Country Squires Who Excel at Math and Music

May 30, 2015

The Country Squires

In 1963, at the zenith of folk music’s popularity — when Bob Dylan was a rising star, and the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul & Mary flooded radio waves — three Stonehill sophomore mathematics majors would sing in the stairwell of the old Student Union Building before class.

One day, an administrator passing by suggested they sing at Homecoming.

And, just like that, they had their first gig. With the addition of a freshman Economics major, The Country Squires were born.

Between gigs at Stonehill parties, Brother Mike’s, impromptu folk songs on the quad, and local high schools and colleges, the quartet — Mike Couto ’65, Bob Norton ’65, Bill Mulligan ’66 and the late Tom Moore ’65 — soon had quite a local fanbase.

“We sang three songs for visiting high schools from the balcony of a dorm. We were then hired for $40 to play at a Boston all-girl Catholic high school. They treated us as if we were stars. The deal was sealed right there,” said Couto, of Wareham.

As his class celebrates their 50th reunion this weekend at Stonehill, Couto, retired mathematics teacher, is preparing to perform at the New Bedford Folk Festival on July 4.

He also just recorded his first solo record, aptly titled “All of This is Gravy.” He alludes to his Stonehill start in the title track:

“I’ve been singing songs for oh-so-long, since nineteen-sixty-three/You’d think that I’d be burned-out, sick and tired of all that harmony / I know I must admit, that for just a bit, I needed some respite / But while most retire, I felt that friendly fire begin to reignite.”

“My first love is performing and writing; my second is teaching math to high-schoolers. At Stonehill, I received the foundation for both,” said Couto, who taught for more than 20 years at New Bedford High School.

Norton, who taught 7th grade math and computer science for 31 years at Hanover Middle School while also performing locally for decades, has upcoming concerts planned at assisted living facilities.

“No question, my Stonehill years started me on my ‘side careers’ of music performance and acting,” said Norton, of Marshfield who has been involved in community theater.

The folk musicians recalled a campus alive with folk music. Couto said another Stonehill folk group, The New Prince Spaghetti Minstrels, were hired to do local television ads for the pasta brand and also performed at many local colleges.

Over the years, the former Squires have performed— at various times and in various incarnations— as duos, trios and with other local musicians. Couto and Mulligan were a well-known folk duo at New Bedford area pubs for decades; Norton and Mulligan had various groups as well.

In 2013, one year prior to the death of Moore, the four reunited as The Country Squires one last time for the 50th anniversary of their first Stonehill gig.

Moore was a mathematics professor at Bridgewater State College for more than 44 years. He won multiple awards for his teaching, and was a 2014 inductee to the Association of Teachers of Mathematics in Massachusetts’ Educators Hall of Fame. He was also a music ministry leader at St. Joseph the Worker parish in Hanson.

Norton and Couto cited Mathematics Professor Joseph Ciccarelli, who taught at Stonehill from 1961 to 1964, as both encouraging the band musically, and inspiring each of them to teach.

“Mr. Chic, as we called him, was an inspiration to all of us math majors,” said Couto. “It was his first-year teaching, and his passion for math was contagious. We often visited his house for cookouts. We always sang at the gatherings.”

“Joe Ciccarelli was, by far, the most influential teacher regarding my own career as a math teacher,” said Norton, who also mentioned Professor C. James Cleary (history & government), Fr. William Hogan, C.S.C. (theology), Fr. Thomas Lockery, C.S.C. (mathematics & physics), Professor Mary Lee Kimball (French), and Professor Chet Raymo (physics) as other influential faculty members.

“I’ve had a fantastic time over the last 50 years. I'm currently working on forming a new trio,” said Norton. “But I've never written one song—in contrast to Mike.”

Couto, who has written close to 100 songs, credits Stonehill for nurturing his musical inclination.

“Stonehill is such a wonderful school and community in which to get your feet wet in music. Everyone is positive and encouraging,” said Couto. “If I had never gone to Stonehill, and met the people and friends that I did, learned from the professors I had, I have no idea who I would be today.”

-by Lauren Daley '05