Review: Virginia Glee Club, Songs of Virginia

Virginia Glee Club recording first Songs of the University of Virginia, Old Cabell Hall, 1947
The Virginia Glee Club recording first Songs of the University of Virginia, Old Cabell Hall, 1947.

This is a review of a new CD from the Virginia Glee Club that is available for purchase on the group’s website.

This is the season of Virginia Glee Club CDs. After a long drought, Frank Albinder’s years as director are finally documented with not one, but three new recordings available now: Virginia Glee Club Live!, Christmas with the Virginia Glee Club, and Songs of Virginia. The latter disc is the most ambitious of the three, and is unique among recent Glee Club recordings for being a thematic recording rather than simply capturing the group’s repertoire at a point in time. The theme: songs of the University of Virginia, as documented through old recordings, sheet music, and books, and running the gamut of the group’s existence.

The recording project won a Jefferson Grant in April 2008, and the group has been at work since researching and recording the songs. The provenance of the songs is extensive, with some performances echoing the 1947-1951 recording Songs of the University of Virginia, some later songs (such as “Vir-ir-gin-i-a”) that were documented in 1972 on A Shadow’s on the Sundial, and some that are only known in published form, for instance from the 1906 Songs of the University of Virginia songbook. The earlier Songs recording is the most prominent touchpoint, with “The Cavalier Song,” “Rugby Road,” “Hike, Virginia”, “Yell Song,” “The Good Old Song,” and “Virginia, Hail, All Hail” all reprised, five with accompaniment from the Cavalier Marching Band as in 1951. The remaining tracks on the original recording, including the Eli Banana and T.I.L.K.A. songs and “Mr. Jefferson’s favorite psalm,” were wisely discarded in favor of more interesting repertoire.

The rest of the repertoire includes some of the more interesting selections from the 1906 songbook, including “The Orange and the Blue,” “In College Days,” “Here’s to Old Virginia,” and “Oh, Carolina!” (in an updated arrangement), as well as other fight songs and alma maters (“Virginia Chapel Bell” and the “Rotunda Song” are especially touching). Lyrical authenticity is kept–football songs that refer to the University’s ancient and quiescent rivalries with Princeton and Yale keep their original references, rather than being updated to reference more modern opponents. (It was regular practice when I sang in the group to substitute Maryland for Carolina in the lyrics of “Just Another Touchdown for UVA.”) The liner notes are thorough and well illustrated, featuring a few photos that have appeared on this blog, albeit without explanation–see my earlier notes on why the Glee Club wore dresses in 1916, and how the old Cabell House was tied to the Club’s birth. My hat’s off to the students and director of the group for their research–though I am credited on the liner notes, the only direct contact I had during the process was providing some scans of the cover of the Songs of the University of Virginia record that weren’t used.

So enough about the repertoire–how’s the recording? In a word, wonderful. Dusty old songs like “Oh, Carolina” are given sharp new readings that ought to stir up the UNC rivalry (imagine singing “See the Tar Heels, how they’re running/Turpentine from every pore/They can manufacture rosin/but they’ll never, ever score” in Scott Stadium today!), while more familiar standards like the “Good Old Song” and “Virginia Hail All Hail” are made more potent by being put in the historical context of the song. Perhaps one minor quibble is the balance–melody lines in the second tenor and baritone are sometimes overshadowed by more prominent high harmonies–but this is a small point in the scope of things.

Bottom line: if you are an alum of the University, you ought to own this recording. And Alumni Hall ought to be giving copies out at Reunion.

Songs of the University of Virginia: the 1906 songbook

It’s Friday, so it must be time for some Virginia Glee Club history.

Before the first Songs of the University of Virginia album, there was the songbook. Compiled by A. Frederick Wilson in 1906 and featuring a combination of the still familiar (“The Good Old Song,” “Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes”) and the unfamiliar (“The Orange and the Blue”, “Upidee,” just about anything else), there are some fascinating trends in the music. Certainly lots of drinking songs, two sung fully in Latin, and lots of fight songs where “old Eli” (Yale) and “the tiger” (Princeton) are the opponents.

And there is much that is destined to remain obscure: certainly I can’t imagine how to interpret the song “The Man Who Has Plenty of Good Peanuts,” with its verse “The man who has plenty of Pomp’s peculiar patent perpetual pocket panoramic ponies for passing examinations/And giveth his neighbor none /He shan’t have any of my Pomp’s peculiar patent perpetual pocket panoramic ponies for passing examinations/When his Pomp’s peculiar patent perpetual pocket panoramic ponies for passing examinations are gone.” But with the majority of songs containing four part harmony, and with many fight songs that could be revived, the book is definitely worth a download.

Yes, download–you can get the PDF from Google Books, since the book is out of copyright. So while you’re waiting to purchase the Glee Club‘s new album Songs of the University of Virginia, check out some of the historical precedents.

For incentive, here’s the foreward, in which credit is given to the Virginia Glee Club of the time for keeping the songs alive:

P.S.: This is one of the only sources I’ve seen for sheet music for “Upidee,” one of three songs mentioned as a Virginia favorite in 1871 just before the first appearance of the Glee Club.

