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This year marks the 100th anniversary of Cole Porter’s graduation from Yale. In tribute, the Memorabilia Room of Sterling Memorial Library features “From Peru to Paree: A Cole Porter Jubilee,” an exhibit showcasing manuscripts, newspaper clippings, photo albums and other artifacts from both the public and private life of the celebrated composer. The mixed-media show, which includes a touchscreen monitor-headphones complex, spans his childhood, Yale years and professional life.
Porter is recognized as one of Broadway’s greatest composers, having penned perennial hits such as “Anything Goes,” “You’re the Top!” and “Night and Day.” But he is also the composer of “Bull Dog,” which I belted out for the first time as a freshman at last year’s Harvard-Yale game, packed among thousands of other Yalies in historic Harvard Stadium. I heard “Bull Dog” again in the Memorabilia Room through a pair of headphones in the exhibit’s audio installation. This version was a track off a 1991 EMI CD, sang by world-renowned American baritone Thomas Hampson and the Ambrosian Chorus, accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra. And while the song conjured images of the pomp and circumstance of another time, it was impossible not to identify with the unmistakable and unshakable Yale pride that Porter wrote into the score. Also up for sampling is “Down in the Depths of the 90th Floor,” a piece composed by Porter for the musical “Red, Hot, and Blue!” — the namesake of Yale’s oldest co-ed acapella group.
The exhibit progresses chronologically along the Memorabilia Room’s rectangular perimeter, giving the viewer a sense of journey and ultimately returning him to where he began, at the room’s entrance. A long exhibit case stands at the center, containing various scrapbooks and postcards that illustrate Porter’s frequent travels to Europe and other countries across the Atlantic. I paused before one postcard in particular, from Paris. On the front is a picture of Porter and two buddies, sitting on a barrel and raising their tall mugs (of what, I wonder?) to the camera. On the back, the postcard is addressed to Mme. Cole Porter, with only the simple inscription, “Just before having breakfast.” I marveled at it because I realized Porter had sent a pre-Snapchat Snapchat, and had he lived in 2013, I could easily imagine him navigating Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and turning those antique scrapbooks into Picasa Web Albums.
Near the front of the exhibit are a few of Porter’s childhood pictures. In one class photo, a primary school-age Porter wears a stylish, gold-braided coat, while others around him are attired in mundane, solid colors. According to Suzanne Lovejoy, the show’s lead curator, Porter’s mother liked to dress him up.
There are less than three weeks remaining between us and The Game. Exploring an exhibit on one of Yale’s most renowned musical alumni is well worth the study break — even if you’re just there to listen to “Bull Dog.”