Famous forbearers

I continue my work on researching the early history of the Virginia Glee Club. Google Books has proved invaluable, both in sourcing the birth year of the group and in providing a reference to a famous alumnus about whose membership I was ignorant: Woodrow Wilson, who sang tenor in the Glee Club during his one year of law school at UVA.

My awe at having found myself among the ranks of presidents is diminished only slightly by my learned contempt of Wilson for his re-institutionalization of segregation in DC when he was president.

This update has been published to Wikipedia, where I am editing the history of the Club.

A teaser: Glee Club past history

bill clinton shaking hands with the Virginia Glee Club on the 250th birthday of Thomas Jefferson

I’ve been digging into my archives this weekend, prompted by a contact from an old Glee Club friend. I have quite a few things to scan and post, but that will wait for another time, when I’m not getting ready to fly across country early the next morning.

In the meantime, I’ll post a teaser—a scaled-down section of a scanned photo that is exactly what it looks like: 55 guys from UVA shaking hands with Bill Clinton in 1993. More memorabilia from that day, including a higher res (halftone) of the photo, when I get back.

Wikipedia, Google News Archives, and the Good Old Song

I’ve tagged this as being about Virginia because the subject matter is probably most interesting to those interested in UVA, my alma mater, but some of it is probably of more general interest. So, first things first: the Virginia Glee Club has a stub of a Wikipedia page that needs some help. So I went about to help it. I added a brief paragraph about the origins of the Club as a student group called the Cabell House Men, then went in search of documentation. As it turns out, the Cabell House Men are scarce fellows indeed.

But in digging through Google’s various features, I found the news archives, a front end to the paywalled deep content of a bunch of newspapers that featured some really interesting paydirt on the Club that I called home and that formed me in some significant ways. Among the findings, as gleaned from article summaries since I didn’t feel like spending $30 or $40 in reprints tonight, I learned that the Glee Club

So much, and so little, has changed.

Interestingly, I also found reference in Google Books that the Club seemingly disappeared for a few years prior to 1910-1911, which I hadn’t heard before.

And of course, there was that Washington appearance in which Bill Clinton himself gave us a shoutout, on Thomas Jefferson’s 250th anniversary: “I want to begin by offering my compliments to the United States Marine Band and the Virginia Glee Club, who have entertained us so well today…” Read that speech; it’s almost unimaginable coming from the current sitting president, but back then it was so routine as to be almost unnoticed.

Oh yeah, and the Good Old Song? Turns out it’s a meta-alma mater, a song in memory of the real Song of Wa-Hoo-Wah, long vanished, and at least according to this author a racist imitation of a Native American chant that originated at Dartmouth of all places.

Lessons? There’s more online than lives in Google’s main index…

The Aerosmith orchestra

Years ago, in college, a few Virginia Glee Club colleagues and I sat around in the Glee Club House, drinking beer and watching a recent Aerosmith concert on cable. As the string section behind the band appeared on screen, our director, John Liepold, told us that one of his friends had been tapped as the touring cellist for the band, and said, “Imagine that career. No matter what else happens to her, she’ll be able to say ‘I was in the Aerosmith orchestra.’”

Well, tonight, that sentence can be spoken by everyone in the Boston Pops. What a weird night, with the decay of Steven Tyler’s vocal chords on full display. And Keith Lockhart hitting the gong at the end of an abbreviated “Dream On”?

But no matter how weird, it’s still not as weird as last year. Big and Rich with the Boston Pops? Dream on, I guess.

Update: Waitaminnit. “Walk This Way” with the Boston Pops? Now it’s weirder than anything I’ve ever seen in this town.

The Academical Potemkin Village?

Tin Man wrote a few weeks back about the planned extensions to Mr. Jefferson’s University. The impetus for Tin Man’s post was a generally good New York Times Magazine article that generally avoided the easy story angles, though there were flavors of architects, both sophisticated and moronic, vs. Virginians both reactionary and preservationist. I was particularly delighted to see the author’s reaction to both Hereford College, though I have to say that Darden is not nearly as grim as he painted it—certainly better than Sloan’s modernist gray architecture. Perhaps the author should have visited Darden during a barbecue. But the description of Hereford College is dead on:

What’s the alternative? Many of the university’s modernists point admiringly to Hereford College, a complex of undergraduate dorms designed in the 90’s by the New York architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien. “There’s an engagement with the landscape and a compositional playfulness,” says Daniel Bluestone, a professor of architectural history at the university. But I found Hereford, which is home to some 500 students, as depressing as Darden: an off-kilter arrangement of towering brick slabs, their slitlike windows resembling gun ports in World War II pillboxes. Unlike the Lawn, which on that same morning was full of students sunbathing and tossing Frisbees, the quad at Hereford was devoid of any life.

