Renaming Alderman

Cavalier Daily: Board of Visitors to vote on renaming Alderman Library, undergraduate tuition increases. Renaming the soon-to-be-rebuilt Alderman Library after Edgar Shannon has a number of benefits, starting with signaling that Alderman’s white supremacist and eugenicist views no longer are acceptable at the University. That Shannon oversaw a substantial expansion of the racial integration underway when he became the University’s fourth president AND ushered in undergraduate coeducation is kind of the icing on the cake.

For context: Alderman is widely known to have held white supremacist views. He has been quoted as saying, “It is settled, I believe, that this white man who has shown himself so full of courage and force, shall rule in the South, because he is fittest to rule.” He appointed white supremacist professors and spoke at the unveiling of the infamous statue of Robert E. Lee.

The article linked above names a few eugenicists associated with the University of Virginia in the early 20th century. Another was John Powell, composer, pianist, and eugenicist, who co-founded the Anglo-Saxon Clubs of America. That organization sponsored the Virginia Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which was eventually overturned in the decision of Loving vs. Virginia. Powell was named an honorary member of the Virginia Glee Club in 1935.

Sixteen years after Powell was named an honorary member, Edwin S. Williams became the Virginia Glee Club’s first African-American member. Four years later, he was refused service at a truck stop on the way back from a performance with Club at the National Gallery of Art. Glee Club conductor Donald Loach complained to Edgar Shannon, who had Paul Saunier investigate. Saunier, who had been instrumental in convincing businesses on the Corner to de-segregate or risk losing UVA custom, was able to accomplish the same feat with the truck stops along Route 29.

Acknowledging the painful parts of our history—as a University, as America—means that we also get to acknowledge the parts we get right. Nothing is perfect, but when we take action to correct past injustices, we help to bend the arc of the universe just a small bit.


I was at the Virginia Glee Club annual dinner last night, and as always it was the perfect combination of reconnection and reminders of the passing of time. The more often I come to these things, the more the members of the Club and their guests look like my friends, and also like they could be my children. (One young woman at our table, whom I had first met at last year’s dinner, let me know that her mother was UVA class of 1989, or just a few years older than me; then there was the mother of another member who was herself class of 1993.)

The University itself is in constant change; as my cab driver remarked on the way into town from the airport, “It wouldn’t be Charlottesville without something under construction.” This time of course it was Alderman Library, which is famously losing its incredibly dense and labyrinthine stacks and gaining … something. But also it was the building to the right of New Cabell Hall that was under reconstruction, and the myriad of businesses that didn’t survive the pandemic. And even the inn I stayed at, which when I was in school was student apartments; a friend lived there for a few years.

So it was in a pensive mood as I walked back to my hotel from breakfast, and decided to take a different route around Grounds. And found myself walking through Dawson’s Row. I’ve only written a little bit about the Row — all that remains of a set of buildings of varying purposes and origins that originally stretched in an arc from Monroe Hill to where the front steps of New Cabell Hall now stand. Some were originally constructed as dormitories; these were demolished over the years, and no trace of them remains.

One housed Arthur Fickénscher, the first professor of music at the University and conductor of the Virginia Glee Club from 1932 to 1933.

One was built as the parsonage for the University, becoming the first building constructed for religious purposes on Grounds. Built in 1850, it appears to have been expanded in the later 19th century, gaining Italianate porches and roof brackets and possibly losing a rear porch (seen as the black line across the brickwork in the second photo).

And one, inevitably, was slave quarters for James Monroe’s house across the way at Monroe Hill, or so oral tradition says:

The latter buildings, along with a late 19th century cottage, comprise the Office of African American Affairs at the University. I never saw the buildings as an undergraduate; I knew they were there but had no reason to engage with them. It was only recently, as I was writing Ten Thousand Voices and reading works about the University to inform my research, that I thought about why the OAAA was so important. It came as I was reading The Key to the Door, which I highly recommend for those looking to understand how UVA integrated in the 1950s and 1960s—and, to be honest, through the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s.

And through that research, the way I view the University has changed. I still feel it is my home; in some ways, I belong to it more than ever. But I now can see where the footprints of enslaved laborers were. And yes, some aspects of the University have changed. But that’s not where the most important changes have been. As I learn, as I dig, as I acknowledge that I am old enough to be these young adults’ parents, I feel even more keenly the responsibility of the past, the need to own this story and tell it and compel action from it.

