Editor’s note: This article, originally published in the May 12, 1972 issue of the Cavalier Daily, gives a summary of the Virginia Glee Club‘s 1972 European Tour. The original source was extracted from the raw XML file of the issue in the UVA library’s electronic archive.
Around The Western World In Eighteen Days: A Glee Club Diary
By DAVID FOSTER
Anesthetized by your “date” last Easters? Then the Glee Club may have a solution: Europe.
Leaving Washington’s Dulles Airport this past March 30, Mr. Loach and his troubadours devoted about two and a half weeks of their spring break to such unamerican activities as Florence, Venice, Padua, Innsbruck, Salzburg, Munich and Weggis. If first impressions are important, Europe loved them.
“We gave our very first performance in a little town about 30 kilometers northwest of Rome,” explains Rich Hanger, business manager of the Club, “at a little place called Sacrofano.” “It was by far, I think, the most interesting concert.”
Fittingly enough, Good Friday provided the occasion, and the Glee Club culminated a traditional procession through the streets of the city with a performance at a church dating from the fifteenth century. With torches waving and children singing a medieval chant, the entire affair was spectacular, if anachronistic.
“The people followed this procession with three crosses and a wooden statue of Jesus, and you really had the feeling that this was something right out of the middle ages,’ continued Mr. Hanger.
“The city was very old. The buildings themselves date back to the fourteenth or fifteenth century and the streets were extremely narrow. You couldn’t even get a car through them.” Even without a motorcade, though, “They were very enthusiastic,” in Hanger’s opinion.
“After the concert, the mayor invited us to a reception at the town hall.” The mayor’s idea of a reception involved a generous distribution of wine- “some of the best on the whole tour”-as well as an abundance of “pizza,” the local bread.
“Pizza over there is just like pie, or sponge cake. It was like a sweet bread. It went real well with the wine.”
“They were really great. Some of the people there asked us to write them back, in fact, and told us if we were ever back in Italy again, the city would like to invite us back to Sacrofano. In our other performances, we really didn’t have such a close opportunity to meet people.”
Even with the minor disappointment of “no girls,” the reception succeeded so brilliantly that the Club took the extra precaution of attending Sunday mass, a Vatican original where the Pope blesses pilgrims of nearly every conceivable nationality in his native language.
“There were about 300,000 people there in the square,” claims Mr. Hanger, “It was just jammed with people. They were coming from all over the world.”
If the religion thereafter seemed anti-climatic, however, the Austrian scenery was literally at a peak.
“Innsbruck was one of the most beautiful places we visited,” affirmed Steve Ledford. “It’s set in the Austrian Alps, surrounded by 8,000-foot peaks. Unlike Rome and other cities we visited, it was remarkably clean, and not at all large. Two of us even braved a pouring rain to see the ski jump and bobsled run used in the 1960 Winter Olympics.”
Munich, in fact, did produce a rainout-indeed, a lake. It seems the Glee Club concert had to be cancelled when the Munich Symphony decided to offer a rendition of “Swan Lake” as competition. Still, an ancient U. sport saved the day, confessed Mr. Ledford.
“Many of us visited the infamous Hofbrauhaus,” he explains. “The atmosphere was that of a gigantic party. It was as if one took all the brothers from the fraternities at the University, put them all in one room with a liter mug of beer in hand, a plate of sausage in front of them, and a band in the background playing German drinking songs.”
“Many of us also visited the site for the 1972 Summer Olympics while in Munich,” added Mr. Ledford.
If anyone is growing suspicious at this point, there were only five planned concerts on the tour. “We planned it that way,” says Mr. Hanger.
“Of course, wherever we went, we’d often sing. Let’s say we went to Mozart’s birthplace, we’d sing a Mozart piece. In Venice, we went in Saint Mark’s cathedral, where we did several songs which were especially written for the church there.”
As another member phrased the situation, “We did more impromptu concerts than we did scheduled.”
Either variety, of course, was free: that concern had already been largely taken care of, mostly under the direction of the business manager Hanger.
“About seventy-five to eighty per cent of the cost was raised by the members themselves,” he said. “We tried to get anyone who could possibly come; we didn’t want the money to be a great factor. We, in the end, had to say you had to come up with two hundred dollars.”
“The rest of it—approximately eight thousand dollars-we raised through various fund-raising ventures. We collected green stamps; of course, we did a record, which helped us quite a bit.”
“Most of the money came in from donations, with a benefit performance just before we left. We sent fourteen thousand letters to alumni, through the Alumni Association, which gave us use of their mailing facilities and their low rates. We also sent out to people here in Charlottesville. I think we got a very good response.”
The Glee Club apparently had quite a response in Europe as well, for as Mr. Hanger put it, “They know music.” Europeans do indeed have a critical eye, as illustrated by an incident the group witnessed in Munich’s world-renowned opera house.
“It was during the first act,” Hanger recounts. “One lady came out and missed slightly on a note and the tomatoes came out, and toilet paper and everything else. But then, at the end of the first act, they had six curtain calls.”
“This is the way Europeans are,” he continues. “Composers are even on their coins. What money do you find in this country that has a composer on it?”
And speaking of money, that brings up another European specialty: bargaining. There again the nationalities diverge.
“Unlike America,” says Mr. Hanger, “everything is not set in its price. We see the price and we accept it. In Italy, they bargain for everything.”
They do a pretty fair amount of it, too, as evidenced by the repertoire returning with the group: Venetian glass, Italian liquors, varied leather products, Swiss watches (partially attributable to Swiss saleswomen), and Lowenbrau mugs (partially attributable to the contents). As Kim Shelton understated, “Italians are basically merchants.’
Aside from economic theories, however, one notes other, deeper cultural differences. “I think a lot of it is being exposed to different ways of life,” offers Jim Babb, “especially Italians.” “Their whole system of priorities seemed to be almost completely different.’
“Our priorities are different,’ agrees Mr. Hanger, “We’re more scientifically oriented, Europeans are very emotional. Until you’ve been in a different culture, you don’t realize how people think.”
One area of consensus, though, is contemporary music. Both on radio and record (a more expensive pastime in Europe) the latest English and American pop groups monopolize the current charts. They don’t even bother to translate.
America may have been a little too often in evidence, in fact. As Hanger explained, “We had hoped to meet more European students. Unfortunately, they were all on vacation.”
And most likely in the States at that. Which is probably the most profitable place for the musically oriented to be this weekend, as the Glee Club will be making the first appearance of their return engagement on the Lawn of the University this Saturday afternoon. Mr. Loach will be conducting as always, with tap-off scheduled for 3:00 on the steps of Old (if not quite medieval) Cabell Hall.
After their experiences at the front, the Club-already among the best in the East-should be in prime shape. As least Rich Hanger thinks so.
“What it did for the Club, you couldn’t measure. When you see someone just twice a week you sort of just know them by face. By the time we got back, everyone knew everyone that went very well.”
“It did a lot to bring the Club together. You can’t sing well unless you really feel part of the group.”
Evidently, from their sound, everyone’s now quite at home. So grab a blanket, a date (gently of course), and a six pack or worse, and come enjoy a musical Saturday afternoon on the house. If you liked the Vatican, you’ll love the Lawn.