Monday, February 21, 2011

“When I was in the Glee Club…" The YGC’s 150th Reunion

Abigail Droge ’12 on the joys of our 150th Reunion Weekend. Above, Commons in its finery for the Singing Dinner (Photo: T Sean Maher)

I realize now that “once a glee clubber, always a glee clubber” is an understatement. The sense of community and friendship that I experienced this weekend are like nothing I have ever seen before. The whole weekend was one of the highlights of the year for me, but there are a few moments that especially stood out:

Friday, February 11

2:00 pm I’m standing in Hendrie 201 with a smile on my face and my brand new lapel pin clipped to my sweater. As the amazing Reunion Chair Jasmine Dyba ’11 explains the registration process to me, alums pour in, excitedly examining the contents of their registration packets, donning name tags, hugging old friends, and pointing at the rows and rows of photos behind us. These thousands of sepia-tinted faces with bangs, buzz cuts, center parts, or mutton chops (depending on how far back you go) have gazed at me for three years, but I have never seen them come alive as they do now, as the glass reflects real eyes eagerly searching for the year when such-and-such happened on tour and, oh my gosh, do you remember when..? Back in October, I must confess that these photos seemed rather daunting to me. I volunteered to help out with the commemorative book written by Tim DeWerff ’92, and my task was to put together a comprehensive roster of everyone who has ever sung with the Glee Club. When I walked into rehearsal after first starting my research I remember looking up at the solid wall of tiny faces and thinking, “You all have names, and I have to find out what they are!” But now, with “Louder Yet the Chorus Raise!” in hand, I scan the wall again and feel like I am smiling at old friends, many of whom now appear, in the flesh, streaming through the door.

6:00 pm Hundreds of alums and current glee clubbers sit in Sprague Hall, captivated by the first screening of the new documentary film, Raising Voices. Cheers go up from the classes of ’09 and ’10 during the Brazil and Argentina scenes and everyone claps as the faces of beloved alums light up the screen. The sound of old recordings fills the hall and as we see photos of Old Campus with different trees, we recognize buildings decades younger and imagine where fences full of singers used to be. Those guys sitting on the fence and singing is one of the elements that sticks out most to me. A proud Hounie, I lived in Bingham my freshman year and remember well the first time I saw the plaque on the College Street side commemorating the site of the old fence. That was move-in day, freshman year. Little could I have imagined that a few days later I would make 80 instant friends in the Glee Club and that a few years later I would make 800 more instant friends at the reunion and all because of the men who sat on that fence, pushed their bowler hats rakishly to one side, looked out at the carriages rolling by, and decided to sing together.

Saturday, February 12

5:00 pm Woolsey is packed. I am sitting on the side, looking out over the heads of current glee clubbers at a stage brimming with 70 years of alums as the first notes of Shenandoah mesmerize the audience. I can hardly keep from crying when the crowd rises in unison to give a standing ovation to Stowe Phelps ’39, after an incredible solo performance of Pretty Saro. The YGCA Mixed Chorus touches our hearts with The Lamb and brings the house down with Ride the Chariot. When we take the stage ourselves, City Song is particularly memorable, as alums stand in both side balconies to join us --- what a special gift to be able to sing about a city that we all share, no matter how far flung our roots or current homes. When we get to the Yale songs, I realize that the Football Medley is ten times more fun when the whole audience knows all of the words and there is a surprise appearance of the band (!), and during BCY, singing chickens flutter as nearly every hand waves a handkerchief.

9:00 pm The dance floor is packed as glee clubbers old and new twist and shout and think to themselves, what a wonderful world. I hardly recognize Commons with streamers and twinkling lights draped from the ceiling and tables gorgeously set with tulip center pieces and cloth napkins. Just after the salad, we sing “We Meet Again Tonight Friends” (my favorite), and I cannot keep from smiling, remembering the first time that I sang it at glee club retreat freshman year, leaning over someone’s songbook around the campfire, trying to hold the flashlight and turn the pages at the same time, and fumbling through the soprano line. Tonight I sing it with confidence, no song book needed (though I open mine just to see it lie flat with its new spiral binding!) and realize how appropriate the lyrics are: We meet again tonight friends with mirth and song. That just about sums it up.

Monday, February 7, 2011

"Yale Glee Club: Reuniting, And It Feels So Good" on NPR!

Naomi Lewin '74 put together a wonderful piece about us for "Morning Edition" on Sunday, February 6. Listen to it here. A partial transcript is below:

My freshman year in college, someone asked me my major. My immediate response was "Glee Club." At Yale, Glee Club is an extracurricular activity, but I continued to "major" in it all through college. The group celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, and next weekend, decades' worth of Glee Club alumni will head to New Haven, Conn., for a reunion.

Singing has always been a big part of life at Yale, no matter what you're studying. The Yale Glee Club dates back to 1861, and over time has attracted a diverse crop of future luminaries. Vincent Price and William Sloane Coffin both spent time in Glee Club, as did Cole Porter, who penned Yale's fight song as an undergraduate.

Another alum is Richard Brookhiser, who is now senior editor at the National Review. In college, he was already active in conservative politics, so he enjoyed the wide cross-section of people he met in the Glee Club.

"These were people who weren't into politics, or didn't share my politics necessarily," Brookhiser says. "But when you were singing, that didn't matter, because you were all focused on the music."

The Glee Club rehearses (photo at left).

Students through the years have found the Glee Club's rehearsal room in Hendrie Hall a refuge from academic and other pressures. Prochie Mukherji arrived at the Yale Law School in 1972 from India; Glee Club, she says, provided her with instant kinship.

"The Yale Glee Club really was my door to making friends and to meeting people," she says. "It was a wonderful experience to have a common language in music."

Current conductor Jeffrey Douma says the social element is key to his group.

"When the personal connections are strong," he says, "we're not only trying to serve the music and the composer, and we're not only singing for the audience, but we're also singing for each other. And we want to get it right for each other."

Next Saturday's reunion concert will feature 75 years' worth of Glee Club members on stage together — including this year's group, which is set to perform at Carnegie Hall in April. Current senior Mari Oye says she's looking forward to it.

"I'm hoping we'll still be kicking for the 200th reunion," she says, "and we'll be able to come back to Hendrie and bawl our eyes out."

The 150th Reunion Concert - Saturday, February 12, 5 pm.

There will not, as far as we know, be any dancing chickens.
That said, many props to Sandra Boynton '74, who drew them.
RSVP to the Facebook event for our concert here.

"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