The one point missing from the article, though, was the violence that has been done to the Grounds by other well meaning architects, for example Gilmer Hall and the so-called New Dorms. With that context in mind, it’s kind of understandable that we would be a little cautious.

But I continue to be nervous about the overall layout and how the neighborhood to the south will be affected. I think the Glee Club House is immediately to the south of the circular amphitheatre at the end of the terrace. But the lack of a map overlay of the existing neighborhood, even through the extended images on the Arts and Sciences web site, makes it hard to tell.

New Hooblogger: John “JP” Park

I should have added fellow Virginia Glee Club alum John “JP” Park to the Hoobloggers list a while ago, but fortunately in some recent correspondence he was good enough to remind me gently that, yes, he did have a blog and I should really check it out. The blog, Park Haus Addition, is an account of designing and (eventually) building a large modern addition onto the 1939 bungalow that JP and his family call home, and it’s enriched by JP’s computer renderings of the design ideas and plans (he is a computer animator in his non-blogging life). Like JP, the blog is creative and visually interesting, and is highly recommended to general readers and housebloggers alike.

Beaten by three years

I was puzzled by a recent notice in the Boston Globe about a tour by the Cornell Glee Club, called “one of the nation’s oldest examples of that collegiate phenomenon, the glee club…” Surely, I thought, they couldn’t predate the Virginia Glee Club, founded in 1871 (as the Cabell House Men)? My bemusement turned to outrage when I Googled the group and noted they had secured gleeclub.com as a domain name… then to resigned concession when I learned that they were indeed the senior of my vocal alma mater—by three years, having been founded in 1868 as the Orpheus Glee Club. Alas, missed by three years. And alas, I’ll be out of the country when they arrive in Boston on Monday.

ECM hits the iTunes Music Store: go get some Pärt

I thought I was seeing things a few weeks ago when I saw an ECM release in the iTunes Music Store, but no: a bunch of essential ECM classical releases have been added this week, including the Pärt Te Deum. If you haven’t already added this recording to your collection, I highly recommend it. And don’t buy just the tracks; go ahead and get the album so you can get the recording of the “Te Deum.” I remember sitting around in Monroe Hill with fellow Glee Club member Morgan Whitfield listening to this and being in awe back in 1993, and then being just as awed in 2002 when I sang the work with the Cascadian Chorale.

Other Pärt ECM recordings of interest in the iTMS: Tabula Rasa, the Miserere,
Kanon Pokajanen, and the Passio (which, as on the CD, is a single 70 minute long track).

Intruders in the dust

New York Times: Reviving His Works, on Paper and Plaster. With William Faulkner’s house, Rowan Oak, newly restored to the somewhat eccentric condition in which its owner left it (houseblogger beware! “haphazardly laid pine floors” and “brick patios like wings” that “fostered rot” and “diluted the whole Greek Revival vibe” lurk within), it seems an appropriate time for a confession.

A fleuron is a typographical symbol that looks like a flower.

Thirteen years and change ago, I was with the Glee Club on what seemed like a never-ending Tour of the South. We had left Charlottesville, opened in Chapel Hill, proceeded to Athens and Atlanta, and made a stop in Jackson, MI before pulling into Oxford for the night. At that point we were all a little disconcerted to find that Oxford buttoned up its sidewalks at 8:30 at night—and since we had been on a bus for a Very Long Time, we wanted to get out and find something to do. So, while some of the group went off in search of house parties at Ole Miss, a few more literary-minded individuals (I’m not naming names, but I’ve talked about one of them before, and another is now a minister) piled into a car in search of Faulkner’s home.

It was after 10 when we walked up the front drive and found the house. We had joked and laughed in the car, which we left parked at the top of the drive; now we were soberer. I remember it was a moonlit night and we seemed awfully exposed. But it was quiet and still except for the crunch of gravel underfoot; and luminous around us except for the small cloud of dust raised by our feet. We stood at the base of the steps leading up to the back porch—that porch that the writer, between novels, added along with his office, that office on the walls of which was scrawled in graphite and grease pencil the skeleton of a novel; that office in which rests the typewriter that crackled and popped with the writer’s thoughts, now silent.