Songs of Virginia redux

I got a little pleasant news in the mail over the weekend. Somehow I had missed the announcement that the Virginia Glee Club won a Jefferson Trust grant back in April to record a followup to Songs of the University of Virginia. I had previously been contacted by a current Glee Club member who asked questions about the old record, but hadn’t heard about the grant. Well done, guys.

Revised Glee Club record date: 1951

While doing some Wikipedia related research last night, I stumbled across something interesting. The record album Songs of the University of Virginia, which I’ve long thought was recorded in 1947 based on photographic evidence from the University archives, was apparently not released until 1951. How do I know this? From a 1951 Washington Post article, of all places.

If it seems funny that a Paper of Record would cover goings-on at the University, consider that the WaPo didn’t get that reputation until the time of Woodward and Bernstein. Prior to that, it was viewed as a sleepy society paper, and apparently not above covering the doings down Route 29.

Also interesting in the article was the following: confirmation of the 1871 founding date (the record was said to honor the eightieth anniversary of the founding of the Glee Club); identification of the Beta Chi chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi (the “national honorary band fraternity”) as the sponsor—an organization that, as far as I can tell, isn’t on Grounds any more; and identification of Thomas Jefferson Smith III of McRae, Georgia, as the co-chairman of the project (with Jack Hardy) and president of the Glee Club at that time. Plus, apparently, the Music Department was resident in Minor Hall then, rather than Old Cabell.

But the main point of the article for me was its claim regarding the aim of the project, which I reproduce here in its entirety:

Many songs which should be a part of University heritage have been lost, some because they were set to popular tunes of the times and died out when the tunes were forgotten, some because a college generation is a brief time in the life of the school. Words to these songs can be found in university publications, but no one sings them because the tunes have been lost.

The famous “wah-who-wah” [sic] of the University’s alma mater is an example of these lost songs. Once it was sung; then all the band music for it was lost. Now no one knows the music, and it has become a yell, used chiefly at football games.

So “Songs of the University of Virginia” will preserve songs which otherwise might be lost in future years. The album will help alumni of present and future to recreate the days of “purple shadows” on the lawn.

The irony, of course, is that the album itself faded almost completely into obscurity too. Note the part about wa-hoo-wa—they are referring to the song about which the “Good Old Song” was written (no, the “Good Old Song” is not self-referential!), which is lost.

Songs of the University of Virginia: Liner Notes and Discography

Finally I have a few moments to sit down and transcribe the liner notes from the 1947 edition of the Virginia Glee Club’s album Songs of the University of Virginia.

From Rugby Road to Vinegar Hill, from Cabell Hall to Scott Stadium or Lambeth Field, and back again to the Gymnasium (Fayerweather or Memorial, depending on your vintage!), music and song have always played a lively part in the social life of men of the University of Virginia. Practiced or impromptu, spirited or merely spiritous (or both), music is a part of every Virginia man’s memories of the University. It has always been so.

“Music is the favorite passion of my soul,” wrote Thomas Jefferson, who founded the University in 1819, designed its unique buildings, and drew up its original curriculum—a curriculum which included a plan for a professor of music and reserved a room in the Rotunda for teaching it. Mr. Jefferson was himself a proficient violinist and the collector of an outstanding musical library, and from his University’s opening in 1825 instrumental music and singing were favorite student pastimes. That they were sometimes rowdy and off-key is attested by a faculty ruling of 1831 which prohibited the playing of musical instruments after two in the morning and on Sundays! As early as 1832 there was an informal band composed entirely of students, and by 1835 faculty resolutions were deploring occasional “disorderly singing” amont the young gentlemen.

But there has been all through the years much serious music, too. The Claribel Club, a serenading socety, was started in 1874 and seems to be the first formal musical organization. The Glee, Banjo, and Mandoline Club, organized in 1893, was another of the forerunners of today’s large and well-trained Glee Club and Band. The range of the Glee Club’s repertoire is wide and ambitious and the University Band does far more than furnish colorful backgrounds for athletic events, for its concert programs offer music of a high order.

These two competent and highly-trained University organizations have joined their talents in this album to offer students, alumni, and friends of the University a selection of representative Virginia songs of the present and the recent past. These versions, however, make no claim to be definitive, either in words or melodies. Students and alumni alike may prefer, from sentiment or long familiarity, other versions of some of them.

In this album the Band and the Glee Club have tried to reflect in song the essential spirit of the University in its lighter moods, to evoke again the happy memory of University days (and nights) which, despite the tide of years, still “cheers our hearts and warms our blood.”

The University of Virginia Band is directed by M. Donald MacInnis, the University Glee Club by Stephen D. Tuttle. The music has been arranged by M. D. MacInnis, J. E. Berdahl and S. D. Tuttle with the assistance of members of both organizations.

Glee Club record on 78s

Quick followup to my post about the 1947 Virginia Glee Club album Songs of the University of Virginia: yesterday I scored a copy of the original release. As I surmised, it was originally released on 3 78RPM records in an “album,” or book containing the records in three separate sleeves.

