Returning to the Rotunda

I was in Charlottesville this weekend. The last time I visited was before the pandemic. Much was the same—the Corner will always be there, even if some of the restaurants are not; the Rotunda still stands above the Lawn; the Virginia Glee Club continues to spread harmony, love and brotherhood.

And yet: much has changed. The Glee Club is surging in membership, but off a small base due to pandemic attrition. Masks still abounded, though the positivity rate at the University among students is minuscule (less than 0.5%). And it was difficult to see the Rotunda and the Lawn without the overlays of the fascist torch march of August 2017, or the protests for racial justice in 2020.

In this context, the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers looks even more like what it is: simultaneously a good first step to establishing a dialog of truth and a small but inadequate corrective against 200 years of corrosive white supremacy.

It was in this frame of mind that I revisited the Lawn in the dark, when the abstract promise of freedom was most believable, and then again in the Sunday morning sun, where I could see the temples of learning rising above the walls, gardens, and outbuildings where laborers, enslaved and otherwise, supported the faculty and students who would, in 1861, raise a Confederate flag above the dome of Jefferson’s temple of knowledge.

If America is a contradiction, it is in many ways due to Jefferson himself, who argued for the unfettered power of the mind over religion and tyranny even as he fettered his fellow humans. The contradiction is evident in his greatest accomplishment, where a great University can be seen to carry the shadows of the slaves who built it.

So it is that I find myself, with Jefferson, trembling when I reflect that God is just.

And yet, as Jefferson sought to continually improve, never satisfied with his house, his writings, or the state of democracy, so must we continue to iterate on his works. Because the plain truth is that the University’s symbol as a temple of knowledge is the more profound for having arisen out of its beginnings as a school for privileged white men. And it has arisen, as is readily apparent by even a cursory glance at the current student body, to say nothing of a dinner spent speaking with them. My neighbor at our table was a strikingly lovely first generation college student from New York, who was a history major, an archivist at the Small Special Collections Library who had accessioned the latest round of Glee Club historical materials, and a powerhouse low alto. The kids, as Pete Townsend said, are alright.

And so is the Glee Club. In the last five years I had sometimes worried about the musical output of Virginia’s Messengers of Harmony, Love and Brotherhood. But the strength of the vocal technique of the young men I heard last night was a massive step forward. Turns out that Frank Albinder knows how to teach young voices, if they’ll listen. And it also turns out that when you focus a group of young men on both singing and friendship, you build something stronger than the sum of the individuals.

And it was also profound, after making my way up the East Range, across the Lawn, past the Mews (an outbuilding behind Pavilion III occupied by enslaved persons, and then 100 years later by Harry Rogers Pratt, the conductor of the Glee Club, and his wife Agnes), by the Chapel, and then back up to the plaza that Stanford White built after sweeping away the ruins of the Rotunda Annex. On that plaza stands the statue of Jefferson atop four allegorical angels, representing Liberty, Equality, the Brotherhood of Man, and Justice. Jefferson’s back may be to Justice; she may have stood silently on an August night in 2017 where hundreds of men who sought to destroy Jefferson’s higher ideals waved torches, threw lighter fluid, and struck at a group of about twenty-six student protestors. But, by God, She is still there, and still holds the scales, and they will be balanced.

Removing the Confederate plaques on the Rotunda

Rotunda memorial plaques, courtesy Richard Dizon, Cavalier Daily

On Friday, the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia voted to remove a pair of bronze memorial plaques listing the UVA students who were killed fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War. Early Saturday morning, workers removed the plaques. Per the BOV resolution, the plaques will be “moved to a location at the University where they can be viewed as artifacts.”

The tablets in question were installed on the Rotunda in the early 1900s—the CD says “1903” but Philip Alexander Bruce says they were installed and dedicated by UVa’s first president, Edwin Alderman, in 1906, as a gift of the Confederate Memorial Association and the Albemarle Chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy. (Note that the Glee Club raised funds for the Confederate Memorial Association in 1890.)

The actions over the weekend are a direct outcome from the events that happened in Charlottesville over August 11–13, in which torch bearing neo-Nazis marched through Grounds shouting anti-Semitic slogans. Passing up into Grounds from the Bookstore and presumably passing the student center at Newcomb Hall on their way up the Lawn, they came around the Rotunda, which bore these plaques on its south side, and surrounded a group of 25 counter-protesting students at Moses Ezekiel’s statue of Thomas Jefferson. They jeered and chanted at the students, and then they threw kerosene and lit torches at them.

