One of the more evocative notes in the official history of the Virginia Glee Club is this, from Philip Alexander Bruce’s centennial review of the University:
In January, 1915, Professor Hall-Quest, who, during six years, had been in charge of the Princeton Glee Club, undertook to reorganize the old association [the Glee Club] and train it scientifically.
I’ve written about the troubled history of the Glee Club at the turn of the century before, but we didn’t look at the motivating actor. Who was Professor Hall-Quest? And why, after giving an illustrious account of his success, does the historian Bruce say little further about him in the five volume history?
Let’s start with Hall-Quest’s official biography, from 1917. Alfred Lawrence Hall-Quest was 36 by the time he was directing the Club in 1915. Before that he took degrees from Augustana College and from Princeton Theological Seminary and was ordained to the Presbyterian ministry in 1903. Reading between the lines, he appears to have rambled: between ordination and 1914 he was associate pastor at one church and pastor at three, professor in philosophy and education in Westminster College, Fulton, MO, and “assistant in education” at the University of Illinois. He is listed as teaching the summer session at Illinois in 1914, then teaching the summer session at Virginia in 1915. That fall he was reconstituting the Glee Club and winning the hearts of students. From 1914 to 1916 he was associate professor of education, and by 1916 he was on the full faculty as professor of educational philosophy. It was in 1916 that his seminal educational theory work, Supervised Study, was published. By 1917 he had moved on to the University of Cincinnati. There he appeared to have stayed through the early 1920s until he made a move to the University of Pittsburgh.
Then: scandal struck in October 1924. Hall-Quest’s wife very publicly ran off with his best friend, and he granted her the divorce. This was grounds for dismissal from the University of Pittsburgh.
Hall-Quest landed on his feet, somewhat, at Milwaukee University, but left that position under a cloud in 1927 after public disagreements with the board of trustees. From there the trail goes a little dark, and we don’t know when or how he died. In 1940 he’s listed as an influential educator in The Swedish in America, and his writings on supervised study are still cited in educational theory today.
After all that, one wonders: how did he end up with the Glee Club in the first place? The evidence, drawn largely from the pages of Madison Hall Notes when that institution was still the home of the Young Men’s Christian Association, is that he helped reform the Glee (and Mandolin) Club as part of his larger work with Madison House. He had been “head organist at Princeton” while there, and in addition to the Glee Club was directing a chancel choir in 1916. So Club’s rescuing from obscurity and training in scientific principles appears to have been a happy accident. Hall-Quest had ambition and drive, and did a lot, but in the end he was just passing through Virginia. Though he refounded the group, he didn’t provide the stability the group needed to move beyond its year-to-year existence. That wouldn’t come until the 1920s and the establishment of the Music Department.