I haven’t written much on the blog in a while. But that’s not because I haven’t been writing.
On Wednesday, December 30, I finished my first draft of a book I’ve been working on, off and on, for years: the history of the first 150 years of the Virginia Glee Club. Sort of finished, anyway: I closed the document, took our dog for a walk, and realized when I walked back in the door that I had forgotten things.
I expect to continue to have that realization for a while. There is, of course, a lot of ground to cover, and I’ve inevitably left things out—like the biographies of many individual Glee Club members I’ve researched over the years. Or important historical events that add context to the work. Or…
Well, you get the drift. The reality is that the work that I’ve done on the history of the group is spread across a bunch of places: Glee Club newsletters, the history wiki, even a Pinterest board I started over the summer. The book will hopefully, for the interested reader, be the tip of the iceberg.
And now I can, maybe, start writing in other places. Like here. Someday.
Just as soon as I get the thing published. And that’ll be a whole different journey that I will share as I am able.
My latest exercise in madness has been an effort to index all the images on the Virginia Glee Club History Wiki. In doing so, I took the opportunity to link images to their sources where I could and to find some more context, including trying to identify individuals in photos. Which brings me to the photo above.
There might be no more momentous photo from the early years of the Glee Club. It’s one of the better photos of legendary Club conductor Harry Rogers Pratt (conductor from 1933 to 1943), a showman who took the group to New York City, got them their first radio gigs, and instituted the Concert on the Lawn, among other achievements. And just over his left shoulder, eyes closed, is one of the more famous Glee Club alums, at least to UVA graduates, Ernest Mead. The two professors together had about 80 years of teaching UVA students between them.
But who were the other students with them? I decided to find out. Thankfully Corks and Curls came to the rescue.
After that it gets a little squirrelly, but thanks to Corks and Curls I was finally able to identify the other two men. Next to Mac stands Chester Harris Robbins, of Worcester, Massachusetts, who sang in the Glee Club from 1933 to 1937.
And at the end is the distinctive visage of Kenneth Seaman Giniger, who had the most colorful career of any of the alums. While a student, he instituted the Jefferson Society’s Woodrow Wilson Memorial Banquet, with guests including five US senators, the University’s president, a Supreme Court justice, and the governor of Virginia, to say nothing of Mrs. Woodrow Wilson (Edith Bolling Wilson), who was elected as an honorary member of the Society by the end of the evening, the first woman to be so honored. After serving in World War II, Giniger became the assistant to the director of the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency in 1951-1952. And then he went into publishing, forming the K.S. Giniger Company and writing inspirational books. He might be the only person to receive both the French Legion of Honor and the Norman Vincent Peale Award for Positive Thinking.
A quick one today. I’ve been up to my eyeballs in various kinds of work, but this was too cool not to write about.
The Glee Club has thousands of known alumni and all of them have some sort of story to their lives. One who I didn’t know much about was Dr. Lawrence Thomas Royster (1874-1953), who was a member in 1893-1894 and 1896-1897. A physician, he taught pediatrics at the University of Virginia Medical School. And he saved Thomas Jefferson… or at least his statue.
While Royster was a student, in October 1895, the annex to Jefferson’s Rotunda, his library and centerpiece for the Academical Village, caught fire and burned. Efforts were made to keep the fire from spreading to the main Rotunda with little success, and the building burned completely, leaving just the brick shell behind. But while the fire progressed, students rescued what they could from the building, including books from the library and, notably, the enormous marble statue of Jefferson that had been given to the University by Alexander Galt in 1861.
A few minutes before the explosion occurred, the fine marble figure of Jefferson by Galt had been lowered by ropes to the level of a table hastily pushed forward to catch it. So great was its weight that this support at once gave way under it; but luckily the fall to the floor did not damage the statue. Turned over on its face, it was rapidly dragged to the door opening on the front stairway, and just as there began the attempt to pull it through this narrow exit, the explosion shook the whole building. “The statue,” says Morgan P. Robinson, in his vivid description of the scene, “was gotten out on the staircase, and step by step, it was carried down the western stairs feet foremost. As the base of the statue was eased over each step, it would gather momentum, and gaining speed, would tear off the top edge of the next step, while, under the combined weight of the statue and twenty to thirty of the students, the whole staircase would tremble. It is conservatively estimated that it took from ten to fifteen minutes only to remove the statue from the library to the Lawn.”
Bruce, History of the University of Virginia, Vol. IV, p. 260, 1922.
