It was harder than I thought to pinpoint some of my favorite stories from the book. I had to pass up talking about the early Glee Club member who was paid for legal services with a trunk full of gems, as well as the Glee Club concert in Washington that was interrupted by a speech attacking the Jewish owner of Monticello for refusing to surrender the property to a nonprofit. But in the end I had to go with the story about running from our bus to the Jefferson Memorial to sing for the President on Thomas Jefferson’s 250th birthday.
This edition of Virginia Glee Club Bandcamp features a surprise I found a few years ago. As the Glee Club historian, I regularly search online for information about the group’s history as more materials are digitized, and this time I found information in an unexpected place: Etsy. In particular, the Etsy shop of an antiques dealer in Florida, who had a Glee Club record that I had never seen before—recordings from 1968, including a fall concert and Christmas.
I bought the thing, of course. I was filled with some trepidation when it arrived and I noted that the album jacket (which was a generic blue cardboard sleeve with no printing or image) was torn in one corner and damaged—possibly even chewed—in another. But the record looked OK. So I dropped it on the turntable, played it, and was delighted to realize that, based on the repertoire, it was indeed a recording of parts of the 1968 Openings Concert and the 1968 Christmas Concert.
The 1968 Openings Concert was notable for a few things. First, it was the fifth year of Donald Loach’s tenure, so while there are definitely signs of his trademark style emerging, it’s not fully there. Second, the Openings program in particular opened for the first time with a song that would become part of Loach’s signature repertoire, “Hark, All Ye Lovely Saints Above,” but then featured a set of twentieth-century compositions that the group would return to only a few times in his tenure: “Here is the God Who Looks Both Ways” and “Thy Word is a Lantern.” Most durably in terms of the group’s repertoire, the Openings Concert also featured the debut recording of “Vir-ir-gin-i-a,” arranged by Loach from a march tune of Handel and featuring a text written by former Glee Club member Arthur Kyle Davis, Jr.
We actually know less about the Christmas Concert, as we have not found a full program listing. But the recording has a few highlights, including the earliest known performance of the “Gloria” from Josquin’s Missa Mater Patris, a work that the Glee Club would not perform again for another 24 years. The Dufay “Gloria” is spectacular here, as is the unexpected closing, the coronation scene from Boris Godounov by Mussorgsky.
Have a listen, and if you enjoy it, please remember that all proceeds from Glee Club Bandcamp sales go directly to support the Virginia Glee Club.
We have a twofer today, on the cusp of the weekend long celebration of the Virginia Glee Club’s 150th anniversary. The first new album on Bandcamp is A Dove in the Hall. Recorded on the Glee Club’s 1992 Tour of the South under John Liepold, this concert features the Club’s 1991-1992 repertoire in an entirely different acoustical setting. While tunes such as “Come, Heavy Sleep” and “Soon-Ah Will Be Done” had featured on the Club’s setlists that year, in the remarkable resonance of Holy Name Chapel at Loyola University they took on entirely new dimensions. Indeed, throughout the recording you can hear Liepold and the group adjusting their performance to the echo in the hall, at times lengthening cutoffs by a full measure to let the reverb add new colors to the performance. As conductor Robert Shaw once said, “If you want the Dove to descend, you have to clean out the birdcage,” and this group had done that in spades. Listen below.
The second album being released digitally today is the legendary Songs of the University of Virginia. The first record album that the Glee Club ever released (though not the first recorded—more on that later), the record features almost exclusively Virginia songs, including the alma maters, “Hike, Virginia,” an entirely clean version of “From Rugby Road to Vinegar Hill,” and, unusually, the songs for two University “ribbon societies,” Eli Banana and T.I.L.K.A. The Glee Club is accompanied by the University Band in most of these recordings, made live in Old Cabell Hall, and is enthusiastic, if not always nuanced; you can see the recording sessions in the photo below.
The album is well worth a listen, despite the passing of the tide of years, as a reminder of where the Glee Club started and how far it came.
First Virginia Glee Club recording during John Liepold’s tenure as conductor
First recording of his re-scoring of the Duruflé “Ubi Caritas,” which took advantage of the group’s countertenor section to create a close harmony version of the song that would become one of the signatures of the group during Lieopold’s tenure
First ever Glee Club performance of “The Winter Song.” The wolf winds are wailing from the doorways… without some of the sound effects that later generations of Club guys added to the performance.
Really beautiful trio of “O Magnum Mysterium” settings
Most of the Maurice Duruflé Messe “Cum Jubilo,” featuring Duruflé’s pupil Yvaine Duisit on the Old Cabell Hall organ, and solos from Poulson Reed and Matt Benko
Today’s update to the Virginia Glee Club Bandcamp page is a little unusual. For one thing, before I found a copy of it online a few years ago, we had no idea it existed. These three songs were recorded on a promotional record, an acetate that was sent to radio stations in the hope of garnering live radio gigs for the Glee Club. This was a strategy that actually paid off in 1956, with an appearance on WTVR.