The good news is that the album has liner notes, which I will be transcribing at some point not too far from now. The bad news is that the liner notes don’t clarify either the recording release date (still estimated at 1947 based on the UVA library photo evidence) or the copyright of the record. They also muddy the waters about the origin of the Glee Club, dating it to the 1892 formation of the Glee, Banjo and Madrigal Club rather than to the formation of the original Glee Club in 1871. But it’s more information than we had before, so that’s cool.

Songs of the University of Virginia

uvarecord.jpg

My copy of Songs of the University of Virginia, the Virginia Glee Club recording made in 1947 that I bought on eBay, arrived earlier this week. Between work and a million other things, I didn’t get a chance to listen to it until Thursday night, when I ripped the record to lossless AAC using my Griffin iMic and Amadeus Pro (see my earlier note on my increasingly unlikely project to rip all my vinyl records for pointers). And it’s a little different than I expected.

First off, some new findings about its pedigree. As I posted earlier, University archives said it was recorded by RCA Victor, but the record cites “Recorded Publications Company” as the label. There is no further information other than an address in New Jersey. I did some Googling, and it seems that this was a not uncommon arrangement. RPC was kind of a vanity vinyl press for small markets like universities, and in at least one other case they published recordings that were actually made by RCA Victor engineers.

There is very little on the record itself to help with additional clues about its provenance—no liner notes or even any text on the back cover, and no date. But a few clues are possible to deduce. First, this record is not the original format that was issued in 1947. There is a scan of the record in a UVA exhibit that shows the label, with only two songs on one side, not the four or five in the current pressing. This is a simple mystery to solve, though: the university archives speak of a “three-record album”—in this case, they apparently mean album as in the original books of 78-RPM discs. This would mean that the first edition had three 78-RPM records in it, which has since been condensed to the current 33 1/3 RPM LP with nine total songs.

The performances themselves? This is a bit of a surprise. For the most part, the Glee Club sings in unison, not harmony, and the band has the harmony lines and the interesting parts of the arrangement. Apparently the a cappella part of the Glee Club’s history lay in the future. And the songs themselves are really interesting too: both verses of the “Good Old Song,” a bunch of now-obscure football songs like “Hike, Virginia”; some less obscure football songs like the “Yell Song” (which was being sung during my Glee Club years; and “Virginia, Hail, All Hail!” which the Glee Club currently pairs with the “Good Old Song” in performances. And then there are the real obscurities: a setting of “Mr. Jefferson’s Favorite Psalm,” the theme songs of Eli Banana and T.I.L.K.A., and a recording of “From Rugby Road to Vinegar Hill” which omits the, um, most colorful verse. Full tracklisting below; as on the record label, the years denote classes of graduation where applicable:

  1. “Cavalier Song” (Lee 1924/Lewis 1925)
  2. “Good Old Song” (Craighill 1895)
  3. “Hike, Virginia” (McVeigh 1907/Crenshaw 1908)
  4. “Psalm Fifteen” (arr. Daniel Purcell)
  5. “Yell Song” (Lehman 1915)
  6. Ribbon Society Songs: “Eli Banana The Starry Banner”
  7. Ribbon Society Songs: “Come Fill Your Glasses Up for T.I.L.K.A.”
  8. “From Rugby Road to Vinegar Hill-Glory, Glory to Virginia-Fill Up Your Old Silver Goblet”
  9. “Virginia, Hail, All Hail” (Morrow 1921)

The next task for this particular Glee Club alum is tracing the copyright of the recording. I can’t help but think that some alums of Mr. Jefferson’s University would be interested in checking out these recordings as CDs or downloads—and if that means that we could help make some extra dough for the group, all the better.

Virginiabilia

recording engineer at recording of Songs of the University of Virginia, 1947, courtesy Special Collections, UVA

I got a nice score for a collection of Glee Club memorabilia today: I purchased an LP on eBay called Songs of the University of Virginia that was recorded in the late 1940s with the Virginia Glee Club and a University band. I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of the record, as much to clear up the discography as anything else. While the eBay listing gave the record number as RPC 81952 (a listing that doesn’t turn up any other Google hits), an exhibit at the UVA Library cites the record as an RCA Victor recording.

There is a surprising amount of documentary evidence about this session, including the picture to the right (from the University of Virginia Visual History Collection in the Special Collections department of the UVA Library). From the notes on these photos, we know that the disc was recorded under the direction of Donald MacInnis and Stephen Tuttle, and that it was to be released on RCA Victor in 1947. But even here there is some confusion. Another 1947 photo shows the Glee Club with Harry Pratt, who was apparently also a director of the group. So the chronology of directors is a little confused.

This is why I have currently only completed the history of the group through 1915. The documentary evidence for subsequent years, up until the time when the group split off from the Music Department in 1989, is scanty—at least online. I know other records (concert programs and posters, University newspapers) will help to fill in the blanks; since I only get to Charlottesville every four years or so, I may have to get some help to piece the rest of the evidence together.