The story is well known to me, but until today, I didn’t know that a Glee Club member was among the students who rescued the statue. Then, while checking my sources on Royster’s photo, I found the entry for the photo at the UVA Library and read the following:
A native of Norfolk, Virginia, where he was born in 1874, Dr. Royster received his prepatory education at Norfolk Academy and entered the University in 1892. In the memorable fire of 1895 he was one of the group of students who entered the burning Rotunda and lifted the Galt statue of Jefferson from its pedestal, drew it through the room on a mattress, safely eased it down the curving stair, and deposited it on the Lawn. The only damage to the statue was a slight chipping of the edge of the drapery.
Bulletin of the UVa Medical School and Hospital, Fall 1942.
So, Royster was one of those responsible for saving the statue of Jefferson. And it’s interesting to note that, in this age of iconoclasm, the statue was not one of the post-Reconstruction Civil War statues. Instead, Alexander Galt, Jr., a native Virginian who took up sculpture after being inspired by the work of Houdon and studied in Florence, was commissioned to create the statue for $10,000, completing it in 1861. (Galt died in 1863 of smallpox while serving as aide to Virginia’s Confederate governor John Letcher.)
One of the fun things about being the historian of a musical group in the 21st century is that there is so much of the group’s history that’s already digital. But that sometimes presents a challenge, too.
Take PDFs. The ubiquitous Portable Document Format is great for providing computer readable versions of concert programs and newsletters, but not so great for displaying on the Web for research. And recently I realized that I had a bunch of PDFs that I had never added to the Virginia Glee Club Wiki, the repository where the history of the Glee Club lives. What to do?
Enter Automator. This tool, which I use far too rarely, is a great way to take repetitive tasks and make them easy. I used it to build a workflow for turning PDFs into a series of individual PNGs for web display. The workflow, which is dead simple, is above. Basically: take a PDF, render PDF pages as images (a built in action), and copy to a destination folder. I think that the final step is no longer needed since copying the additional pages already adds a numeric suffix.
Saving the workflow as a Quick Action puts PDF to PNGs on the context (right-click) menu in the Finder for PDFs. So it ends up looking like this:
I wrote two posts from 2018 on finding a copy of part of the premiere recording of Randall Thompson’sThe Testament of Freedom (part 1, part 2). Recorded at its initial performance on April 13, 1943 in Old Cabell Hall at the University of Virginia by the Virginia Glee Club and rebroadcast over the Columbia Broadcasting System, the recording of the work is significant for all sorts of reasons—the commemoration of Thomas Jefferson’s 200th birthday, the premiere of one of Randall Thompson’s most significant works, the occasion of greatest music-historical significance that the Glee Club was ever involved with, the connection to World War II.
Over the past few months I’ve gotten a few questions in the comments that I thought I’d answer here.
Can you supply label scans of these discs?
I didn’t originally take photos of the labels, but here they are.
I am a music researcher into Columbia Electrical Trancription 16″ record pressing that feature matrix numbers. Alas, this is not one of those. The record I received was a 12″ 78RPM record that featured just the last movement. Apparently there was, at one point, a multi-record album of which this was just the last piece.
Would I be willing to digitize the entire performance? I would, if I had it. As it turns out, as noted in the original post, the record I have is just the last movement, and judging from the College Topics article it was part of a set. I suspect the only place that has a full set of all the discs of the original recording is the University of Virginia Library. That said, they have already digitized it and could probably arrange access.
I started writing this post six years ago, and for some reason never finished. It felt like a good time to pick it back up, since we were robbed of the chance to defend our NCAA championship title this year.
As I began writing this in 2014, UVa men’s basketball is in the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995. It’s pretty sweet, and it’s a good reminder that Virginia has its fair share of sports successes. The games have inspired me to dive into the archives, and I’ve found eight Virginia Glee Club alums who also played hoops for UVa. In chronological order:
George Harold Atkisson. From Quincy, Illinois, Atkisson (1887 – 1964) played center in 1906–1907 for Virginia.
Percy Rudolph Ashby. A Hampton boy, Ashby (1888 – 1931) was an engineering student who was also at home on the court and on the track.
Edward White Kearns. Born 1890 in Taunton, Massachusetts, Kearns wasn’t just a basketball player–playing at right forward, he was also captain of the team in 1911–1912, having played the previous year with Ashby. That year the team went 7 and 4, losing to Guilford, Georgetown (twice), and Washington & Lee (a blowout, 24 – 9).
Charles Cazeove Plummer. This engineering student from Mobile, Alabama (born 1899, died 1967) was also in the German Club, meaning that he was responsible for helping to plan and organize the germans, or formal cotillons, for the student body.
Carlysle Allen Bethel. Bethel (born 1904 in Richmond, Virginia, died 1996) appears to have been a well rounded athlete, as he played on both the football and basketball squad in 1923 – 1924.
