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

    Turkey, US Splits Deepen Over Support for Kurdish Militants

    Ankara summons American ambassador to protest remarks by State Department spokesman who said Washington does not consider Syria's Kurdish Democracy Union Party (PYD) a terrorist organization

    Obama Seeking $19 Billion for National Cybersecurity

    Move, touted as attempt to build broad, cohesive federal response to cyberthreats, calls for increase in cybersecurity spending across all government agencies

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire, who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

    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.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.