Tyler Magill, who was in the Glee Club with me in the early 1990s and who I count as a friend, had joined the students by this time. He was struck by a torch on the side of his neck, which eventually led, a few days later, to his suffering a stroke.

More horrors happened over the weekend, including 20 year old James Alex Fields driving his car through a crowd of protesters, deliberately murdering Heather Heyer and injuring many others.

I have been trying to write my feelings about what happened that horrific weekend for over a month, and have not been able to. Among other reasons, it feels as though once I started I wouldn’t be able to stop.

But part of it is that today’s liberal Charlottesville sits atop a veritable Indian burial ground of undercurrents of racism and secession. This is, after all, the school where the Jefferson Society debated, on January 14th, 1860, whether a state had the right to secede from the Union (the conclusion was affirmative), and where the Washington Society decided in a November 1860 debate that the Southern States should secede; where students flew the flag of the Confederacy atop the Rotunda in February 1861. And it was also the school that was built with slave labor and that ran on the efforts of enslaved workers, and that was founded by a United States President who wrote “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” but who held both a peculiar definition of “all” and over 100 slaves.

So it is that Charlottesville seems a seat of that original sin of our country, and that our past is now coming home to roost.

The University’s actions to remove the names of those who fought to uphold slavery from its most central, symbolic building are a good start. I think the decision to display the memorials elsewhere is a good way to resolve the tension I have felt about removing public Confederate symbols. I don’t want us to forget our historic complicity in injustice and violence, but I also don’t want those reminders to continue their mission of oppression.

Living (building) history: flat roofs on Lawn rooms

West Lawn (Pavilions I and III with student rooms), University of Virginia
West Lawn (Pavilions I and III with student rooms), University of Virginia

UVA Today: Jeffersonian Roofs Restored Over Lawn Rooms. When I lived at 3 West Lawn, there were pitched slate roofs over all the student rooms on the Lawn at the University of Virginia. Turns out that those roofs post-dated Jefferson. His original idea? Flat roofs. And the design was ingenious: Cover a serrated wooden roof with decking. The rain water would run down through the decking and run out through the valleys of the wood roofs. Kind of like this:

= = = = = = = = = =

Unfortunately, Jefferson’s vision outstripped his engineering. The wood sub-roof leaked, damaging the roof over the colonnade walkway. So in the 1830s the flat roofs were covered over with pitched slate roofs.

What I find so fascinating about the story is the fact that Jefferson’s original roofs were preserved under the slate for 180 years. I also like this tidbit:

“All the single-leaf doors were replaced in the 1990s with new half-leaf doors,” Kutney said. “We’ve more recently found evidence that the single-leaf was the original Jefferson condition, so we’re going back to the single-leaf.”

When I was a student, I had a discussion with the late J. Murray Howard about the ongoing renovations of the Lawn, including his dismay that students damaged the paint of the doors on their Lawn rooms by hanging signs on them advertising various student activities. He didn’t appreciate my observation that the students who occupied the Lawn were the living embodiment of Jefferson’s vision just as much as the buildings, and that part of the vitality of that vision was the presence of advertising for the student groups who had gotten them to the Lawn in the first place. Howard was responsible for adding the half-leaf doors. It’s petty of me, but I like the reminder that even experts can be wrong.

The machinery of slavery

Out of the Box: Virginia Untold: Certificates of Importation. Out of the Box, the blog of the archives of the Library of Virginia, has consistently been one of my favorite reads for the windows it offers into the state – er, commonwealth – of my birth. And, honestly, into the past of our nation. Today’s post, by Greg Crawford, is a good illustration of why.

What is both fascinating and revolting about the history of slavery (and its descendants, white supremacy and institutionalized racism) is the level of legal, statutory, bureaucratic, and judicial machinery required to keep the enslavement of human beings “orderly” and “civil.” The example in this post, certificates of importation, were a bureaucratic invention that sought to ensure compliance with the law barring importation of slaves for sale into Virginia. Said law was enacted in 1778, not for humanitarian reasons, but apparently to ensure that England and British ships would not profit from the slave trade during the Revolutionary War.

