Blast from the Past: Young TJ

I have quite a few updates to post about the progress of the history of the Virginia Glee Club on the wiki, but today’s item deserved a jump to the head of the line: the resurfacing of a lost recording of the 1993 Virginia Glee Club singing our commissioned work to commemorate Thomas Jefferson’s 250th birthday, Young T.J.

Some background: Thomas Jefferson is a Big Thing at the University of Virginia, the school he founded and one of only three accomplishments on his tombstone. When the 250th anniversary of his birth rolled around, there were a lot of stops pulled out to celebrate: Mikhail Gorbachev came to speak at the University, the Today Show did a remote from Monticello, Bill Clinton spoke at the Jefferson Memorial

And Judith Shatin wrote a setting of the Declaration of Independence that proved what the Testament of Freedom had hinted: setting Jefferson’s writing to music was full of pitfalls.

The Glee Club had begun commissioning new works for men’s voices in the 1991-1992 season, and for Jefferson’s birthday we wanted something special. So our fearless director John Liepold reached out to his old professor and mentor Neely Bruce for a Jefferson-inspired composition. They decided that, since the Glee Club had already gone down the Jefferson words path with Testament, the smart thing was to choose texts that inspired Jefferson instead. Bruce selected ten texts from Jefferson’s Commonplace Book and set them to music that Jefferson might have heard in his youth, songs heavily inspired by the Sacred Harp and other shape note music. The result was Young T.J., a group of short settings that try to imagine what influenced the young Jefferson.

The Glee Club performed the whole work a few times that year, notably at our spring concert, and used a short set of the works on a number of occasions, mostly notably during our trifecta of performances on April 13, 1993. We began the morning at Monticello, shivering in the pre-dawn light on risers, and using Young T.J. to provide music for the commercial cutaways during the broadcast. I also remember standing at a urinal under Monticello next to Willard Scott, and of course Katie posing for pictures with Tyler Magill, Paul Stancil, Scott Norris, Denis McNamara, and Mitch Harris (above). We also performed portions of the work at the Jefferson Memorial for Bill Clinton and a capacity crowd (after a frantic drive from Monticello to DC at top speed followed by a sprint across the grass to get to the stage on time). A final performance at the Jefferson Hotel in Richmond that night was the capper.

So, the lost recording. This page, linked from Neely Bruce’s publisher’s site, has a full set of recordings of all ten movements. When exactly they were recorded is subject to dispute–the page claims they were recorded at Monticello on April 13, 1993, but there’s no background noise and we didn’t have time to run and record everything that day, I don’t think. But they are unmistakably a document of the 1992-1993 Glee Club under John Liepold’s direction. And since none of Liepold’s recordings have ever been transferred to digital release (only three tapes, the 1991 Christmas Concert, a concert at River Road Baptist Church, and the Dove in the Hall recording surfaced from his time with the group through the summer of 1994), this is a nice present to have, even if it’s not available for download.

2 thoughts on “Blast from the Past: Young TJ”

  1. What a great find! I remember I was going to try out for Club in January 1993, but I decided I was too busy, so I waited a semester. And that was the semester you did all this. I always regretted waiting. (Of course, we performed five of the ten movements the following spring on the Tour of the Northeast, when we also visited Neely’s house.)

    I’m not sure when the recording you link to was made, but I do have an audiotape of NPR airing, on April 13, 1993, a performance of Club singing Young T.J., and I don’t think it was live, so you must have recorded it in advance. How far in advance I don’t know, but that link might be to the same recording. (I’ve just realized I have nothing that can play audiotapes anymore except an old Walkman, and I don’t have batteries! So I can’t compare them.)

    As for digital recordings — is Notes From the Path digital? That CD has Liepold conducting Shenandoah, New Day and Hold On from spring ’94, and a few other things the following year.

    Again, this is great.

  2. Jeff, just saw your comments. You’re right–it might have been the NPR taping. Re: Notes from the Path, I always forget that there were some Liepold era recordings on that one. So let’s say this is a rare artifact of “early” Liepold era.

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