Norman N. Adler. Born in 1924 in Brooklyn, New York, Adler was a basketball player, ran track, and was in the Navy ROTC program during the war years, graduating in 1944. He went on to become a physician, practicing in New York until his death in 1988.
Roger Dana Fraley. Fraley likely played on the team alongside Adler. Born in 1923 in Cleveland, Virginia, he appears to have been highly active at Virginia, as he was also a member of Alpha Tau Omega, the Raven Society, the Honor Committee, Alpha Kappa Psi, the semi-secret T.I.L.K.A., and the political organization Skull and Keys. He died in 2011.
Robert B. Roberson. The last (so far) singing hoops player on the list, Roberson, graduating in 1964, played varsity basketball and baseball and was also the sports editor of the Cavalier Daily, which is a pretty neat trick if you ask me.
Yes indeed! The mystery DATs were the master recordings from the 7pm and 9:30pm performances of the Virginia Glee Club 57th Annual Christmas Concert! Notable as the Glee Club’s first Christmas performances with conductor Bruce Tammen, the unedited tapes include the full range of a Glee Club Christmas, including audience carols, the eternal struggle between the Four Calling Birds and Three French Hens during the “Twelve Days of Christmas,” solo performances by Jayson Throckmorton, Craig Fennell, Eric Buechner and Bill Bennett, and some seriously moving renditions of favorites like the Gretchaninoff “Nunc Dimittis” and the Biebl Ave Maria. To say nothing of riveting announcements by Glee Club president Drew Cogswell.
I’m going to try to make the whole concert available somehow, but for now here’s a teaser: Club’s performance of the Marvin V. Curtis arrangement of “Go Tell It On the Mountain” from the 7pm show. Enjoy!
I’ve written before about University of Virginia student songs, including (infamously) “From Rugby Road to Vinegar Hill” (once or twice) and “Glory to Virginia,” the student song often performed with “Rugby Road.” As I noted in the latter case, many of these student songs follow the traditional pattern of oral transmission of ballads and other songs, in which old melodies gain new lyrics and vice versa.
This morning I found another example, in a most unlikely place. I’m working through a project to rip all the vinyl in my possession, which includes records that I’ve bought on purpose and that have been lent or outright given to me by friends and family members. One was an awful “Sing Along with Mitch” record. I rip the things so I can share them back to the donors if requested, and in the odd case I find some tracks that are meaningful or really good. In this case, it was a medley on the B side of “A Bicycle Built for Two” and “Put on Your Old Grey Bonnet.” And the latter song is the melody of “Fill Up Your Old Silver Goblet,” which is titled with and without the “old,” but is always sung with “Rugby Road.”
So I started writing the Glee Club Wiki article on the song, and as I went I found more and more examples of alternate versions of this song. “Red Sweater,” from University of Montreal and University of British Columbia, is almost identical in its first verse to “Silver Goblet.” Then there’s a lame Brown University version from an alumni magazine — so lame that one wonders if a more foul version was in play among the students. (Speaking of foul, don’t click that University of Montreal link — the song is cited among other student drinking songs, many of which are completely and astonishingly obscene.)
It just goes to show you: don’t look down your nose at old records, even “Sing Along With Mitch.” You never know what you’ll learn.
If I lived near Charlottesville, I would attend the event in a heartbeat. But given that the event is happening almost a year to the day after the re-emergence of Nazis in America, and several days after the planned anniversary rally in Washington, DC, I hope that the organizers are taking steps to prevent interference with the process.
I wanted to commemorate the February passing (I only learned of it this morning via UVA Magazine) of Robert Fair, Virginia Glee Club 1946-1947, associate dean at the Darden School, WWII veteran, and member of the first incarnation of the VGCAFA, the Virginia Glee Club Advisory Board, in the mid-1990s.
Bob Fair was a mentor to Larry Mueller and brought a lot of wisdom to our meetings in Newcomb Hall as we worked to figure out how we were going to grow the then-$200K endowment to support the needs of the Glee Club. Bob was wise, funny, and more than happy to share his wisdom when asked.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have learned from some of the finest men and women in the world. Hats off for Bob Fair and much gratitude for all he did.
I read with interest a UVA Today article about Andrew Ashcraft, a fourth year architecture student who has had the privilege of exploring attics and other hidden spaces at the University as an intern in the Historic Preservation team. Having been an inveterate explorer of the University’s nooks and crannies myself (with a particular fascination for Old Cabell Hall and the roof of Clark Hall), I envy Ashcraft his job. However, one paragraph caught my attention:
“His favorite view so far has been from the attic of Old Cabell Hall, where he could look down through an ornate false skylight into the building’s grand two-tiered theater.”