(It’s worth noting that the original draft of the bill would have explicitly linked the barring of importation of slaves to the suppression of slavery more broadly. The final language of the bill contained no such linkage.)

An exception in the 1778 law permitted slave owners permanently relocating to Virginia to import their slaves to the commonwealth, provided they swore an oath that they did not intend to sell any of them. The oath became part of a legal document, the certificate of importation, that provided names, ages, and physical descriptions of the slaves, where they were acquired, and from where they were being relocated. The certificate was filed in court. (The Library of Virginia is in the process of digitizing these court documents, and they’ve made a spreadsheet of the digitized records.) If a slave was illegally brought into the commonwealth, they could sue for their freedom; the presence of the certificate of importation was a closed door to a slave seeking to escape an unfair master, but failure to file the paperwork gave the slave grounds to file a freedom suit.

To summarize: slaves imported into Virginia had to have paperwork documented by a local magistrate containing an oath from their owner and filed in their county courthouse so that they were in compliance with a Revolutionary War era law preventing British profiteering, and the absence of such paperwork allowed a slave to sue for freedom. The amount of bureaucracy devoted to the peculiar institution, of which this is only a small piece, must have been completely mindboggling. And it gives me a renewed appreciation for the artifacts of history.

1911 UVa Football Songbook

A quick post from the depths of Virginia musical history tonight. As part of a lot of miscellaneous University of Virginia memorabilia I got from eBay recently, I got an unusual item: a University of Virginia songbook that was handed out at football games. (Scans of the whole thing are available on Flickr.)  This particular instance dates from 1911, and probably from the November 4 game against Wake Forest. (The attentive among us will note that in 1911, six games into the season, Virginia was 6–0, while the uncharitable will note that the games were played against Hampden-Sydney, William and Mary, Randolph-Macon, Swarthmore, St John’s, and VMI.)

Football songs? Sure. All those fight songs and team specific songs that appear on Songs of Virginia really were current at one time, and sung at games. Even “Oh, Carolina.” (“They can manufacture rosin, but they’ll never, never score.”) Almost as much fun are reading the ads, for a bunch of businesses that are no longer around (the Jefferson Shaving Parlor, anyone?) As the house ad in the back exhorts, “remember the advertisers,” indeed.

The book was published “for the benefit of the University of Virginia Band,” and I suspect that—aside from contributing the text of “The Good Old Song” and maybe others—the Glee Club had nothing to do with the book, as all evidence is that the group was on hiatus in 1911. But it’s still fun to look at, and to imagine the modern attendees of Scott Stadium swaying as they sing 115-year-old words to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne,” never quite realizing the depth of the tradition that they are, however inadvertently, keeping alive.

Discovering J.A. Morrow


There are two composers who pop up more consistently on recordings of the Virginia Glee Club than any other, across the years: E. A. Craighill, who is generally (though not completely correctly) credited with composing the “Good Old Song,” and J.A. Morrow, who composed the University’s official alma mater, “Virginia, Hail, All Hail.” The two songs are generally performed these days as one, and in fact they have more in common than their status as official or unofficial alma maters: both were composed by Virginia students who were apparently members of the Glee Club.

John Albert Morrow makes his earliest appearance in the documentary record, as I mentioned yesterday, performing solos in the chapel choir under the director of Alfred Lawrence Hall-Quest, on October 14, 1916. At the time, Hall-Quest was directing both the chapel choir and the Glee Club, so it’s a reasonable assumption that Morrow sang with both groups. We know that he also played piano and participated in missions on behalf of the YMCA to other parts of Virginia.

We also know that Morrow participated in other missions. The June 13, 1918 photo above, from the Holsinger archives, is one of a series of World War I photos taken by the studio. We don’t know what Morrow did in the war, other than the clue that he wears an Army uniform in the photo.

His University career spans both sides of the Great War and is a little odd: he is listed in the April 1917 University of Virginia Recordas being a masters student in mathematics, philosophy, and physics, having taken his undergraduate degree at Emory and Henry, while in 1920 he is listed as a student in the College. This may have been a typo, or he may have pursued additional undergrad classes after demobbing, but in 1921 he was listed (with an MA) as a teaching fellow in the Engineering department teaching Chemistry. He continues to appear in the Record variously as a BA and MA (presumably, he was working on the latter even in 1921) until 1925 and 1926, when he is listed as a summer session instructor in mathematics, affiliated with New York University. After that the trail goes cold, alas.

