Virginia Glee Club history, 1910 director… found again

I found more evidence tonight about the mysterious 1910 director of the Virginia Glee Club, M. S. Remsburg. Ironically enough, it came from the same source that gave us the information of his existence in the first place.

I was thrown off by a description of him as Prof. M.S. Remsburg. That may have been an honorific, but his real title was director, as in the director of Christ Church, Charlottesville, as I learned from the September 17, 1910 issue of Madison House Notes, the newsletter of the YMCA at the University at that time. Following the departure of Dr. Faville from the faculty, there was no other organist or music director at the University for chapel services, this being ten years before the foundation of the McIntire School of Music, and the university faculty voted on or before September 17, 1910 to reschedule chapel services so that Remsburg could cover them after Sundays at Christ Church.

A week later, Remsburg picked up directorship of the Glee Club, which appears to have been reformed out of thin air around that time. The audition notice on the 24th of September notes “It is hoped that a large number will turn out, because we ought to have a Glee Club at Virginia. Other colleges in the State have them, and we must have one also.”

The irony, of course, is that there had been a Glee Club just a few years prior, and had had one longer than any other school in Virginia. But an organization entirely run by students, with no membership or support that lasts more than four years, has no long term memory.

As for Remsburg, there’s no reference to him in subsequent years of Madison House Notes, and the increasingly plaintive recruitment notes for the chapel choir and lack of mention of a director suggest that the group was back in student hands again. But not for long; no choir practices are listed in the 1913 bulletin, so even the chapel choir was gone by this time. It took the arrival of A. L. Hall-Quest, and his taking direction of  the dormant Glee Club and the chapel choir in 1914-1915, to rebuild it, partly with voices from the Glee Club.

Incidentally, I stumbled across another Glee Club name in the Madison House Notes. J.A. Morrow, the author of “Virginia Hail, All Hail” (aka “Ten Thousand Voices”), is described as singing a solo with the chapel choir on October 10, 1916, under the direction of Hall-Quest. I’m still looking for further information about him, but it’s starting to look like he too, like E. A. Craighill, the author of “The Good Old Song”‘s lesser sung verses, might have been in the Glee Club. But that’s a post for another time.

The Virginia Glee Club and the National Symphony, 1947

The Virginia Glee Club in concert at the 1947 Virginia Music Festival.
The Virginia Glee Club in concert at the 1947 Virginia Music Festival.

We’ve visited the Virginia Glee Club during their spa years in the 1930s, but what was the group doing in the 1940s? Part of that history, the group’s participation in the creation of Randall Thompson’s “Testament of Freedom” (dedicated to the group and composed in honor of Thomas Jefferson’s 200th birthday), is well documented. The postwar years find the group in a variety of settings, including preparing for the first Songs of the University of Virginia recording, but little is documented publicly except for one concert appearance at the inaugural Virginia Music Festival.

The Virginia Music Festival was started as an “experiment” in musical performances in the state–a non-profit organization bringing “the best in music to the Old Dominion.” Its founders included Dr. Meta Glass, president of Sweet Briar College, and Edward Stettinius, Jr., UVA alum, former secretary of state, and then-rector of the University. Performances were hosted in Scott Stadium at the University. In its first year, 1947, the “best in music” was three performances by the National Symphony Orchestra. In subsequent years, there were school band competitions and folk musicians (the latter program curated by none other than my distant cousin Bascom Lamar Lunsford). In 1949, its cofounder Stettinius died of a coronary thrombosis at the age of 49. After 1950, the Festival was no more, at least in this incarnation.

It’s tempting to imagine the Virginia Music Festival as a possible Southern incarnation of the Tanglewood Festival, but its small scale, lack of a permanent orchestra in residence, and lack of a musical education component render it just a curiosity of history, albeit one in which the Glee Club was involved. The photo above shows the Glee Club, resplendent in summer whites, on a temporary stage behind the NSO, accompanying Mona Paulee of the Metropolitan Opera in Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody. Unlike the northern glee clubs, the Virginia Glee Club did not often collaborate with major symphony orchestras (due in part to proximity issues), so this has to be counted as a high point in the group’s mid-century artistic history. In fact, between the association with Randall Thompson, this event, and musicologist Stephen Tuttle’s involvement in directing the group, this period was a high point overall in the group’s musical renown. Five years later Tuttle would be gone to Harvard University (and in eight he would be dead), and the group’s focus would be narrowed, for a while, to University audiences.

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.

