News / USA

Yale Glee Club Hits a High Note

University singing group celebrates 150 years

The Yale Glee Club, seen here leaping on the steps of the main concert hall in the Dominican Republic, is celebrating its 150th anniversary.
The Yale Glee Club, seen here leaping on the steps of the main concert hall in the Dominican Republic, is celebrating its 150th anniversary.

Multimedia

Audio
Naomi Lewin

American universities inherited a choral tradition from England where, centuries ago, student choruses gathered to sing songs with different vocal parts known as glees. Today, dozens of U.S. colleges have glee clubs - a cappella choruses open to students who pass an audition.

The Yale Glee Club is the nation’s third oldest collegiate chorus. What began as a group of friends serenading passersby, has grown into a powerhouse vocal ensemble. This year marks its 150th anniversary, and this month, decades' worth of Yale Glee Club alumni head to New Haven, Connecticut for a reunion.  

Diverse group

Singing has always been a big part of life at Yale, no matter what you’re studying.  Art major - later actor - Vincent Price and music major - later minister - William Sloane Coffin sang in the Glee Club.  And so did Cole Porter, one of America’s most popular composers, who wrote a football song celebrating Yale’s mascot, "Handsome Dan the Bulldog."

Another alum is Richard Brookhiser, who’s now senior editor at the conservative magazine National Review. In college, he was already active in politics and recalls 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," says Brookhiser. "But when you were singing, that didn’t matter, because you were all focused on the music, and having a good time doing the music."

The Glee Club performs a mixture of folk songs, spirituals and classical music.

"And that also showed someone who was maybe snobbish like I was, that all these different kinds of music have a value," says Brookhiser.

Fenno Heath, who conducted the Glee Club from 1953 until 1992, in front of a portrait of his predecessor, Marshall Bartholomew.
Fenno Heath, who conducted the Glee Club from 1953 until 1992, in front of a portrait of his predecessor, Marshall Bartholomew.

Rich tradition

The Yale Glee Club dates back to February 1861, and in all that time, there’ve only been seven conductors. Stowe Phelps, 93, sang under the fourth one, Marshall Bartholomew - known as Barty.  

"Barty was a wonderful, affable teacher and conductor," says Phelps. "He made us work hard and insisted upon perfection."

Barty arranged dozens of folk songs and spirituals for what was then an all-male Glee Club.  Jeffrey Douma, current conductor of the Glee Club, says it was no wonder that a music publisher snapped up those arrangements to sell to other groups.  

"From our vantage point in 2011, they seem very old fashioned, but they were very fresh, and very exciting," says Douma, "and that’s why his collection of Songs of Yale was the staple of male chorus repertoire for decades. Still is, actually."

Barty led the Glee Club for over three decades, and his successor, Fenno Heath, spent nearly four decades conducting and composing for the group. Yale went co-ed during his tenure - in 1969 - and so did the Glee Club.

The all-male Yale Glee Club appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1969.
The all-male Yale Glee Club appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1969.

Phelps had mixed feelings about the change. "There is a passion, there is a vigor, there is a forcefulness, which is more thrilling," he says of an all-male Glee Club.

Common language

But the Glee Club survived and thrived as a mixed chorus. Yale Students down through the years have found the Glee Club’s rehearsal room in Hendrie Hall a refuge from academic, and other pressures.  

Roy Byrd, a Glee Club soloist, was there in the 1960’s. "Being black at Yale was a big deal.  Being black in the Glee Club was no bigger deal than Yale generally. And in fact, because we had something in common with one another in the Glee Club, it was a small deal."

Prochie Mukherji arrived at the Yale Law School in 1972. "There I was, a student from India, very far away from home. And the Yale Glee Club really was my door to making friends and to meeting people. It was a wonderful experience to have a common language in music."

For many, the people they met in the Glee Club are friends for life. Touring reinforced those friendships, with concerts across the country every winter, and tours abroad every other summer. 

Conductor Jeffrey Douma leads a rehearsal of the current Yale Glee Club.
Conductor Jeffrey Douma leads a rehearsal of the current Yale Glee Club.

Conductor Jeffrey Douma considers the social element key to his group. "When the personal connections are strong, 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."

Current Glee Club members are just beginning to appreciate the group's rich history.

"The continuity of Glee Club across time, for the last 150 years - that’s something I hadn’t thought about as much until my senior year," says Mari Oye, a senior studying political science. "I’m hoping we’ll still be kicking for the 200th reunion, and we’ll be able to come back to Hendrie and bawl our eyes out."

Seventy-five years worth of Glee Club members were scheduled to take to the stage together at the reunion - from Stowe Phelps, class of 1939, through current Glee Club freshmen, class of 2014.

You May Like

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid