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Yale 62

Carl KaestleCarl Frederick Kaestle

March 27, 1940 – January 5, 2023

Carl died in Bloomington. Indiana, where he’d moved a few weeks before to be with his daughter Frederika Kaestle, a Yale graduate and professor of molecular anthropology at Indiana University, and her husband, Lee Kruschke. Carl suffered from cancer and dementia.

He was born and brought up in Schenectady NY, son of Francis Llewelyn Kaestle, who attended Yale Graduate School, and Regina Maria Perrault Kaestle. His older brother, P.K. Kaestle ‘60E, survives; his younger brother predeceased him. Before Yale he attended Scotia-Glenville High School in Scotia, NY. Both his wives, Elizabeth Mackenzie and Elizabeth Hollander, have died as has his younger daughter, Christina Kaestle Madsen.

At Yale, he majored in English and was on the Dean’s List and a Ranking Scholar. He was a member of the Torch Society, progressed through the Freshman and Apollo Glee Clubs, and spent two years in the Yale Glee Club. He directed and arranged for the Duke’s Men before becoming the Pitchpipe and arranger for the Whiffenpoofs of 1962. Later he joined the Yale Alumni Chorus for their international tours and served on the Yale Glee Club Associates board. Beyond his extraordinary loyalty and dedication to the Whiffs, he remained close to the Duke’s Men and served on their alumni board, as they evolved into the Doox and began to accept women members.

He always spoke very gratefully about his inspiring high school music teacher who encouraged his musical interests. During his high school summers, he played professionally in Lake George, part of the time accompanying a very popular melodrama. In fact, he was a very accomplished jazz and classical pianist. Earlier last year, along with his son-on-law Louis Madsen, a professional quality saxophonist, he played a very fine concert at my house.

Further evidence of how central a role music played in his life was his longtime involvement with Community Musicworks, an organization in Providence whose mission is to “create cohesive urban community through music education and performance which transforms the lives of parents, children, and musicians.” He and his wife Liz attended concerts, served on boards, and hosted students and the resident professional musicians who staffed this energetic and creative program.

After earning an MAT at Harvard, he ran the Warsaw Poland International School before returning to Harvard for a Ph.D. in History in 1971. For 18 years he taught at the University of Wisconsin. He met his second wife in Chicago and accepted an appointment at the University of Chicago, only to find he’d been hired to help close down the department of his appointment, Education! The remainder of his career was very happily spent at Brown University, and the next paragraph which sums up his career is from their website.

University Professor, Professor of Education, History, and Public Policy. Ph.D. (1971) Harvard University. Previous appointments at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and University of Chicago. Director of the Advanced Studies Fellowship Program at Brown. Specializations in the history of American education and the history of publishing and reading. His books include Pillars of the Republic: Common Schools and American Society, and Literacy in the United States: Readers and Reading since 1880. Kaestle co-edited and wrote three chapters for Print in Motion: Publishing and Reading in the United States, 1880–1940, to be published by University of North Caroline Press. Kaestle has been President of the National Academy of Education, Vice-Chair of the Board on Testing and Assessment of the National Research Council, and currently serves on boards or study groups sponsored by Educational Testing Service, College Board, Southern Education Foundation, New York State Archives, and the W. E. B. Du Bois Center of Great Barrington.

The ’62 Whiffs have remained remarkably close, beginning in 1977 with biennial reunions including families and singing, even daring to perform under Carl’s brilliant direction not only at our reunions but in Woolsey Hall and in 2009 celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Whiff. Carl was a remarkable leader. He was calm and organized, with a great wit and sense of humor always employed to lighten the mood. He had an extraordinarily sensitive ear to intonation, blend, and ensemble issues, and kept us to a very high musical and performing standard while making sure that we enjoyed it. His arrangements of “Lucky to be Me” and “When My Sugar Walks Down the Street” are at least as good as any arrangements in the Whiff playbook.


