The first Friday in December is always a day of celebration at Yale. Fall term classes end that afternoon. Exams and papers remain, but with the seeming eternity of reading week stretched out before us, we students feel as if we can ignore them (a week later, we feel differently).
The Glee Club has its own traditional way of celebrating this campus holiday. We board the Metro-North train and head down to New York City for our yearly Holiday Concert at the Yale Club of New York. When announcing the trip at rehearsal, our manager Rachel Wilf told us that the Yale Club is her favorite yearly YGC concert. Or, as YGC president Emily Howell put it in her ad-libbed solo during “Eli Yale”: “Out of all our fall concerts, the Yale Club is always a winner / And that’s not just because we all like free dinner.”
We are indeed treated to a tasty meal before we sing, but Emily is right; there’s plenty to like about the concert besides the grub. We couldn’t ask for a friendlier audience than a crowd of Yale alums and New York-area YGC family members, and the approaching winter holidays give us an excuse to add traditional Christmas carols like “Es ist ein rose entsprungen” and the “Glouscestershire Wassail” to our repertoire.
Yet what Glee Clubbers most eagerly anticipate each year is the night’s second concert. We head back from the Yale Club to Grand Central Station to catch the Metro-North. Before we board, we assemble on the double-stairway at the west end of Vanderbilt Hall, the station’s largest atrium. There, our director, Jeff, conducts us as we sing a semi-spontaneous mix of carols and concert repertoire.
There’s a bit of an ImprovEverywhere or flashmob aspect to the Grand Central concert. A number of people know about the tradition (in 2008, Time Out New York featured it as a “must see for the holiday season”), but most of the crowd that gathers to listen is made up of travelers who take a break during their Friday commute to listen to the choir that has mysteriously appeared in their train station. We’ve learned to watch for looks of surprise-turning-into-pleasure on passing commuters’ faces.
This year, though, the concert was not all smiles. As we were starting our second carol, “Silent Night,” a pair of uniformed New York City Policemen walked purposefully out toward Jeff, who stopped conducting and began to talk to them. We could not hear the conversation, but the officers’ expressions said enough.
Then the crowd stood up to The Law on our behalf. “They do this every year!” one bystander shouted. “They’re singing about peace!” an indignant listener told the gun-toting cops.
As for the Glee Club, we turned and looked expectantly at our assistant conductor, Max Blum. He rose to the occasion, giving us the first pitch and the downbeat of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” We began again; the crowd began to cheer. The officers, who knew how to recognize a lost cause when they saw one, begrudgingly broke off their dispute with Jeff. Missing neither a literal nor a figurative beat, he turned back to us and conducted the end of the carol.
We sang the rest of the concert without incident, boarded the MetroNorth, and sang our way home to New Haven. On the ride, I kept thinking back to the supportive Grand Central audience and smiling.
“They do this every year.” “They’re singing about peace.”