Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The 1941 South American Tour, Part 2

After their whirlwind stay in Brazil, the Glee Club of 1941 continued south, singing three concerts in Montevideo and five in Buenos Aires. In Buenos Aires, they sang a joint concert at the Instituto Nacional de Education Fisica, which had specially formed and organized a chorus for the occasion.

In La Plata, Argentina, their visit had a particularly notable consequence: the founding of the Coro Juvenil at the University of La Plata, which still exists today. The 2009 Glee Club will be privileged to collaborate with the Coro Juvenil during our own visit to La Plata, continuing the tradition of friendship through song.

Leaving Mendoza, Argentina, the 1941 Glee Club had to cross the Andes to Santiago de Chile – in the middle of winter. This episode is best described in Marshall Bartholomew’s own words:
The ride in private motors from Mendoza to Puenta des Vacas at the Chilean border in the high Andes was made hideous by the wild driving of chauffeurs who insisted upon driving at the highest possible speed on precipitous mountain roads, passing each other with inches to spare and taking every possible chance on accidents. Neither threat nor plea could persuade them to modify this hair-raising pace with the result that what might have been a scenic drive of rare beauty remains in the memory as a nightmare.
The train through the mountain pass was, if possible, worse. Barty continued:
The inadequacy of the railroad station at Puenta des Vacas is, under the circumstances, a menace. Standing at an elevation of almost ten thousand feet the waiting room of the tiny building can contain at the utmost about fifty passengers. There were approximately two hundred … on the day the Yale Glee Club went through the pass; 75% of them were compelled to stand outdoors in a near-zero temperature for two hours waiting for the train to arrive.

Then followed a twelve hour train ride in acute discomfort in a train so crowded that some passengers had to stand up throughout the entire journey. In forty years of travel throughout the world my memories of this journey stand out as one of the most completely miserable.
Two days later a snow storm closed all transportation on this route for ten days.
When the Glee Club reached Santiago, 16 out of 63 singers – a quarter of the group – were out of action. Fortunately, none of the illnesses were serious, and almost everyone recovered for the scheduled concerts in Santiago. In contrast to the extreme cold of the Andes, Barty found Panama City in August “probably … as hot a place to sing a concert in dress suits as one could find in the world.”