My dear Yale friend

Early in September of 1958 on a Monday morning at eight, the first day of classes for the first-year students, the fellow sitting next to me in the back row of English 25 introduced himself as Carl Kaestle. The next morning at eight in Intro to Music History we spotted each other and for our entire freshman year (except on the days of the too many classes I would cut) sat next to each other 6 days a week at 8 am. We next spotted each other at the Freshman Glee Club auditions. Since he was a baritone and I a tenor we only sat next to each other when we played the four-hand accompaniment for Hanson’s “Cherubic Hymn,” I ironically on the bottom and Carl on the top, reversing our vocal ranges. It was clear to me that he was a far far better pianist than I. I don’t remember when I first heard him playing a harmonically sophisticated and technically adept jazz piano, but in the subsequent 64 years I’ve often heard him, frequently in duet with Peter Sipple skillfully playing clarinet. The last time I heard him play was at our house with his son-in-law Lew, a little over a year before he left us, as adept and swinging as ever.

I didn’t see him as often in the next two years; he joined the Yale Glee club our junior year. But we got together for meals in Davenport. He roomed with my first-year roommate Rod Speer, Sam Waterston and Bob Crunden. Bob was important in Carl’s musical life, with a huge record collection spanning classical and newer music. I can remember listening in his room to a French composer employing the Ondes Martinot, a keyboard which could also slide pitches up and down, known to us all as the frequent accompaniment to schlocky horror movies. I liked it more than Carl did.

He took over the Duke’s Men our junior year and transformed it into a really excellent a capella group – great charisma, blend and dynamic range – both by his characteristic and laid-back yet disciplined and intense leadership style and his imaginative, wide-ranging and frequently jazzy arrangements, in my judgement unsurpassed both for the group (now known as the Doox) and in senior year for the Whiffs. He understood voices and had sophisticated knowledge of harmony. Fenno Heath, Glee Club director, composer and arranger once said to me about one of his own arrangements for the Whiffs “and it’s easy!” Carl’s arrangements always sounded more complicated than they were to sing.

There were three of us junior Pitchpipes, Carl, the aforementioned and excellent Peter Sipple of the Baker’s Dozen and me with the Spizzwinks(?) (question mark part of the name). Each of us had demonstrated the clear ability to successfully run an a capella group. The Whiffs chose Carl who allowed that he was always grateful for the support of the Peter and me. But it was easy to support him. Carl ran efficient and profitable rehearsals. They were fun and never boring. He knew how to get things done. He was patient yet demanding. He had a really fine-tuned ear for intonation and precision. No time was wasted, except perhaps a little by me, rejoicing in not having any leadership responsibilities. Carl paid me an enormous compliment when he asked me to take over pitchpipe duties a few years ago. I would in no way do it any better than Carl had done so brilliantly and satisfyingly for many years, but the fact that I directed a college choir kept me more in practice on running rehearsals and herding cats with somewhat less stress.

Every Whiff group has a different sociology – on one end there have been groups which after senior year separate forever or divide into factions. Happily and fortunately our year was at the other end of the spectrum. Not only were we one of the best groups ever in musical sophistication, discipline and precision of ensemble, voices and solos, and even charisma (not just our own evaluation!) but we have remained the closest of friends. We sang creditably at our 60th last June – by that I mean we did not embarrass ourselves! And we have a gathering planned for August. Now our third member has left us, our musical director, and we all passionately miss him.

In after years… In August of ’66 Cam Carey, Tom Cutler and I shared an apartment on the upper West side of Manhattan. Cam had exited the Navy and begun an MBA and Tom had just returned from California and the Poverty Corps, following a Peace Corps stint in Ethiopia. Carl was a frequent guest, in the midst of his combined Columbia and Harvard PhD program in history. He had already acquired an MAT from Harvard and had run an international school in Warsaw. He frequently brought first-hand accounts of student unrest at both institutions, including occupation of the presidents’ offices. This was when I realized that we were at the end of the silent generation, not baby-boomers, not being able to imagine any willingness to participate in this kind of demonstration, even if we tacitly approved. Carl was married to Liz Mackenzie whom we frequently met at Whiff reunions. Our 15th, held on Long Island, had a huge turnout of families and kids. Carl and Liz had two, and there were many more Whiff kids.  This was a week before Jolly and I got married – a complete introduction to the whole Whiff phenomenon.