More 10K publicity

A few more items for the press scrapbook for Ten Thousand Voices:

This article about summer reading from UVA affiliated authors was posted in UVA Today on June 27. It links to the Author’s Corner interview.

I also announced the book on UVA Magazine‘s website. It’ll be interesting to see if it makes the print edition.

A reminder that the book is now available for sale everywhere.

Author’s corner

The publicity for Ten Thousand Voices: 150 Years of the Virginia Glee Club has begun, now that books are shipping from the warehouse and into the hands of readers. Yesterday University of Virginia Press published an interview with me in their Author’s Corner, in which we discussed some of what led to the book’s publication and some of the stories within it.

It was harder than I thought to pinpoint some of my favorite stories from the book. I had to pass up talking about the early Glee Club member who was paid for legal services with a trunk full of gems, as well as the Glee Club concert in Washington that was interrupted by a speech attacking the Jewish owner of Monticello for refusing to surrender the property to a nonprofit. But in the end I had to go with the story about running from our bus to the Jefferson Memorial to sing for the President on Thomas Jefferson’s 250th birthday.

Glee Club Bandcamp: In Concert: Openings and Christmas, 1968

1968 Openings Concert program, first page

This edition of Virginia Glee Club Bandcamp features a surprise I found a few years ago. As the Glee Club historian, I regularly search online for information about the group’s history as more materials are digitized, and this time I found information in an unexpected place: Etsy. In particular, the Etsy shop of an antiques dealer in Florida, who had a Glee Club record that I had never seen before—recordings from 1968, including a fall concert and Christmas.

I bought the thing, of course. I was filled with some trepidation when it arrived and I noted that the album jacket (which was a generic blue cardboard sleeve with no printing or image) was torn in one corner and damaged—possibly even chewed—in another. But the record looked OK. So I dropped it on the turntable, played it, and was delighted to realize that, based on the repertoire, it was indeed a recording of parts of the 1968 Openings Concert and the 1968 Christmas Concert.

The 1968 Openings Concert was notable for a few things. First, it was the fifth year of Donald Loach’s tenure, so while there are definitely signs of his trademark style emerging, it’s not fully there. Second, the Openings program in particular opened for the first time with a song that would become part of Loach’s signature repertoire, “Hark, All Ye Lovely Saints Above,” but then featured a set of twentieth-century compositions that the group would return to only a few times in his tenure: “Here is the God Who Looks Both Ways” and “Thy Word is a Lantern.” Most durably in terms of the group’s repertoire, the Openings Concert also featured the debut recording of “Vir-ir-gin-i-a,” arranged by Loach from a march tune of Handel and featuring a text written by former Glee Club member Arthur Kyle Davis, Jr.

We actually know less about the Christmas Concert, as we have not found a full program listing. But the recording has a few highlights, including the earliest known performance of the “Gloria” from Josquin’s Missa Mater Patris, a work that the Glee Club would not perform again for another 24 years. The Dufay “Gloria” is spectacular here, as is the unexpected closing, the coronation scene from Boris Godounov by Mussorgsky.

Have a listen, and if you enjoy it, please remember that all proceeds from Glee Club Bandcamp sales go directly to support the Virginia Glee Club.

Glee Club Bandcamp: A Dove in the Hall and Songs of the University of Virginia

We have a twofer today, on the cusp of the weekend long celebration of the Virginia Glee Club’s 150th anniversary. The first new album on Bandcamp is A Dove in the Hall. Recorded on the Glee Club’s 1992 Tour of the South under John Liepold, this concert features the Club’s 1991-1992 repertoire in an entirely different acoustical setting. While tunes such as “Come, Heavy Sleep” and “Soon-Ah Will Be Done” had featured on the Club’s setlists that year, in the remarkable resonance of Holy Name Chapel at Loyola University they took on entirely new dimensions. Indeed, throughout the recording you can hear Liepold and the group adjusting their performance to the echo in the hall, at times lengthening cutoffs by a full measure to let the reverb add new colors to the performance. As conductor Robert Shaw once said, “If you want the Dove to descend, you have to clean out the birdcage,” and this group had done that in spades. Listen below.