Catching up with history

I’ve been busy, which is of course no excuse, but there are going to be posts forthcoming. I received my long-awaited copy of the Virginia Glee Club’s Songs of Virginia today in the mail, along with a new Christmas CD from the group, and notes on both will be forthcoming. I was tickled to get a credit in the Songs of Virginia booklet, presumably for the digging and research I’ve been doing about the group’s history.

In the meantime, I note that I neglected to note my appointment as the official historian for the Virginia Glee Club Alumni and Friends Association. So what’s next? More news soon…

The Virginia Glee Club in the 1930s: the Tin Can Quartet


This post is one of an ongoing series on the history of the Virginia Glee Club.

Today, I heard something that hasn’t been widely heard in about seventy years: a recording of members of the Virginia Glee Club made in 1933.

Prior posts in this series have focused on the period from the 1890s to the early 1920s. (For a reminder: 1871, 18931894 and the 1894 tour, 19061910, 19121916-1921, and a survey of directors from 1878 to 1989.) The trail of historical evidence about the Club goes a little cold in the 1920s–perhaps because the Club became, during this period, a full-on curricular option under the direction of the first head of the newly formed Mcintire Department of Music, Arthur Fickénscher. Things … quieted down a bit. There’s no indication of more musical theatre performances and precious little press coverage, aside from a performance at the creation of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation in 1923.

In the early 1930s, things changed, and as so often with the group, it happened with a change of director. Fickénscher grew up in California but was tied to the European tradition, having both studied and taught in Germany; his successor, Harry Rogers Pratt, was a colorful man who was all American. In the 1930s the Club started reaching out again: performances at various high society gatherings at the Greenbriar (1932) and Hot Springs (1933, 1934, 1935),  performances in New York for the Club’s 50th anniversary in 1936, and a much publicized tiff with Wagner in 1939, in which the boys of the Club on the eve of world war refused to sing the original words of the final chorus of Die Meistersinger and its praise of the German masters of the art of song.

And now, we know, the group was branching out in other ways as well. As I trolled the catalog of the UVA library in search of  more clues to the Glee Club’s past, I found a recording I had never heard of, by a group I had never heard of–the Tin Can Quartet of the Virginia Glee Club, on a 16″ aluminum transcription record from 1933. A further Google search for the group turned up exactly one reference to them–in a presentation from the preservation department at UVA. And a contact to the author turned up two MP3 files, all that could be recovered from the record.

I should note that this isn’t the full Virginia Glee Club. Instead, this barbershop group was “of” the Virginia Glee Club, in much the same way that the Virginia Gentlemen would start as an octet of the Club exactly 20 years later. And the repertoire isn’t Club repertoire, either–instead, the traditional barbershop songs “Aura Lee”, “I Want a Girl (Just Like the Girl Who Married Dear Old Dad)”, and “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” take pride of place. But the harmonies are tight and the recording is quite good–just about as good as any recording I’ve heard from the pre-war era. I’m trying to resolve copyright questions to figure out if the music can be freely shared, but in the meantime I’m just kind of basking in the light of discovery. Update: The copyright on the recordings is owned by the University of Virginia, so alas no audio samples on this blog…

Oh, and the photo? The 1930s were also when UVA professor Ernest Mead was in the group as a student. And that’s Harry Rogers Pratt front and center. No photos are known to exist of the Tin Can Quartet, but I might have to drop Mr. Mead a note and see what he remembers…

The first part of the 1921 Yellow Journal


I’m gradually scanning and uploading the pages of the April 1921 Yellow Journal, that scurrilous anonymous satirical broadside at the University of Virginia. This morning I’ve uploaded pages 1 through 4 along with an index of the stories. The pages available through my site are 100dpi PNG files; TIFFs have also been produced.

For now, these are scans of photocopies, as I’m reluctant to subject the fragile newsprint to my color scanner directly (mostly because every time I unfold it I run the risk of cracking the pages). I intend to get scans of the original artifact, but these black and white copies hopefully give some flavor of what the original is like.

My favorite excerpt from the issue so far may be the one liner on page 3: “Mike Wagenheim says that Norfolk is the greatest town in this state. Quite right. No other town could be in the state that Norfolk is in.”

Virginia Glee Club: the musical comedy years


No, that’s not a typo, and no, I didn’t post the wrong picture–at least, not if the attributions in the Holsinger Digital Collection at UVA are correct. Today’s stroll down history lane with the Virginia Glee Club covers an era in their history which is, perhaps justifiably, forgotten–their days as a musical theatre troupe.

