Holy Cross Alum saves classic songs from oblivion

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So, naturally, one Christmas morning, the 10-year-old boy looked suspiciously at the little bundle under the tree, only to see his fears confirmed: his gift was certainly not a guitar but a little string substitute called the ukulele. After a few frustrating episodes with little uke, he was relegated to a closet shelf until the following summer when, out of boredom, he took the instrument apart, tried it again, and hung on.

When asked why his parents hadn’t bought him a guitar, Sheridan concluded that it was probably a question of finances. It was war, budgets were tight and ukes were much cheaper than guitars. “Plus,” he adds, “I don’t think they knew the difference between a ukulele and a guitar.

Today, at age 85, Sheridan is considered one of America’s foremost champions of ukulele music and has published nearly 30 songbooks since 2011, including those for four- and five-string banjo, mandolin, guitar, and music theory. .

Grouped by theme, his songbooks cover a wide range of musical territories, from songs from the Civil War, WWI, Stephen Foster and American roots to Irish and Jewish music, classics, waltzes, hymns and spirituals, nautical songs and Yuletide. favorites.

“Like many of us, my interests are eclectic,” he says. “A fleeting thought from one of them can trigger an idea. Then it becomes fun to put it to music.

Sheridan felt a strong urge to create something tangible, and as a former copywriter he was naturally drawn to songbook writing through his love of writing and music.

“I’m always drawn to putting songs on paper,” he adds. “It’s fascinating to see something come to life. It’s a pleasure to arrange a song – pick a key, set a tempo, add the right chords, then present it in printable form. I’ve always been very sensitive to the rhythm of words and the way they blend together: their phrasing, their grouping. Deep down, I probably always put them to music.

Sheridan also acknowledges that there was a part of him that wanted to record beloved old songs for posterity, to keep them up to date. “A lot of these songs are rich in my life, and I couldn’t wait to put them on paper. I guess there was a subliminal thought that if I didn’t, they would somehow disappear.

Share music on the hill

Members of the St. James Society, College’s Dixieland band, in 1956, from left to right: Bob Powers ’56 (piano), John Gainor ’59 (trumpet), Sheridan (banjo), Joey Rhea ’58 (clarinet) and Phil Ryan ’57 (trombone).

Growing up on Long Island, New York, Sheridan’s childhood home was filled with music. His mother played the piano for several hours most of the time – Chopin, Schumann, Brahms – and his father, also an amateur pianist, approached the popular songs of the time, while Sheridan remained true to his true love: folk music. When he left for his first year at Holy Cross, he took the music with him, taking his guitar and a baritone ukulele. He was quickly recruited for football rallies.

“As the fight songs and ‘Alma Mater’ were sung, I provided the accompaniment and the campus rang with the spirit and enthusiasm of the school,” Sheridan recalls. (In 2013, he released the songbook “College Fight Songs and Alma Maters for Ukulele.”) Soon other classmates were found who could play the uke. Late night and weekend dorm sessions became popular, and no party was complete without the presence of at least one uke player.

Some of his most vivid memories of his days on The Hill revolve around music: singing with the Glee Club, singing carols in the dorms just before the Christmas holidays, singing hymns for daily mass in the choir of the St. Joseph’s Memorial Chapel and playing the banjo with the Dixieland Campus Band, the St. James Society, “Purveyors of Jazz!” “

His initial attraction to Holy Cross was not academic, but rather his winning basketball and soccer teams. And there was also the print of his Jesuit tradition.

“My experience at Sainte-Croix prepared me for life and my professional activities by establishing a disciplined work ethic, strong moral values ​​and a solid foundation of faith,” he says, reflecting on his years as a major of education and member of the Marine Corps ROTC. “But, too, it sparked an intellectual curiosity in me – a love of learning. To this day, I enjoy research and find immense satisfaction in my work.

Today Sheridan gets up before the sun and, after an hour of morning devotions, heads to his upstairs studio where he spends most of the day immersed in his work – a state of being where “the time evaporates. “

He currently has four books in various stages of preparation or production: original songs for the guitar, a book on special ukulele tuning, a songbook for Catholic children, and a collection of musical themes and radio jingles from ‘yesteryear.

In addition to writing songbooks, he is also the conductor and banjo player for Soda Ash Six, a traditional Syracuse, New York-based jazz group founded nearly 60 years ago. He continues to teach instrumental music privately and teaches several mini-courses at the local community college.

The key to a rich life, he says, is knowing yourself, your God-given interests and talents – and pursuing them. “Try to develop your interests into a career and a life,” he advises. “Don’t be swayed by the lure of power or prestige. Don’t be afraid to be unconventional. Be true to yourself! “

Written by Daniella Vollinger for the Winter 2021 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.

About Sainte-Croix magazine
Holy Cross Magazine (HCM) is the quarterly publication of alumni of the College of the Holy Cross. The award-winning publication is mailed to alumni and friends of the College and includes intriguing profiles, thought-provoking features, alumni news, exclusive photos and more. Visit magazine.holycross.edu/about to contact HCM, submit alumni lecture notes, milestones, or letters to the editor.


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