New song honors the work of former Port students

Julian Kimball, Staff Writer

In 112 years, one would expect to look back on Schreiber’s history and read about mask mandates and locked bathroom doors.  However, if students decided to look 112 years in the past, they will find something that sparked the interest of Choir Director Mr. John Spiezio III, a faculty member at the high school since 2010.

In the early part of the fall, all the music teachers were talking about music that the band could play at football games, and I had said to the band directors, ‘wouldn’t it be nice if we had a fight song or an alma mater that could be played?’” said Mr. Spiezio.

Eager to find any remnants of an alma mater, Mr. Spiezio reached out to school library media specialist Ms. Cohan to look through school archives to try and uncover any musical artifacts, intending for it to be a long-term project.

The Schreiber Library has all the old yearbooks and many old newspapers, so the process was quick. We started with the oldest, and it was there,” said Ms. Cohan. 

The 1916 and 1917 yearbooks are the oldest on record and contain a poem and piano composition, which was attributed to the names M.T. Newell and Marion Osborne. After some research, Mr. Spiezio found some information on the two women and was inspired to write a school song based on the poem and music found in the yearbook, while also preserving their  legacy.

Martha Taylor Newell (1885-1953) and Marion Osborne (1887-1967) attended Columbia University together and kept in touch after graduating from Mount Holyoke College in 1909.  Osborne became a physical education teacher at Rayen High School in Youngstown, Ohio, while Newell was hired as a Latin teacher in Port Washington and taught from 1910-1914.

“A simple Google search of Marion Osborne uncovered a reference from Mount Holyoke College Alumni Records as a graduate in 1909.  On the same page of the artifact was listed Martha Taylor (M.T. Newell).  It is here that Port Washnington was referenced confirming that these were in fact the lyricist and composer of the song found in the Port Washington High School yearbooks,” said Mr. Spiezio.

The song was composed circa 1910-1914, when Newell worked in the district, and she collaborated with Osborne. Fast forward 112 years, and no student had ever heard this song; Mr. Spiezio planned to change that.  He worked tirelessly to arrange a 4-part chorale using the original melody and lyrics of Osborne’s composition, titled We Sing Thy Praise.  Mr. Spiezio wanted a grand unveiling of the song and after weeks of rehearsal with Schreiber’s Mixed Choir, the school song was performed at the Jan. 25  Board of Education meeting.  Mr. Spiezio also included a presentation highlighting his research and composition processes, in addition to featuring information on Newell and Osborne. 

“I was enthralled by the song and I really do mean that.  It was the highlight of the evening for sure.  And you can tell how much passion he has for what he does.  And of course the students were extraordinary,” said Superintendent Dr.  Michael J. Hynes.

“Bringing back to life what once was a back-of-the-yearbook part of school history and, collecting and interpreting the information in such a positive way that it allowed for us to not only find a song and sing a song but understand the purpose, brings comfort to me that in 112 years from now our legacy will be that we honored our past,” said Mr. Spiezio. 

Following the choir’s performance at the meeting, community member and alumnus Tessa Jordan communicated that she fondly recalls the student body singing this melody at athletic events.  Other alumni from the 1950’s, including Thomas Tobin and Maureen Connern-Tobin, expressed similar memories.

By reviving this centuries-old melody with a new arrangement, Mr. Spiezio hopes that the song will elevate the Schreiber High School community’s school spirit and will be showcased at formal celebrations, graduations, ceremonies, and athletic events. 

A legacy is about the perception of future generations on how we are currently living our lives.  I can only hope that through our efforts with this new arrangement of We Sing Thy Praise, we will be making a connection with our current Schreiber community in 2022 to that of Port Washington High School in a pre-World War I time.  If the students 100 years from now look back to 2022 and find this song and article, they will know that we cared about our history and respected those that left a legacy for us to follow.  I hope that history will show that I cared about my students and that music has an important place in all our lives,” said Mr. Spiezio.