To understand how a group founded on moonlight serenades, that eventually became a serious musical organization, spent time in the footlights with greasepaint and drag clothing, it’s helpful to go back to the re-formation of the Glee Club in 1910. At that time, the Glee Club, after a few years without any qualified student direction, reconstituted itself, responding, according to University historian Philip A. Bruce, to the disbanding of the musical theatre group the Arcadians. Through contemporary eyes, it’s easy to read this as meaning that the students from that group of musical players saw the error of their ways and became serious choral singers. Apparently not. Instead, this incarnation of the Virginia Glee Club appears to have arrived to fill a market void and spent at least some of its time doing real musical theatre.

And by musical theatre, I mean drag. The photo above, taken by the Holsinger photographic studio on April 4, 1916 (note the date), is attributed to the Glee Club with a question mark, as if to say, “No way!” Alas, other documentary evidence says “Way!” I have in my possession a copy of the April 1, 1921 edition of the Yellow Journal, the University’s anonymous satirical newspaper, in which a reviewer describes a performance of the Glee Club’s April Fools show for that year, “The Visiting Girl”:

“The Visiting Girl” presented by the University of Virginia Glee Club, John Koch, president, director and chief actor. Jefferson Theatre as an April Fool joke, April 1, 1921. We last saw this show in December and later we saw it in Richmond during February. If it hasn’t improved, and we doubt whether it has improved, we advise you not to go to see it. … The chief attraction of the show is Jack Parrott as a girl and John Koch as a rube. Jack plays his girl’s part very well, though he is a bit awkward. The girls’ chorus looks about as much like a bunch of girls as a litter of pups does. …

I could write it off as satire, but then there’s the ad in the back pages of the paper (the ads, while written to be funny, all are for real products or events):


University Glee Club


Suggestion: Why not cut out the “musical”?

Suggestion: They might cut out the “comedy” too.

The YJ’s hostility to the performance is partly a put-on (they spend the whole issue carping about class issues, and there’s “no one notable” in the Club), but the event is all real. It may well have been an April Fools tradition, judging from the dates of the evidence points, but the events were clearly real.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out other photos from this era in the Holsinger archives. Yeah, the Glee Club did some of their “musical comedy” in blackface. I guess this isn’t surprising in a group doing musical comedy in the South in the early 20th century, but it’s still sobering to realize that the Glee Club really was of its time.

The First and Second Comings of the Yellow Journal


I’ve had the pleasure this week of collaborating with an anonymous Wikipedia editor on a history of  the Yellow Journal–that scurrilous student humor magazine at the University of Virginia. In the process we found more than a few interesting points, like:

  • The Yellow Journal was originally founded in 1912 by the journalistic fraternity Sigma Delta Chi, later to become the Society of Professional Journalists! Anyone who saw the 1990s incarnation (which I had a small hand in) knows how unlikely that origin story is… but it’s not only true, it’s attested in an official UVA history (Dabney, pp. 98-99).
  • Perhaps because of the ΣΔΧ connection, the early Yellow Journal got press in the New York Times! The Times, which up through the 1930s still published bulletins about social doings in Charlottesville, had a nice article in 1913 about Easters which included a description of the Yellow Journal which is dead on: “…did not spare individuals, events or institutions in its ridicule and quips. It was well illustrated with appropriate cartoons. The character of the sheet can be best gathered from its motto, which is one of Mark Twain‘s witticisms: Truth is precious–therefore economize with it.”
  • The YJ was first shut down over its scurrilous anonymity — presumably a perceived violation of the honor code–rather than its equally scurrilous content. (See, for instance, headline on the final 1934 edition above.)
  • The reincarnated 1990s version of the Yellow Journal got tied up in UVA’s Supreme Court case over the funding of Wide Awake, thanks largely to the issue with the Sinéad O’Connor inspired picture of Pope John Paul II with the legend, “Tear Here.” As a result, about the only thing you can find about the late era YJ on Google is that it was “a humor magazine that has targeted Christianity as an object of satire.”
  • The YJ’s “rejected Dr. Seuss titles,” originating as kickers (jokes along the bottom of each page) in a 1990-1991 issue, turned into a veritable Internet meme.

Alas, there isn’t much out there generally about the YJ. But a few alums and I have been thinking about republishing some of the best content from the 1990s run, maybe even turning it into something like a proper book. I’d love to hear from any Virginia alum who thinks that’s a great idea–or a terrible one. Also, if there are favorite memories about the YJ, please share in the comments.

