Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The 1941 South American Tour, Part 3

Local reaction to the 1941 Glee Club was everywhere overwhelming. Reading Bartholomew's descriptions, it is hard not to be impressed by the continuous enthusiasm of students and audiences. American folk music was especially well received. “Many of them were not aware,” Barty wrote, “that we had any.” The spirituals on the program were often encored; audiences would not let the concert continue until they were repeated.

But this tour was about more than simply choral music. Barty and the Glee Club made great efforts to encourage choral music in South America. Singing, for him, was advocacy for greater cultural interchange between the Americas. Moreover, he saw the importance of musical relationships among universities, and of exchange programs: "These ... students," he wrote, "will dominate the thought and action of the Latin American world for the next forty years."

Many things have changed in the past seven deacdes; some of the problems that the 1941 Glee Club faced are no longer relevant, and we in turn have new concerns to deal with. But over all, the descriptions of that tour sound very familiar to current members. And the most essential thing remains identical: a belief in the value and power of choral music. As Barty put it:
“Wherever students have been brought together through the friendly medium of singing, they discover the simplest, the most direct and the most effective power on earth for the promotion of understanding and good will."
As we leave for South America today, we believe these words are as true now as they were 68 years ago, and we lift our voices, as they did:

Oh the anchors are weighed and the sails they are set
. Away to Rio!

-Raymond Nagem CC '09

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.”

Monday, May 25, 2009

The 1941 South American Tour, Part 1

As we in the 2009 Yale Glee Club prepare for our international tour to Argentina and Brazil, it is fitting to look back on the group’s first visit to South America, in 1941, which was a seminal tour in many ways. Marshall Bartholomew, the Glee Club’s director from 1921-1953, left a vivid and detailed report, which brings the events of 68 years ago to life.

Barty spent the summer of 1940 visiting South America, touring cities and universities and assessing the prospects for a South American tour. He found a great deal of enthusiasm – “an ardent wish … of the universities to organize singing among their students and to establish a singing tradition” – but few university choral groups.

The 1941 tour, therefore, had at its core a mission of outreach. The Glee Club was the first university choir to tour in South America, and its members represented not just themselves, nor even Yale, but American music, and their country. In visits to, and collaborations with, local universities, they served as ambassadors of choral singing and goodwill.

In those days before jet planes, the group spent 36 out of 53 days on board ship. From New York, they traveled to Rio de Janeiro for three days, then to Montevideo and Buenos Aires. After 8 days in Argentina, they crossed the Andes into Chile, visiting Santiago and Valparaiso. From there they sang in Lima and Pamana City before passing though the Panama Canal and returning to New York.

The Glee Club kept up a brutal schedule, with 27 concerts in 21 days ashore. Their repertoire contained 63 pieces, all sung from memory, and perfected during twice-daily rehearsals for 11 consecutive days on board ship.

Rio was a logistical nightmare, because an intransigent shipping line refused to allow them to stay over and catch the next ship to Montevideo. Instead, they had to cram five concerts into three days. Moreover, the SS Brazil arrived late into port, and the Glee Club rushed to the concert hall by special car transport, arriving half an hour late to a packed theater. To reach São Paulo, they had to charter a special sleeping car and a 2 AM return train. This was not luxury travel: “sanitary conditions in the kitchen were sufficient to rob finicky passengers of their appetite.”

However, the reception of audiences and students in Brazil was phenomenal. When the Glee Club sang the Brazilian national anthem in Portuguese, they created what Bartholomew laconically called “a moment of considerable emotion.” According to the Diario de Noticias, the ovation lasted for ten minutes. Of their visit to São Paulo, Barty wrote that he had “seldom witnessed a more boisterous and sincere demonstration of enthusiasm and friendship anywhere.”