A Musical Connection
Niels Gjertson ’98 and his brother Carl ’89 were born nine years apart, but their paths in life resemble the shared trajectory of twins. Growing up in Hadley, Massachusetts (their father was a professor and their mother a school teacher), they both attended Williston for six years starting in the Middle School, then both attended Yale University and Columbia for graduate school. While at Williston, they both loved to sing a cappella—their similar deep voices supplying the bass.
And while they have since gone their separate ways professionally—Niels is a lawyer with Square in San Francisco, Carl is a urological surgeon in Hartford—and enjoy a healthy fraternal rivalry (“I was a mistake,” quips Niels, “but I feel if my parents had gotten him right at the first shot, they wouldn’t have gone for round two”), they are united in their appreciation for a Williston institution: The Caterwaulers. The brothers recently established a restricted fund to support the boys singing group.
“That connection is one of those things that both my brother and I look back upon fondly,” explains Niels. “He’s a big fancy doctor and I’m a busy depressed lawyer, but the appreciation for music is something we’ll carry with us forever, regardless of wherever our professions may take us—and that’s something built and encouraged by Williston.”
More specifically, suggests Niels, it was encouraged by Richard Gregory, Williston’s longtime performing arts teacher, who led the Caterwaulers when both Carl and Niels sang with group (Niels experienced his leadership only in ninth grade, as Mr. Gregory stepped down the following year). “Mr. Gregory was the kind of teacher that you always think about when you read stories about New England private schools,” says Niels. “He had an encyclopedic knowledge of art, history, theater, and music, and could play the piano and draw and compose—really just an incredible breadth of knowledge across the humanities and fine arts.” Mr. Gregory proved so influential, in fact, that both brothers followed in his footsteps to Yale. There, Niels sang with Mr. Gregory’s underclassman a cappella group, The Baker’s Dozen, and then, as a senior, with the famed Whiffenpoofs, a group Mr. Gregory led as musical director 45 years prior.
These days, Niels gets to show off his singing chops only rarely, though when he lived in Japan a few years back, he had more opportunities at Tokyo’s all-you-can drink karaoke bars (still, he points out, “what the heck am I going to do as a bass in karaoke? The options are only Lou Rawls or Barry White!.”) And as the years have passed, he notes, the Williston he and his brother experienced—the teachers they knew, the traditions they remember—has naturally grown more distant. And that’s exactly why they created their Caterwauler fund.
“The Caterwaulers is an institution we both feel a very strong connection to out of admiration and appreciation for Mr. Gregory,” he explains. “So, if through our relatively limited support of this group, the current Caterwaulers can have a pizza party or take a trip to see a choral perfor-mance or otherwise build their own similar connection, that’s something that allows us a continued relationship to an ever-changing school.”