Student directors of the Virginia Glee Club

I uncovered another student director of the Virginia Glee Club this weekend, poking through the New York Times archive. It got me thinking about how the group’s governance and musical direction has changed over the years and how large a role students have played in its direction.

Virginia is not unusual in having had students conduct its Glee Club. Princeton didn’t have a professional conductor until 1907, and the Harvard Glee Club invited its first professional conductor, Dr. Archibald Davison, in 1919. But the Virginia Glee Club is unique in having returned to student and other non-faculty conductors as a consequence of its separation from the UVA music department.

Most of the students who conducted the group are doomed to anonymity, but a few have names that have been recorded, even in the earliest years of the Club. I suspect that more could be found were someone to go through and comprehensively digitize the old University of Virginia Magazine (hint, hint). Some of the students went on to lead interesting lives. Here’s a snapshot of four of them.

John Duncan Emmet (ca. 1879-1880). One of the Club’s first directors, Emmet was there during Woodrow Wilson’s first year at the University, the 1879 – 1880 season. Wilson’s presence earned Emmet immortality, as the New York Times dug into Wilson’s student past to uncover a few gems about the Glee Club:

The [University of Virginia] Magazine contains several humorous descriptions of the reception accorded the Glee Clubbers on their serenading expeditions. A pert comment on the editorial page of one issue is typical of the many to be found in the files: “Painfully do we record the last unhappy adventure of the unhappy Glee Club. Most lamentable was their failure! Wrapped in sweet sleep the serenaded slumbered peacefully on, unconscious of the frantic efforts of the serenaders. We can only wish them better success next time.

Emmet graduated with his medical degree in 1880, and went on to bigger and better things, serving as the chief gynecologist at St. Vincent’s Hospital and founding the American Gynaecological and Obstretrical Journal. Emmet was the grandson of Dr. John Patten Emmet, professor of chemistry at the University, and namesake of Emmet Dorm.

Harrison Randolph (ca. 1893-1894). I’ve written about Randolph before. The only student director named by University historian Philip A. Bruce, Randolph went on to the presidency of Charleston College.

John Amar Shishmanian (ca. 1904-1905). Shishmanian is a little bit of an enigma. His leadership of the Club is attested by a 1905 Atlanta Constitution article about the Club’s concerts there: “The clubs are now undergoing bi-weekly rehearsals under the leadership of Mr. Shishmania [sic], the winner of the southern intercollegiate oratorical medal last winter.” Digging deeper, we find Shishmanian’s accomplishments as an orator attested in John S. Patton’s Jefferson, Cabell and the University of Virginia,which preceded Bruce’s account and is packed with all kinds of trivia–including a list of Jefferson Society medal winners. Shishmanian, who was registered with the University from Lexington, Kentucky, was a graduate student in law, having finished his BA at the University of Kentucky. The October 1903 Alumni Bulletin was a little more forthcoming about his origins: “an Armenian resident in this country, has entered as a student in the course recently established leading to a consular service certificate.”

He was the president of the Jefferson Society in 1905, and was also awarded the medal for oratory in that year. He is attested as a speaker at the honorary initiation of Virginia governor Claude August Swanson into the Delta Chi fraternity in 1905 or 1906. He graduated in 1906 and went west, joining the firm of Barbour and Cashin, before going east, eventually far east, joining the faculty of Robert College in Turkey.

Michael Butterman (1989-1991). Butterman is better known to modern Glee Club members, serving as joint conductor of the group with Cheryl Brown-West in the first season after its separation from the University, then taking over as solo conductor in 1990-1991 during the 120th anniversary year. Butterman was a grad student at the time, and left in 1991 to head to Indiana University in their conducting program. He’s now conducting the Boulder Philharmonic and the Shreveport Symphony, and is director of outreach for the Rochester Philharmonic, according to a 2007 Boulder Daily News interview.

The Virginia Glee Club disbands — in 1912


This week’s Virginia Glee Club history post comes a little late, but better late than never because it sheds light on an interesting chapter of the Club’s history—its apparent, and apparently intermittent, disappearance in the years between 1905 and 1915. Thanks to a new item that has turned up in Google Books, and which I finally got a photocopy of today, I think we can piece together a fairly decent timeline.