But there’s that one indisputable moment of fame: in 1923, his 1921 composition “Virginia, Hail, All Hail” won a contest as the best student alma mater song. No other official alma mater ever having been elected by the University, his work still holds a position of pride–even if none but attendees of Glee Club concerts will ever hear it.

Virginia Glee Club history, 1910 director… found again

I found more evidence tonight about the mysterious 1910 director of the Virginia Glee Club, M. S. Remsburg. Ironically enough, it came from the same source that gave us the information of his existence in the first place.

I was thrown off by a description of him as Prof. M.S. Remsburg. That may have been an honorific, but his real title was director, as in the director of Christ Church, Charlottesville, as I learned from the September 17, 1910 issue of Madison House Notes, the newsletter of the YMCA at the University at that time. Following the departure of Dr. Faville from the faculty, there was no other organist or music director at the University for chapel services, this being ten years before the foundation of the McIntire School of Music, and the university faculty voted on or before September 17, 1910 to reschedule chapel services so that Remsburg could cover them after Sundays at Christ Church.

A week later, Remsburg picked up directorship of the Glee Club, which appears to have been reformed out of thin air around that time. The audition notice on the 24th of September notes “It is hoped that a large number will turn out, because we ought to have a Glee Club at Virginia. Other colleges in the State have them, and we must have one also.”

The irony, of course, is that there had been a Glee Club just a few years prior, and had had one longer than any other school in Virginia. But an organization entirely run by students, with no membership or support that lasts more than four years, has no long term memory.

As for Remsburg, there’s no reference to him in subsequent years of Madison House Notes, and the increasingly plaintive recruitment notes for the chapel choir and lack of mention of a director suggest that the group was back in student hands again. But not for long; no choir practices are listed in the 1913 bulletin, so even the chapel choir was gone by this time. It took the arrival of A. L. Hall-Quest, and his taking direction of  the dormant Glee Club and the chapel choir in 1914-1915, to rebuild it, partly with voices from the Glee Club.

Incidentally, I stumbled across another Glee Club name in the Madison House Notes. J.A. Morrow, the author of “Virginia Hail, All Hail” (aka “Ten Thousand Voices”), is described as singing a solo with the chapel choir on October 10, 1916, under the direction of Hall-Quest. I’m still looking for further information about him, but it’s starting to look like he too, like E. A. Craighill, the author of “The Good Old Song”‘s lesser sung verses, might have been in the Glee Club. But that’s a post for another time.

Student directors of the Virginia Glee Club

I uncovered another student director of the Virginia Glee Club this weekend, poking through the New York Times archive. It got me thinking about how the group’s governance and musical direction has changed over the years and how large a role students have played in its direction.

Virginia is not unusual in having had students conduct its Glee Club. Princeton didn’t have a professional conductor until 1907, and the Harvard Glee Club invited its first professional conductor, Dr. Archibald Davison, in 1919. But the Virginia Glee Club is unique in having returned to student and other non-faculty conductors as a consequence of its separation from the UVA music department.

Most of the students who conducted the group are doomed to anonymity, but a few have names that have been recorded, even in the earliest years of the Club. I suspect that more could be found were someone to go through and comprehensively digitize the old University of Virginia Magazine (hint, hint). Some of the students went on to lead interesting lives. Here’s a snapshot of four of them.

John Duncan Emmet (ca. 1879-1880). One of the Club’s first directors, Emmet was there during Woodrow Wilson’s first year at the University, the 1879 – 1880 season. Wilson’s presence earned Emmet immortality, as the New York Times dug into Wilson’s student past to uncover a few gems about the Glee Club:

The [University of Virginia] Magazine contains several humorous descriptions of the reception accorded the Glee Clubbers on their serenading expeditions. A pert comment on the editorial page of one issue is typical of the many to be found in the files: “Painfully do we record the last unhappy adventure of the unhappy Glee Club. Most lamentable was their failure! Wrapped in sweet sleep the serenaded slumbered peacefully on, unconscious of the frantic efforts of the serenaders. We can only wish them better success next time.

