Monday, December 29, 2008

Announcing the YGC 2009 Winter Tour Blog

As 2008 draws to a close, the 2009 Yale Glee Club Winter Tour is almost upon us! Winter Tour is a cherished tradition for members of the YGC - it's a chance to showcase a semester of choral work, travel to fun new places, make some new friends and come together even more as a group. This year's tour, starting January 1st, will surely carry on that tradition. The hard work of Tour Managers Sarah Dewey and Mary Schnoor, combined with the generosity of alums and community members in the Pacific Northwest, promise to make for a fantastic experience and great concerts.

But in the midst of all the tradition of the YGC, this year we're going to try something new: a Winter Tour Blog. The Yale Glee Club was founded in 1863 - in internet-age terms, somewhere in the early Paleozoic era. In those days, on-the-road updates would have a tad more difficult than in this age of laptops, wireless internet, and iPhones (the recent bad weather in the Pacific Northwest would probably have made navigation difficult for the YGC's carrier pigeons).

Our hope is to post from each of the places we travel to, so friends and family can log on from home and see what we're up to. Blog posts should start around January 2nd - in the meantime, check out our full itinerary at

See you in the new year!
-Danny Townsend CC '10, Publicity Chair

Monday, December 8, 2008

In memory of Fenno Heath, 1926-2008

Fenno Heath, legendary conductor of the Yale Glee Club from 1953-1992, passed away on December 6. His family has set up a website with many more wonderful stories and memories of him.

On hearing the sad news of Fenno’s passing, I just wanted to share a couple of thoughts, tell a couple of stories of Fenno, and hopefully honor him a little bit, as best as anyone can. For new Glee Clubbers: Fenno Heath was our conductor from the 1950s through the 1990s. If any one person could embody the Yale Glee Club, Fenno would be he. He made the courageous leap to bring women into the group; he brought the group on numerous tours abroad, including to China (I believe the group's first China tour ever); he arranged and even composed for the group extensively (hence the Fenno Heath Award for new Yale songs); and most importantly, he did it all with a spirit of genuine, hardy big-heartedness.

I can't claim to have any Glee Club memories from before 2005, but in my time in the Glee Club, we did get the lucky chance to sing under Fenno's baton twice. The first time was my sophomore year, when Fenno came to hear a rehearsal for the Commencement concert, and, at the end, conduct us in "'Neath the Elms." He had a special motion for asking more from the basses: he put his left hand down low, and mimed a very, very strong grip. Later, this motion was jokingly known in the bass and tenor sections as the "more guts, men!" motion; but in all seriousness, what Fenno showed us that day is that if you do something, you should take it seriously, and do it with fortitude, and courage – that fun, joy and togetherness are to be found not in spite of those qualities, but because of them.

The other time we sung under Fenno was my freshman year, at the 145th anniversary alumni reunion (these reunions come once every five years, and they're amazing; the 150th is in 2010-11). We had a concert with the pre-1969 men's alumni chorus, followed by the post-1969 mixed alumni chorus, and then the current Glee Club, in Woolsey Hall. At the very end, all the groups sang a set of songs together, with Fenno conducting: the current Glee Club on stage, and all the alumni in the first floor seats, filling nearly to the back of Woolsey.

Our first song was "We Meet Again Tonight, Friends" -- which, prior to 1969, had been called, "We Meet Again Tonight, Boys." It was Fenno who originally took a stand and changed the name of the song, knowing that making all different kinds of people (in this case, women in particular) at home in the Glee Club would be impossible if any traces of the old patriarchy remained. Just so, when Fenno conducted us my freshman year, he showed that same blend of courage and kindness. Before he raised his baton, he smiled, and said, "Now, remember ... friends." We all laughed, and he laughed too – and then we launched into singing; and we truly were friends, united by mirth, by song, and by the wisdom of Fenno Heath.

We all can continue to honor Fenno by infusing our singing -- and every action of our lives -- with these values. Every concert, and every small act we do, will be a chance to keep Fenno's good character alive, and to make him proud.

-Noah Lawrence SY '09

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Oregon Trail

This post is by Sarah Dewey MC '10 and Mary Schnoor CC '10, our domestic tour managers. This year's domestic tour will be to the Pacific Northwest from January 1-9.