We can piece together the history from a few scraps of evidence. First, UVA historian Philip A. Bruce, who wrote the history of the University’s first hundred years, alluded to the Club’s troubles between 1905 and 1915:

…no play was offered in 1910-11. This fact led to the revival of the Glee Club, an association which had disbanded in 1905. A mass-meeting of all the students interested in music was held; a new vocal and instrumental club organized; and rehearsals at once began. This club was composed of twenty members. It gave two concerts in Cabell Hall and four beyond the precincts. Choruses, quartets, and vocal and instrumental solos, were skilfully rendered. This association failed to re-form in 1912-13 and 1913-14, as the result of the absence of an experienced and attentive director and manager.

We know that the group was still active in the fall of 1905. A letter written on October 29, 1905 by Sue Whitmore, the mother of a University of Virginia student, mentions her enjoyment of hearing the Glee Club perform.

We also know that the Club was around in January 1914, from photographic evidence (above). Then, in 1915, the group was “reorganized” and “trained scientifically” by Professor A. L. Hall-Quest.

But what happened to the group between 1905 and 1914? What did Bruce mean that it “failed to reform”? He laid its failure to succeed on poor leadership, but on what evidence? Here’s where the new discovery sheds some light.

In early October of 1912, the following notice appeared (and was reproduced in the Alumni Bulletin, series 3, vol, 5):

We, the officers of the University of Virginia Glee Club, in consideration of the disadvantageous circumstances under which the afore-mentioned club has operated within the past three years, do officially declare said club disbanded, believing that by so doing an ultimate success may be achieved along another line. (Signed): Roger M. Bone, president, Robert V. Funsten, vice-president, Vaughan Camp, secretary, C.A. McKean, treasurer.

(Thanks to the fine folks at Special Collections for sending me a photocopy of the bulletin.)

So now we have a timeline:

  • In late 1905 or maybe early 1906, the Glee Club disbands.
  • In 1910, the Club reforms, responding to a musical vacuum left by the demise of the Arcadians, a musical theatre group, and struggles for a few years with inexperienced musical and logistical leadership.
  • At the beginning of the third season, in October 1912, the officers of the time disband the group temporarily.
  • At the beginning of the fall 1913 semester, the group re-forms (though the photo is dated January 1914, the re-formation must have happened in the fall—the odds of getting so many young men into matching suits for an official portrait in less than a month are probably no better then than they are today).
  • In 1915, the students connect with a professor, A. L. Hall-Quest, who has connections to the Princeton Glee Club tradition and who sets them on a sturdier footing.

Bruce overstated the hiatus by a year, based on the photographic evidence, but otherwise he was right on. The timeline speaks of an organization that was making it, or not, year-to-year, with little to no institutional support. That sort of existence resonates with my memory of the group between 1990 and 1994, with one difference: we had alumni who cared about the group enough to keep it afloat, and the Club guys of the early 20th century did not. There wasn’t a real alumni association, to speak of, until the first World War.

The next question, which will have to wait for another post, is: what happened after Hall-Quest left? He resigned in 1918, and Arthur Fickénscher didn’t take his job at UVa, and the directorship of the group, until sometime in the 1920s. But this answer might have to wait until I can get back to Charlottesville to do some real research.

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.

Where was the Cabell House?

cabell house
The standard biography of the Virginia Glee Club traces their formation to the creation of a glee club at the University of Virginia’s “Cabell House,” which the group’s history calls the “Cabell House Men.” Inspired by my visit to the University this weekend, I went digging to find where and what the Cabell House was.

Jefferson’s original university design had 54 student rooms on the Lawn and a similar number on the East and West Ranges, holding somewhere between 150 and 200 students (assuming double residency for all the Lawn rooms except the Bachelor’s Row). So the growth in University attendance from 128 in 1842-1843 to more than 600 in 1856-1857 (figures from Philip Bruce’s History of the University of Virginia vol. III), combined with the lack of further dormitory space, led to a growth industry in Charlottesville boarding houses. One of these was the Brock Boarding House, later known as the Cabell House. Later called the “Stumble Inn,” the two-story brick structure, located on the north side of West Main Street between 9th and 10th, was ultimately razed. Today the block hosts a handful of businesses and a book shop and overlooks the train station on the other side of West Main Street.

The Glee Club’s formation wasn’t the only brush with fame the Cabell House had, however; it was also infamous as the site where John Singleton Mosby, later famous as the Confederate raider known as the Gray Ghost, shot fellow University student George S. Turpin.

