Whither the Concert on the Lawn?

Today’s Virginia Glee Club history moment is a look at the Concert on the Lawn. The Glee Club’s entry in the collegiate tradition of “step singing,” the Concert on the Lawn was inaugurated in 1936 as a community sing with an announcement in College Topics, featuring this trenchant quotation from conductor Harry Rogers Pratt:

Ability to sing is not a pre-requisite. Those who think they can sing are wanted especially. Tenors will be protected by Beta and Captain Mack. Baying, bellowing, and booing will be allowed. ‘Sweet Adeline’ will be sung as often as demand warrants.

The concert was a roaring success, with the review reporting:

With beer in front of them, beer in back of them, beer inside of them, “Pratt’s Boys” went to town last night and lifted the skies from the steps of the Rotunda.Some say the interlude was caused by a shortage of foaming brew, but whatever it was, either the Lure of the Lawn or the Radiance of the Rotunda, it was good!

Over the next sixty years, Club continued to mount free performances on the Lawn in spring afternoons, and surprises–whether community sing-alongs of Old MacDonald or four-voice performances of “Freebird”–abounded.

And then… the tradition died out. Reports are mixed on the cause: some say that a new Glee Club conductor feared his men couldn’t be properly heard in an outdoor venue (as if that were ever the point). Whatever the case, sometime in the late nineties was the last time there was a free Concert on the Lawn by the Glee Club. Here’s hoping that we will see another one sometime soon.

5 thoughts on “Whither the Concert on the Lawn?”

  1. I was in the club 1972-75, and for those taking Glee Club as a class, the Concert on the Lawn was the final exam – A for showing up, F for an unexcused absence. In ’73 and ’74 it was in front of Old Cabell Hall, because the Rotunda was being renovated. But as you can see from the ’75 pictures, it was back at the Rotunda. You can see current Alumni and Friends Board Chairman, Doug List on the piano moving team. Darn, Doug has aged well – wish I could say the same for me.

    Concert on the Lawn was the last major performance of the year. The others were Openings, Christmas, and Easters (or sometimes called the Spring Concert) The Spring event usually showcased works we had done or were about to do on tour.

  2. I’m trying to remember when the last Lawn Concert was…

    I know we did one in 1996, conducted by Craig Fennell, but I think it was on the steps of Old Cabell because the Rotunda steps were closed for repair, or the upper Lawn was being reseeded, or something.

    I was in the audience for the 1997 concert, which was conducted by Bruce Tammen, but it was raining that day, so the concert was moved indoors to the Old Cabell Auditorium. And I think that might have been the last one.

  3. What? No Concert on the Lawn? How can this bee?

    I took my degree in 1986 and was in the the Club for four wonderful years: 1982-1986. The Concert on the Lawn was always one of he highlights of the year and we performed all four years on the steps of the Rotunda. We got to sing the traditional fun songs like “Old McDonald” (where the audience was divided into different sections and had to act out different animals on the farm) but also the more serious works like “Now is the month of Maying” by Thomas Moreley.

    I can’t believe that it doesn’t exist – it always heavily attended and gave students and parents an opportunity to enjoy great music and nice weather. It was also a wonderful means of recruiting since it was outdoors and free!

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