Well, it goes without saying that this year's winter tour will be the best experience of many Glee Clubbers' lives. All hubris aside, though, it's looking to be a great time. This is mostly because of the generosity and excitement of the local alums and contacts we've made throughout the Pacific Northwest. Everyone has been very generous with his or her time, efforts, performance space, and even couches.

Our itinerary is as follows:
Seattle, WA
Astoria, OR
Portland, OR
Eugene, OR
Chico, CA
San Francisco, CA

Currently, we have concerts slated for every city except Portland, where we anticipate a workshop with the soprano Dawn Upshaw! This workshop is one of our two outreach events, since we will be working with the Pacific Youth Choirs, of which Glee Clubbers Daniel Cruse '11 and Rob Williams '12 are alumni. In addition, we will be doing a workshop at a San Francisco area school on January 8th. All in all it's a bit of a whirlwind, but should be a fantastic ten days.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

"Through Eden"

This post is by Bram Wayman SY '09, the winner of the 2008 Fenno Heath Award for the composition of a new Yale song. His piece, "Through Eden," was premiered this past Friday at the Yale/Princeton Glee Club Concert.

Composing, rehearsing, and performing "Through Eden" has been a fulfilling musical experience for me. I'm often happiest when the music I'm writing is rooted in something personally compelling, and "Through Eden" is no exception. The text I used, an excerpt from the traditional Commencement speech by Dean (now Provost) Salovey, has always struck me, especially at last year's Commencement, when I knew I would be next. The feeling I got from that text was the sense of incredulous wonder that I figure I'll feel when I take my last look at Yale, and the rush of empowerment from knowing I'm a part of it all.

This overwhelming sentiment was a far cry from the nuts and bolts of the composition itself, which I wanted to structure around two things: the flow of the text and the general building of intensity from beginning to end. The text was a challenge. It's a long passage, and it's all complex prose, so it needed to be set to a few consistent motives to keep the music concise. The first cornerstone of "Through Eden," then, was those intervallic and rhythmic motives that reoccur throughout entire piece and bind its sections together. They came from speaking the text over and over, working out the melodic contours of inflection and then assigning them to pitches.

Once I knew the structure of the piece from these recurring threads, it was easy to create the overall build from beginning to end by way of a harmonic and textural journey. The first section presents the polyphonic nature of the piece without too much harmonic adventuring. The second section, set off by an unrelated key area and a much more homophonic texture, gave me somewhere to come back from for the third section, where the original polyphony and key return, but soon multiply into a dense cascade of lines and shifting tonal areas. That makes the strong ending feel all the more cathartic.

One of the tenets I hold to when composing is that music should be enjoyable from the performer's point of view. This never means it has to be conservative, but rather that it has to be something the performer can engage in. Being a singer, I was able to write passages (in all four parts -- I hope!) that get singers fired up. When people want to perform your music, usually the challenges presented by it are surmountable, and I think that's part of why we've been able to learn "Through Eden" so well in such a short period of time.

Thank you all for all the amazing feedback you've given me on this piece (gold star to John Good, who told me he thinks I "dumped a bucket of accidentals on the score"), and for your hard work and dedication! I can't wait to hear how "Through Eden" grows in the months ahead.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Winds of night around us sighing ...

The 148th Yale Glee Club kicked off its concert season yesterday in front of a large and enthusiastic audience in Woolsey Hall. The program, shared with the Yale Symphony Orchestra and Yale Concert Band, included works by Grieg and Pärt, arrangements by Roland Carter and Jeff Douma, and, of course, a set of Yale songs.

It already feels like this year's Glee Club has been together a long time; in addition to nearly two months of rehearsals, we've gone on retreat in northwest Connecticut, picked apples and baked apple pies, and celebrated Octoberfest in (nearly) authentic German style. But Parents' Weekend is the first time we take the stage as a group, and the opening note of "Gaudeamus igitur" is the first sound we present to the public. There's always a little thrill accompanying that first note, a sense that, with the first breath we take together, we're launching a season that will take us beautiful and unexpected places.

Last night was no exception. We have an outstanding group and an exciting year planned, and the feeling of unity and purpose in that first breath was a wonderful start.

There'll be more to come in the next few weeks and throughout the year, but because there's no better way to illustrate the tradition and spirit of the Yale Glee Club, I'll conclude this first post with some music - the Glee Club of 1941, directed by Marshall Bartholomew, singing 'Neath the Elms.

-Ray Nagem CC '09