Donald MacInnis was the Glee Club’s conductor for most of the 1950s; his tenure was notable for launching the Virginia Gentlemen. It is therefore unsurprising that this record combines “highbrow” repertoire (a Bach motet) with something a little more popular; what is perhaps surprising is the choice of a Tom Lehrer song, only a year or two after Lehrer’s first record became a collegiate hit.
As we continue the Bandcamp series of digital releases, we’re going to get into some increasingly interesting territory, with recordings that haven’t been heard for years. I’m thrilled to be able to share this one, especially for our 1950s Glee Club alumni that are still with us.
This year was Michael Butterman’s last as our interim conductor, and he brought a lot, as usual, to the proceedings, including some of the nicest Baroque orchestra performances to accompany a Glee Club concert on record. Which is why your bonus photo for today is from the St. Paul’s performance of a young Butterman getting his bow tie adjusted by an even younger John Vick. Ah, history.
In addition to featuring the only recording of David Davis‘s Summer Songs, there are some outstanding performances of staples of the Glee Club’s repertoire from the 1970s and 1980s including “Shoot, false love” and “Hark, all ye lovely saints.” And it’s a really great chance to hear the Loach-era Glee Club at the beginning of their great stretch in the 1970s—after all, this was the album that raised funds to take the Glee Club on their first European tour!
Listen and buy here! As a reminder, all proceeds from sales go to support the Glee Club.
As I was writing Ten Thousand Voices, one of the things that kept hitting me was that it was a little like dancing about architecture. How could readers who hadn’t listened to all the various recordings connect with some of the stories about the music that is the Virginia Glee Club’s mission?
Featuring some of the stories I’ve told on this blog, and much more, the book can be pre-ordered in many places. (Please note that, some of the options on that link to the contrary, audiobook and ebook versions aren’t available yet!) I’m so looking forward to getting the book into your hands.
I was in Charlottesville this weekend. The last time I visited was before the pandemic. Much was the same—the Corner will always be there, even if some of the restaurants are not; the Rotunda still stands above the Lawn; the Virginia Glee Club continues to spread harmony, love and brotherhood.
And yet: much has changed. The Glee Club is surging in membership, but off a small base due to pandemic attrition. Masks still abounded, though the positivity rate at the University among students is minuscule (less than 0.5%). And it was difficult to see the Rotunda and the Lawn without the overlays of the fascist torch march of August 2017, or the protests for racial justice in 2020.
In this context, the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers looks even more like what it is: simultaneously a good first step to establishing a dialog of truth and a small but inadequate corrective against 200 years of corrosive white supremacy.
It was in this frame of mind that I revisited the Lawn in the dark, when the abstract promise of freedom was most believable, and then again in the Sunday morning sun, where I could see the temples of learning rising above the walls, gardens, and outbuildings where laborers, enslaved and otherwise, supported the faculty and students who would, in 1861, raise a Confederate flag above the dome of Jefferson’s temple of knowledge.
If America is a contradiction, it is in many ways due to Jefferson himself, who argued for the unfettered power of the mind over religion and tyranny even as he fettered his fellow humans. The contradiction is evident in his greatest accomplishment, where a great University can be seen to carry the shadows of the slaves who built it.
So it is that I find myself, with Jefferson, trembling when I reflect that God is just.
And yet, as Jefferson sought to continually improve, never satisfied with his house, his writings, or the state of democracy, so must we continue to iterate on his works. Because the plain truth is that the University’s symbol as a temple of knowledge is the more profound for having arisen out of its beginnings as a school for privileged white men. And it has arisen, as is readily apparent by even a cursory glance at the current student body, to say nothing of a dinner spent speaking with them. My neighbor at our table was a strikingly lovely first generation college student from New York, who was a history major, an archivist at the Small Special Collections Library who had accessioned the latest round of Glee Club historical materials, and a powerhouse low alto. The kids, as Pete Townsend said, are alright.
And so is the Glee Club. In the last five years I had sometimes worried about the musical output of Virginia’s Messengers of Harmony, Love and Brotherhood. But the strength of the vocal technique of the young men I heard last night was a massive step forward. Turns out that Frank Albinder knows how to teach young voices, if they’ll listen. And it also turns out that when you focus a group of young men on both singing and friendship, you build something stronger than the sum of the individuals.
And it was also profound, after making my way up the East Range, across the Lawn, past the Mews (an outbuilding behind Pavilion III occupied by enslaved persons, and then 100 years later by Harry Rogers Pratt, the conductor of the Glee Club, and his wife Agnes), by the Chapel, and then back up to the plaza that Stanford White built after sweeping away the ruins of the Rotunda Annex. On that plaza stands the statue of Jefferson atop four allegorical angels, representing Liberty, Equality, the Brotherhood of Man, and Justice. Jefferson’s back may be to Justice; she may have stood silently on an August night in 2017 where hundreds of men who sought to destroy Jefferson’s higher ideals waved torches, threw lighter fluid, and struck at a group of about twenty-six student protestors. But, by God, She is still there, and still holds the scales, and they will be balanced.
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: