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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.

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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…

Foundation, filled and ready


As before, I’m having a hard time keeping up with our contractors. The picture above is from Friday. At the end of last week, they had sunk a pair of drywells (one visible above), established the drainage field with perforated pipe and gravel inside and outside the foundation, and backfilled the foundation (poured the previous week). Today they got the lumber on site and got the sill plate down. This despite snowfall yesterday that was still on the ground and cars this morning.

We were busy over the weekend too. I had a PODS storage unit delivered on Friday, and filled the back part of it with the contents of our storage/mechanical room and our laundry room on Saturday. The plan right now is that they’ll cut the door opening from the house (inside the current storage/mech room) to the addition tomorrow. We’ll see how they do. I forgot how much I like the PODS guys–we used them to move our stuff across country when we moved from Kirkland, and they had a real can-do attitude about backing the pod down the narrow driveway (officially, with six inches fewer clearance than they needed) to drop it behind the house.

The first UVA glee club

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