Emmet graduated with his medical degree in 1880, and went on to bigger and better things, serving as the chief gynecologist at St. Vincent’s Hospital and founding the American Gynaecological and Obstretrical Journal. Emmet was the grandson of Dr. John Patten Emmet, professor of chemistry at the University, and namesake of Emmet Dorm.

Harrison Randolph (ca. 1893-1894). I’ve written about Randolph before. The only student director named by University historian Philip A. Bruce, Randolph went on to the presidency of Charleston College.

John Amar Shishmanian (ca. 1904-1905). Shishmanian is a little bit of an enigma. His leadership of the Club is attested by a 1905 Atlanta Constitution article about the Club’s concerts there: “The clubs are now undergoing bi-weekly rehearsals under the leadership of Mr. Shishmania [sic], the winner of the southern intercollegiate oratorical medal last winter.” Digging deeper, we find Shishmanian’s accomplishments as an orator attested in John S. Patton’s Jefferson, Cabell and the University of Virginia,which preceded Bruce’s account and is packed with all kinds of trivia–including a list of Jefferson Society medal winners. Shishmanian, who was registered with the University from Lexington, Kentucky, was a graduate student in law, having finished his BA at the University of Kentucky. The October 1903 Alumni Bulletin was a little more forthcoming about his origins: “an Armenian resident in this country, has entered as a student in the course recently established leading to a consular service certificate.”

He was the president of the Jefferson Society in 1905, and was also awarded the medal for oratory in that year. He is attested as a speaker at the honorary initiation of Virginia governor Claude August Swanson into the Delta Chi fraternity in 1905 or 1906. He graduated in 1906 and went west, joining the firm of Barbour and Cashin, before going east, eventually far east, joining the faculty of Robert College in Turkey.

Michael Butterman (1989-1991). Butterman is better known to modern Glee Club members, serving as joint conductor of the group with Cheryl Brown-West in the first season after its separation from the University, then taking over as solo conductor in 1990-1991 during the 120th anniversary year. Butterman was a grad student at the time, and left in 1991 to head to Indiana University in their conducting program. He’s now conducting the Boulder Philharmonic and the Shreveport Symphony, and is director of outreach for the Rochester Philharmonic, according to a 2007 Boulder Daily News interview.

The Virginia Glee Club disbands — in 1912


This week’s Virginia Glee Club history post comes a little late, but better late than never because it sheds light on an interesting chapter of the Club’s history—its apparent, and apparently intermittent, disappearance in the years between 1905 and 1915. Thanks to a new item that has turned up in Google Books, and which I finally got a photocopy of today, I think we can piece together a fairly decent timeline.

We can piece together the history from a few scraps of evidence. First, UVA historian Philip A. Bruce, who wrote the history of the University’s first hundred years, alluded to the Club’s troubles between 1905 and 1915:

…no play was offered in 1910-11. This fact led to the revival of the Glee Club, an association which had disbanded in 1905. A mass-meeting of all the students interested in music was held; a new vocal and instrumental club organized; and rehearsals at once began. This club was composed of twenty members. It gave two concerts in Cabell Hall and four beyond the precincts. Choruses, quartets, and vocal and instrumental solos, were skilfully rendered. This association failed to re-form in 1912-13 and 1913-14, as the result of the absence of an experienced and attentive director and manager.

We know that the group was still active in the fall of 1905. A letter written on October 29, 1905 by Sue Whitmore, the mother of a University of Virginia student, mentions her enjoyment of hearing the Glee Club perform.

We also know that the Club was around in January 1914, from photographic evidence (above). Then, in 1915, the group was “reorganized” and “trained scientifically” by Professor A. L. Hall-Quest.

But what happened to the group between 1905 and 1914? What did Bruce mean that it “failed to reform”? He laid its failure to succeed on poor leadership, but on what evidence? Here’s where the new discovery sheds some light.

In early October of 1912, the following notice appeared (and was reproduced in the Alumni Bulletin, series 3, vol, 5):

We, the officers of the University of Virginia Glee Club, in consideration of the disadvantageous circumstances under which the afore-mentioned club has operated within the past three years, do officially declare said club disbanded, believing that by so doing an ultimate success may be achieved along another line. (Signed): Roger M. Bone, president, Robert V. Funsten, vice-president, Vaughan Camp, secretary, C.A. McKean, treasurer.