2009 University of Virginia reunions


I returned yesterday from an extended weekend attending my 15th class reunion at the University of Virginia. It was a great weekend and I had a lot of fun, though not necessarily because of the reunion itself.

We started the weekend on a rocky note, driving through pouring rain through Connecticut and New York before it finally cleared away when we got to New Jersey. Lisa and I drove on solo the next morning and made it to Charlottesville about 3 pm. I had grand plans of catching up with a few folks in town but was exhausted by the drive and we punted, managing only to have a few drinks at Michael’s Bistro and to get over to L’Etoile. Okay, so that wasn’t such hardship. In fact, Friday was a pretty amazing date, the first we’ve had in quite a long time.

Saturday was a more structured day. This year I went in with the expectation that we would go to a few things that interested us and otherwise spend most of the day with friends. And it worked out that way, kind of. We did hear Julian Bond speak about the connection between civil rights, changing demographics, and the evolution of R&B and rock music–an unexpected but pleasurable discussion with an old professor, if not perhaps as consciousness raising as some of Bond’s past lectures have been.

Then it was lunch, which was unpleasant. The Big Tent was raised over yesterday’s muddy grass, our claustrophobia was in full swing, and we retreated to a stone planter near the Small Special Collections Library to eat our hot dogs (good) and hamburgers (overcooked). A slow stroll around Grounds followed, during which I snapped the majority of the photos from this trip. We sat in the Rotunda for a disappointing class panel, but the real unexpected jewel was sitting in the Shannon Garden along the west side of the Rotunda. Named for Edgar Shannon, who presided over the University during its most turbulent period since the Civil War during the 1960s and early 1970s, it was a fittingly tranquil place that I had walked past many times before but never appreciated until the weekend. (The picture above shows the colonnade that Stanford White added during the post-fire renovation of the Rotunda to create what became the Shannon Garden.)

The reunion part of the weekend was the least successful, primarily because the 15th reunion is not too well attended for a lot of folks, and partly because I didn’t sign up for enough fun activities. (Lesson learned: will sign up for wine tasting next time.) But we had a great time catching up with Greg, Bernie, Anne and the other folks from the class that were there, and the reunion left me wanting to go back in five years and do it again–which I suppose is the goal of all good reunions.

Charlottesville dinner: L’etoile

Ah, Charlottesville. You continue to surprise me, even after I thought I had experienced it all. Superbly professional at the C&O? Check. Deep beer list and occasionally funny, regularly reliable bistro fare at Michael’s? Check. Surprisingly regionally wonderful at the late lamented Southern Culture (ah, the sweet potato fries!)? Check. Late night emergency room visit after the mushroom soup at the late unlamented Northern Exposure the night of my graduation? Uh, check.

But nothing prepared us for dinner at L’etoile tonight. Well, appetizers at Michael’s helped. But seriously: duck confit amuse-bouche was a tiny morsel of duck perfection. Sweetbreads: large yet delicate and just browned, with bacon and mushroom demi-glace lending depth beneath. Trout, superbly prepared with a turnip puree holding together just enough Virginia ham and peas still toothsome…. and that’s just what I had. Turns out they’ve been around for more than ten years and we never had found them—until tonight, when sitting over beers at Michael’s, Lisa gave my iPhone a shake, and Urbanspoon came up with the name.

Alas, Charlottesville! As various cleverer people than I have said, I would go back there tomorrow, but for the work I’ve taken on.

Getting ready

I’ve been out of circulation a bit over the last day or two at an offsite, so haven’t had a chance to post much about the week I’ve got ahead of me. I’m heading back to UVA for my 15th reunion starting tomorrow, and really looking forward to it.

Logistically, it won’t be simple–we have to take the whole family, including the dogs, down to New Jersey and then Lisa and I will head on solo the following day to Charlottesville. Two days of driving each way, for only two days in Charlottesville. Sigh.

This will be a good reunion for me, I think. Last time around we caught up with a lot of folks but were a little distracted by other business (we were in the middle of selling our house in Kirkland and moving back to the east coast). This time, not only will I hopefully find time to get some better photos of Grounds in full sunlight, but I’ll be fully plugged in to my surroundings in a way I haven’t been before. Doing all the research on the Glee Club has made me much more conscious of the history of the University, and in some ways I feel closer to the place as a result.

A physical reunion in the age of Facebook feels a little like an anachronism, but I feel like, having reconnected with so many folks virtually, I’m ready to seriously hang out and have a lot of fun with everyone without having to do all the small talk.