Monday, February 7, 2011

"Yale found its Glee 150 years ago," New Haven Register

An article from Donna Doherty in today's New Haven Register. All photos Arnold Gold/New Haven Register... and a video in the original article here.

NEW HAVEN — It has sung all over the world, survived wars and co-education. Its alums include legendary songwriter Cole Porter, former senators Prescott Bush and James Symington, and peace activist Rev. William Sloane Coffin, so reaching 150 years old seemed cause for celebration.

The Yale Glee Club, the oldest musical organization on campus, has big plans for that occasion, ones which embrace the community and continue through May, including two specially commissioned works, each composer and writer, unbeknownst to the other, choosing to honor the city of New Haven.

“City Song,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and former Yale Glee-er Lew Spratlan and renowned Yale poet Elizabeth Alexander, will have its world premiere at a gala free concert at 5 p.m. Saturday at Woolsey Hall, featuring current Glee Club members and five decades of returning alumni, who will dine later at a “singing dinner” at the Yale Commons.

The club is big on reunions, having celebrated its milestones every five years since the 125th, but Jeffrey Douma, the director of the Glee Club for the past eight years, says this is a biggie — there’s even a 250-page commemorative book.

“Reunion weekend is the main celebration. Alumni total about 2,300, and they are extremely active and engaged, probably more than any other college chorus in the country,” he says of the club, noting that its seamless transitions among its few directors over the years has led to its “incredible continuity.”

It started as a 13-member student-run group, and became a faculty position when Yale’s first professor of music, Augustus Stoeckel became its head, and enjoyed a long run of lengthy-tenured directors — just seven over its century and a half, which Douma says contributed to its “incredible continuity” — including Marshall “Barty” Bartholomew (1921-1953) and Fenno Heath (1953-1992).

“People join because they love to sing, they love good music, but I think they remain committed because of the friendships that are formed ...,” says Douma, who will be conducting Saturday’s concert.

The weekend begins with Douma moderating a panel on “Collegiate Choral Singing in the U.S.: Past Present and Future,” with leading choral directors Jameson Marvin (Harvard University), Joseph Flummerfelt (Westminster College Choir), Robert Scholz (St. Olaf College) and Marguerite Brooks (Yale Camerata director) Friday at 4 p.m. at Sprague Hall. That will be followed there at 6 p.m. by the premiere screening of “Raising Voices,” the new Yale Glee Club documentary film.

“We look for good singers who can read music well and be able to commit to rehearsals,” Douma says of the undergards who audition each year for one of the 85 spots. That commitment includes several performances during the year, a domestic tour in early January and an international tour right after commencement.

As the city uncurls from one of its worst winters on record, and is hopefully enjoying an early spring, the Glee Club will perform its second celebratory concert, with another new anniversary work, Ted Hearne’s “partitions,” on April 2 with the Yale Symphony Orchestra at Sprague Hall.

The work should also resonate with city dwellers as it is a journey through the New Haven neighborhoods from both sides of the city to the Glee Club’s home at Hendrie Hall on Elm Street.

“Ted took a walk from Fair Haven to Hendrie Hall and recorded what he saw,” says Douma, demonstrating some interesting chord structures at the piano, and reading from the sheet music — familiar street names and places, banks and on to Hendrie Hall. “... For the fourth movement, he started on Whalley Avenue ... and ends at Hendrie,” the word “easy” playing prominently in a neat juxtaposition of text and music.

That concert, which also includes Vaughan Williams’ “Dona Nobis Pacem,” and other pieces the Glee Club has premiered, is a preview of a Carnegie Hall performance of it on April 8.

The Yale Glee Club repertoire for its soprano/alto/bass/tenor voice parts, includes classical orchestral choral works, spirituals, contemporary works such as folk songs, and of course, its traditional Yale songs, which include several of Cole Porter’s famous football fight songs (“Boola Boola”).

Including the city in the celebrations is a no-brainer.

Douma says, “We try to be engaged with the city of New Haven, not just Yale,” noting the Glee Club’s yearlong commitments, such as hosting the annual High School Choral Fest (7 p.m., April 13) where 150 high school singers from Wilbur Cross, Co-Op Arts & Humanities, High School in the Community and Career, are invited to campus for the day; and sponsoring, along with the Yale School of Music, the All-City Choir.

The celebration concludes with this year’s international tour from May 27-June 19.

“This summer we’re trying to retrace the steps of the first tour in 1928,” says Douma, where they will collaborate with several universities in Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the Czech Republic, France and Istanbul, the latter venue the site of a joint gala concert with the Yale Alumni Chorus.

For more information, visit

Event: Yale Glee Club 150th Anniversary Reunion Choral Concert

When: 5 p.m. Saturday

- Where: Woolsey Hall, 500 College St., New Haven

Admission: Free

. Info: 203-432-4136