Carl spent many years at the University of Wisconsin, becoming a nationally known and honored historian of education, and producing decades of loyal students., populating the following generations of professional historians. After a number of important books, his magnum opus, a history of government involvement in education, had been finished and he was in the challenging process of whittling it down to half when he became unable to continue. Three of his former students have taken over and will finish it. He met his second wife, Liz Hollander, in Chicago, left Wisconsin for a short stay at the University of Chicago before moving to Brown. He and Liz would frequently come down to St Louis to see the opera productions at Washington University my wife would create and direct and I would conduct. We liked nothing better than visiting them in Chicago. And Jolly sang at their wedding, accompanied by me.

Our Whiff get-together in the fall of 2009, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the group’s founding, began in Providence where we gathered on a Wednesday to rehearse for our appearance in Woolsey Hall, where we would be motivated to do our best, to show that we could still do it. Thursday night we sang for our wives. Some of us had indulged in libations and it was pretty sloppy. The next morning the 12 of us gathered in Carl’s dining room and he let us have it. He said he was unwilling to go on if we weren’t going to take our singing seriously. Many of us spoke, and weeping, rededicated ourselves to the activity that still knits us together. In Woolsey Hall we did ourselves proud. Bill Gross magnificently won the crowd with his great “Slap that Bass”, followed by our party piece, “Switzer Boy” when our adept crew of yodelers; Dixie, Biggie, Peter, and Louis brought the house down. And our singing since then has been kept to the highest possible standard, considering voices aging at different rates, that we can achieve. Carl trained us well, and inspired us to do our best

The final chapter began in the summer of 2011 when we retired and moved east. Carl was still teaching but spending much time at the Lynes house in North Egremont that Liz had inherited, a sprawling white structure with a yard good for barbecuing on July 4, when Carl would annually read Parson Weems’ unforgettable fable about George Washington. We frequently would eat dinner in Lenox before proceeding to Tanglewood. The trick at Tanglewood is trying to remember where you parked. We all have wandered lost and unknowing, sometimes ankle deep in water after a thunderstorm which always adds drama to the music. After Liz died seven years ago, we watched as Carl looked for a partner. We saw him through three close calls, and then at a dinner before Tanglewood we’d invited a single friend with, honestly, no notion of a fixup, but Deborah called him up asking if he liked movies and soon they were dining and going (with us!) to great jazz clubs in Lenox and Great Barrington. Sadly, Carl’s wonderful younger daughter Chrissie died after Liz. His first wife, with whom he’d stayed in contact – she had a house very close to him, died just a year ago but by that time Carl’s dementia had progressed.

During the last year and a half Carl’s older daughter, Rika and her husband Lee managed taking care of him. Rika is a professor of forensic anthropology at Indiana University and took one semester off preceding a one-semester sabbatical to be with Carl. My admiration and gratitude for their heroic dedication is immeasurable. We stayed in touch, would have dinner with them, and visit Carl and phone them. Our last visit was a few weeks before Christmas. Carl was thin, with very little vocabulary, but I felt he was still there. At the end of our visit, he followed us downstairs to the door. I played a few bars of “Let’s Fall in Love” and substituted a minor chord for a major one at the end. Carl opined that it sounded flat, but I could fix it in the car. Even in his more limited state his sense of humor and love of fun was still there, which had always balanced his intensity and ambition which he mostly kept hidden behind a friendly exterior. But I knew him best through his passionate love of all kinds of music, which we shared and was one important taproot of our friendship. Rika mentioned that she had her piano tuned in anticipation of his arrival, and he played Christmas carols almost to his departure.

Since he left us on January 5, I have felt even more grateful for the many years of our friendship. We always had a great time together, and every time we saw each other, as they say, we’d just pick up where we left off. There will be no more picking up but the memories of our long history together will never diminish.

— John Harger Stewart