.  The New York Stations set up a press conference in Grand Central, but my train broke down on my way in from New Haven, and it was cancelled. 

I became quite famous that Christmas season.  It seems the video went all over the globe. Passengers wanted to take selfies with me, I even got a few autograph requests.  Suddenly, my regular pizza shop stopped charging me for my daily slice of pizza, and friends I hadn't seen in years began calling and leaving messages.  I had hundreds of new Facebook friend requests.

 Months later I discovered I had a spam filter on my Facebook page and that I'd missed tons of interview requests from media all over the globe.  I also got love letters from Sweden and Hong Kong, but most were just thank you messages for brightening people's day.  I even got a special thank you from Lynda Carter, aka Wonder Woman. 

It really was a once in a lifetime chance meeting...or so I thought.  Here we are again a year later in 2016.  Again unplanned....it must be fate.