(Thanks to the fine folks at Special Collections for sending me a photocopy of the bulletin.)

So now we have a timeline:

  • In late 1905 or maybe early 1906, the Glee Club disbands.
  • In 1910, the Club reforms, responding to a musical vacuum left by the demise of the Arcadians, a musical theatre group, and struggles for a few years with inexperienced musical and logistical leadership.
  • At the beginning of the third season, in October 1912, the officers of the time disband the group temporarily.
  • At the beginning of the fall 1913 semester, the group re-forms (though the photo is dated January 1914, the re-formation must have happened in the fall—the odds of getting so many young men into matching suits for an official portrait in less than a month are probably no better then than they are today).
  • In 1915, the students connect with a professor, A. L. Hall-Quest, who has connections to the Princeton Glee Club tradition and who sets them on a sturdier footing.

Bruce overstated the hiatus by a year, based on the photographic evidence, but otherwise he was right on. The timeline speaks of an organization that was making it, or not, year-to-year, with little to no institutional support. That sort of existence resonates with my memory of the group between 1990 and 1994, with one difference: we had alumni who cared about the group enough to keep it afloat, and the Club guys of the early 20th century did not. There wasn’t a real alumni association, to speak of, until the first World War.

The next question, which will have to wait for another post, is: what happened after Hall-Quest left? He resigned in 1918, and Arthur Fickénscher didn’t take his job at UVa, and the directorship of the group, until sometime in the 1920s. But this answer might have to wait until I can get back to Charlottesville to do some real research.

Hungry for more Hungry Mother

I’m back in the office for a day after a few days off. What a wonderful Christmas–time well spent with family. I even enjoyed the last Holiday Pops concert we did last Saturday, as well as reading about the audience reacti0n. (Aside: that’s possibly the creepiest concert review I’ve ever seen.)

Last night Lisa and I took a rare night off and went to Hungry Mother in Kendall Square. I’ve been thinking about this place since the first reviews came up last summer, and we finally got to visit. Delightfully, it’s just around the corner from the apartments in which we used to live in Cambridge (formerly known as Worthington Place, now apparently Archstone). The location used to house a neighborhood bar, and now it’s home to this little foodie jewel. Gentrification? Maybe, but the food was so worth it.

First: I don’t know who’s responsible for the cocktail list, but they ride a fine line between insanity and genius. I had a #43 (rye whiskey, tawny port, maple syrup(!) and bitters) and Lisa had a #47 (applejack, aperol, and bourbon). Both were outstanding though a little bit on the deceivingly strong side. Then the meal: a starter of tiny little ham biscuits, fried oysters, shrimp & grits, and fried catfish over hoppin’ john.

Lisa sniffed at the biscuits (she said “I’ve been spoiled by your uncle,” a reference to our breakfasts out at the Moose in Asheville), but said the ham was quite good, though she wouldn’t touch the pepper jelly. I thought the individual components were outstanding–the biscuits crusty to soft, the ham smoky sweet, the pepper jelly perfect–but the balance was off when they were together, as the ham disappeared in the mix.

The fried oysters arrived at the same time. These were all for me–though I offered them to Lisa, she shied away. And I’m selfishly glad she did. They were perfect. If you look up perfect in the OED, there’s a picture of these oysters next to the definition. Breaded in cornmeal and fried till the breading reached a dark brown, they were crunchy outside, soft and sweet inside, and the kohlrabi cole slaw was a cool crunch alongside it. The cornmeal breading reminded me of catfish dinners at Warwick Memorial United Methodist Church off Denbigh Boulevard in Newport News, a summer staple growing up, and it wasn’t until early this morning that I realized that the net effect of the breading was to provide a supplemental “hush puppy” flavor right alongside the oyster. At dinner I mentioned how much I liked the breading to our waitress, and she said, “Ask your wife for some of her catfish.”

Right on cue the entrees arrived. My shrimp and grits were good; Lisa’s catfish was divine. Meatier, with fewer bones and less grease than the church fish fry version I remembered from childhood, it was evocative of my childhood but its own distinct fish. It was superb.