It may be a “false skylight” today, but it certainly didn’t start out that way. The evidence, as always, is the University’s collection of the photographs of Rufus Holsinger. In a collection of views of the Grounds dating to 1914 we get the photo below, showing the view of the stage but also the ceiling above:
That sure looks like a working skylight to me! The Library’s online exhibit on the work of McKim, Meade, and White (the designers of Old Cabell Hall) indicates that the skylight was eventually enclosed “to accommodate modern lighting equipment,” and from the stage you can see the lighting in the space that would originally have let natural sunlight in.
The University has a small tradition of enclosing skylights, apparently, or at least doubling them up. As an undergrad I learned from some of my older neighbors how to enter Clark Hall (originally the home of the Law School) at night and climb up to the dusty hidden room enclosed by the outer skylights and the inner skylights of the building. Yes, there are two layers of skylight. I haven’t been able to determine if this was the original design or a concession to weatherproofing. (You can see a hint of the double-layered design in this photo.)
I’m a big fan of the Shorpy web site for vintage photographs, and was delighted when this old Texaco station popped up featuring Shenandoah Valley Apple Candy. Sadly, it looks like this location is now another personality-free strip mall gas station.
As part of my ongoing work on the history of the Virginia Glee Club, I started researching the lives of Club members who became casualties of World War II. With some help from fellow fossil Andrew Breen, who thoughtfully photographed the Rotunda memorial tablet for me, I’ve been able to fill in a few additional names of Glee Club alums who gave their lives in service. This work is ongoing; I have no doubt I’ll find more than the seven I’ve found thus far.
Finding the record on eBay was a heady, exciting moment, tempered by two things: it wasn’t complete, and I wasn’t alone.
I have learned over the years that, while they don’t draw hundreds of bidders, works of history from the University are of enough interest to a small number of collectors that bidding can be competitive. I knew that I could probably win the auction if I paid enough attention—though I’ve lost my fair share of items, I’ve won more than I lost, thanks to a sixteen-year-old paper by one of my grad school professors. I knew that there was at least one other bidder, so I set an alarm for the last day of the auction and waited.
The completeness point was a little more concerning. The available information about the recording indicated that it was a three-record set (not uncommon in the days before 33 1/3 RPM records), but this was only one record. Thankfully, the photo of the label indicated that it was the last movement, easily my favorite of the four. Though Thompson’s setting of Jefferson’s text still plods in places (like any time the word despotism is sung), there is a note of real challenge to the opening words “I shall not die without a hope that light and liberty are on steady advance…”
The day of the auction arrived and I won, despite a flurry of bids earlier in the day. (The odds are good that the other bidder is reading this; sorry and better luck next time!) Now I just had to get the record. And here Fate intervened and made me wait.
The auction ended New Years Eve, one of a series of bitterly cold days with highs in the single digits. The next day the seller contacted me to tell me that he would mail the package a day later, since it was so cold his truck wouldn’t start. I could sympathize, having had to jump-start my own car so that I could take it to the garage to get a new battery. So I waited and watched as the package was shipped—two days before a huge storm that dumped 17 inches of snow on Lexington, Massachusetts.
Perhaps because of the storm, the package took a … circuitous route from New Hampshire to Lexington:
But it finally arrived earlier this week, and to my delight, while the original sleeve was in poor shape (the seller thoughtfully put the record in a new sleeve), the record looked like it was pretty good. Now all I had to do was to listen to it.
Here we had a small snag: my otherwise-wonderful Denon DP-45F turntable has no 78RPM setting. But I was going to digitize the record anyway. So I played it back at 45RPM, and then (as I noted earlier this week) used Amadeus Pro to speed up the playback by 173.3% (78/45). I tried noise reduction but didn’t like what it did to the tone of Thompson’s piano, so I left it alone.
Ultimately, I was pleasantly surprised by the performance. Listening to Thompson’s solo piano introduction to the movement, one is reminded of the historical moment in which the work was written. This was April 1943, more than two years into World War II, and many of the young men singing the work were painfully aware that Jefferson’s words about dying with light and liberty on the advance were not going to be hypothetical for them. The following vocal entrance is appropriately hushed, and the Glee Club declaims Jefferson’s text with clarity and good pitch. The reintroduction of the first-movement “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time” is not strident (as in the 1945 BSO/Harvard Glee Club performance) but nuanced—perhaps because the Virginia men only had to be heard above a piano, not a full orchestra. Only the final chord shows vocal strain in the high tenors.
And here it is! As noted above, the only manipulation was speeding up the playback to restore normal speed, and to join the two halves of the recording into one—which fortunately was pretty straightforward. Enjoy!