– It’s a sad house, said the future minister. – It feels as though it’s incomplete and is waiting for someone.

And then there was a pop from inside, a crack as though someone had trod on the floors—those same rough pine floors haphazardly laid by the writer during one renovation or other. We held our breath.

But no ghosts arrived, no night watchman shining suspicious flashlights. And no bleary eyed writer clutching a glass invited us up on the porch.

A fleuron is a typographical symbol that looks like a flower.

Now, if Faulkner could read Oprah’s tips on how to get through The Sound and the Fury, I think the house would be doing more than crackling. Probably it would be making sounds more like the advice at the end of Tod Goldberg’s post on the same subject.

Friends with bands

The benefit of sitting on postable items is that sometimes they pile up into some neat connections, as is the case with these three friends-with-bands stories. First, here in the Boston environs, Chris Rigopulos’s band Honest Bob and the Factory-to-Dealer Incentives has released its second album, Second and Eighteen. (Chris was the lead guitarist with the Jack Tang Orchestra back at Sloan.)

Second, Craig Fennell, who sang at our wedding and who was a dear friend for many years starting in the Glee Club days, takes time off from his landscape architecture job (and, apparently, weight training. My God, it’s full of muscles!) to play keys and sing in Wonderjack, a DC area band that’s starting to get some radio play. The band’s bassist is another former Virginia Gentleman and Glee Club member, Dan Roche—congrats on the nuptials, Dan. (Nice band pics by another Glee Club friend, Guido Peñaranda.)

Finally, Justin Rosolino has added a new credit to his resume: producer. Apparently he sat behind the boards (as well as behind the electric guitars) for Portrait of Another, which (completing the UVA connection) is the band of the housemate of Hooblogger Hunter Chorey.

I missed the Virginia Glee Club at Wellesley on Saturday…

But there’s no reason you should do the same, not when the McIntyre Department sends out a snazzy RSSified press release about next Saturday’s concert in Charlottesville. (Nice photo, guys.) My Charlottesville readers (and I know there are a few): now is your chance. Break out your wallets! For a mere $10 ($5 for students), you get to hear one of the best men’s college choral groups with one of the best women’s college choral groups singing a great work by Haydn.

(In my day with the group, this would have been the weekend for the free lawn concert. I wonder when that changed?)

New album from Justin Rosolino

It’s a good day when an old friend releases a new album, and today is definitely a good day. Justin Rosolino, with whom I sang for a year in the Virginia Glee Club before his muse led him elsewhere, has just released his second album, Wonderlust.

The record, which features contributions from members of Sixpence None the Richer and Jars of Clay (as well as legendary studio musician Matt Rollings), is Justin’s first since 1999, but he’s kept busy, apparently finding time to play for clowns in Brazil and in the US (kidding about the second one…I think). The album features full band reworkings of “St. Francis” (released on the late lamented MP3.com) and two songs from his first album, “Legacy” and “Come Sweet Day.” The second album is available from CDFreedom and will be available soon from PasteMusic.com; the first album is available used from Amazon.

Open letter to a Glee Club student

glee club after my last lawn concert 1994

I started thinking about my days in the Virginia Glee Club a few weeks back. Probably because of my imminent 10-year reunion. Then out of the blue I got an email from a current Club member and Clubhouse resident who had found my page about my time in the group.

I reprint my reply to him here, for the ten or fifteen other Glee Club members who might see it and remember too.

Sounds like you’re having a great time with Club. I remember my days in the group fondly.

I never lived in the Clubhouse (I was planning to my fourth year but I turned into a damned Lawnie instead), but I have many fond memories of flopping on, sleeping on, and drinking on the couch. And of cleaning the house after parties. Wait, those aren’t fond memories; they’re kind of nauseating. Does the basement still flood every winter?

My fonder memories are of rehearsing in Old Cabell, B-012; of making fun of the bass section; of long bus trips to, um, sing with young women at institutions of higher (or at least more Northern) learning; and of performing some of the best music ever written. There hasn’t been a year since I graduated that I haven’t been singing with one group or another, and none of them have come close to the camaraderie of Club (well, maybe one, but that was a special case; the guys sang at my wedding, and one of them was a fellow Club alum).

The mule, however, is new to me. What’s the story there?

Hope you’re enjoying what the Club web site says is your fifth year. (I see some things haven’t changed at Virginia. 🙂 ) Please give the group my best. If you ever travel as far west as Seattle, drop in; my door is always open.

Yours in VMHLB,
Tim Jarrett
Club 1990-1994