I’d like to go back and try everything else on their menu. I’d also love to sit down and chat with the chef sometime to see if he could squeeze a little more Tidewater into the menu–there’s no such thing as a Virginia cuisine, but what’s there at Hungry Mother is evocative enough of what I recall that I’d love to see what he could do with fried chicken, soft shell crabs, Brunswick stew, Bull Island clam chowder…

I’m also left wondering about how the Surrey House is these days. Before the I-664 bridge, we used to ride the ferry to the South Side to have lunch here after church, and it was a little surreal trip into the past. The menu looks the same as it did then, right down to the she crab soup (but did they also have turtle soup then?).

David Byrne visits Newport News

David Byrne Journal: 09.21.2008: On the Road Again. I know that this post was primarily about the new show and not about David Byrne’s Life in the Bush of Hampton Roads, but I can’t resist the pointer:

In Newport News, a group of us biked to the beach on the banks of the James River — a long trip, mostly on local highways, passing chain restaurants, industrial parks, gas stations and a steak joint offering square dancing. The residential areas are tucked in behind these strips, I guess, as there were none visible from these connecting roads. There’s an airbase nearby as well. Fighter jets streaked overhead now and then. There’s no town visible in any direction, just endless sprawl. At one point we reached a crossroads, which appeared to be the remnants of a small town, now mostly converted to a row of antique stores, but still pretty quaint. Eventually we found a small beach next to a massive bridge beyond which lay a huge naval station and port. A few of us waded in the water as a film crew set up nearby to shoot a girl in Goth makeup for a TV commercial.

Having grown up in the residential areas tucked behind the strips, I would say, yes, he got it about right. I’d love to see a street map of where he went–Hilton Village, which was built to house sailors shipping out during WWI? It sounds as though he made it all the way over to the 664 bridge.

Very cool. I will say that performing with James Levine and other opera superstars, you get applause inbetween the classical reserve and the pop mania that’s described here. I’ve never been blown back by applause at one of our concerts, though.

A Shadow’s on the Sundial: initial notes

My copy of the Virginia Glee Club‘s 1972 record, A Shadow’s On the Sundial, arrived today. I haven’t listened to much of it yet, but a quick scan of the first few tracks on the first side and a review of the liner notes (transcribed) provide the following observations:

  1. This is a completely different group than the rough-hewn group from 1951 (or was it 1947) that recorded Songs of the University of Virginia. No monophony here, no vigorously gasping phrases, no mediocre baritones. Don Loach should rightly be credited with introducing the tradition of countertenor singing to the Glee Club, as evidenced in the first four madrigals, and for generally setting a high level of musicianship. When I joined the group, in the second year after he and the group parted ways, much of the musical philosophy of the group was still proceeding in the fundamental direction laid down by him.
  2. Only four of the Summer Songs, settings written by the group’s conductor David Davis of poetry by the group’s student business manager, Michael B. Stillman (class of 1963), are included on the recording—not included is the oddly funny “Little Polly Ethylene.”
  3. The record’s liner notes reveal the identity of the mysterious Harrison Randolph, who in 1893 broke it out of the Glee, Mandolin and Banjo Club and set it on its path of independent existence: he was the organist in the University Chapel.

More notes as I finish listening to the record…

Virginia Glee Club 1972 European Tour

Continuing this week’s back to school theme (hey, in the fall I get a little nostalgic for UVA), I did a little more spelunking through the broken Cavalier Daily archives and turned up a review of the Glee Club’s 1972 European tour. Check out Around the Western World in Eighteen Days: A Glee Club Diary, and marvel at the thought that college students could once visit the Hofbrauhaus on a University-sponsored trip.


I had a nice walk tonight from the docks at the end of King Street in Alexandria, Virginia to my hotel. Or, it was nice for the first three blocks until the heavens opened up. Man, I forgot what thunderstorms in June are like here. I made it to the hotel, drenched, and rested a bit before heading back to Old Town and Bilbo Baggins. Where the food has been adequate and the beer, divine.

All the reviews are spot on regarding the décor here, btw. I’ve been in Michigan State college bars that had more elaborate ambience. But they didn’t have Dominion on tap, or Duchesse de Bourgogne in the bottle. Mmm, Flemish red ales.