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