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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