The second album being released digitally today is the legendary Songs of the University of Virginia. The first record album that the Glee Club ever released (though not the first recorded—more on that later), the record features almost exclusively Virginia songs, including the alma maters, “Hike, Virginia,” an entirely clean version of “From Rugby Road to Vinegar Hill,” and, unusually, the songs for two University “ribbon societies,” Eli Banana and T.I.L.K.A. The Glee Club is accompanied by the University Band in most of these recordings, made live in Old Cabell Hall, and is enthusiastic, if not always nuanced; you can see the recording sessions in the photo below.

Glee Club records Songs of the University of Virginia in Old Cabell Hall. Courtesy Small Special Collections, University of Virginia

The album is well worth a listen, despite the passing of the tide of years, as a reminder of where the Glee Club started and how far it came.

Check it out on Bandcamp today!

Glee Club Bandcamp: 51st Annual Christmas Concert

Another Christmas album? A little warm for that, isn’t it?

Yes, perhaps. But this Christmas album is notable for a bunch of reasons:

  1. First Virginia Glee Club recording during John Liepold’s tenure as conductor
  2. First recording of his re-scoring of the Duruflé “Ubi Caritas,” which took advantage of the group’s countertenor section to create a close harmony version of the song that would become one of the signatures of the group during Lieopold’s tenure
  3. First ever Glee Club performance of “The Winter Song.” The wolf winds are wailing from the doorways… without some of the sound effects that later generations of Club guys added to the performance.
  4. Really beautiful trio of “O Magnum Mysterium” settings
  5. Most of the Maurice Duruflé Messe “Cum Jubilo,” featuring Duruflé’s pupil Yvaine Duisit on the Old Cabell Hall organ, and solos from Poulson Reed and Matt Benko

Go check it out!

Glee Club Bandcamp: Three Songs (1956)

Donald MacInnis with Glee Club accompanist Barry Rogers, ca. 1956

Today’s update to the Virginia Glee Club Bandcamp page is a little unusual. For one thing, before I found a copy of it online a few years ago, we had no idea it existed. These three songs were recorded on a promotional record, an acetate that was sent to radio stations in the hope of garnering live radio gigs for the Glee Club. This was a strategy that actually paid off in 1956, with an appearance on WTVR.

Donald MacInnis was the Glee Club’s conductor for most of the 1950s; his tenure was notable for launching the Virginia Gentlemen. It is therefore unsurprising that this record combines “highbrow” repertoire (a Bach motet) with something a little more popular; what is perhaps surprising is the choice of a Tom Lehrer song, only a year or two after Lehrer’s first record became a collegiate hit.

As we continue the Bandcamp series of digital releases, we’re going to get into some increasingly interesting territory, with recordings that haven’t been heard for years. I’m thrilled to be able to share this one, especially for our 1950s Glee Club alumni that are still with us.

Glee Club Bandcamp: 50th Annual Christmas Concert

Does the Dolby logo make anyone else feel nostalgic? How about the chrome tape info?

It’s time for another Virginia Glee Club recording on Bandcamp! This one is an anniversary milestone: the 50th Annual Christmas Concert! Featuring highlights from the performances at St. Paul’s and Old Cabell on December 7-8, 1990, when I was but a wee first year, this is one you’ll want to check out. As always, the proceeds go to the Virginia Glee Club.

This year was Michael Butterman’s last as our interim conductor, and he brought a lot, as usual, to the proceedings, including some of the nicest Baroque orchestra performances to accompany a Glee Club concert on record. Which is why your bonus photo for today is from the St. Paul’s performance of a young Butterman getting his bow tie adjusted by an even younger John Vick. Ah, history.

You can preview the album on Bandcamp.

Virginia Glee Club Bandcamp Friday: A Shadow’s on the Sundial

Today’s next album in the Virginia Glee Club Bandcamp discography is a classic, A Shadow’s on the Sundial. I’ve written about this album before, but aside from the folks that were there at the time (and people like me who have scored copies on eBay), very few people have had a chance to hear it. Now’s your chance!

In addition to featuring the only recording of David Davis‘s Summer Songs, there are some outstanding performances of staples of the Glee Club’s repertoire from the 1970s and 1980s including “Shoot, false love” and “Hark, all ye lovely saints.” And it’s a really great chance to hear the Loach-era Glee Club at the beginning of their great stretch in the 1970s—after all, this was the album that raised funds to take the Glee Club on their first European tour!

Listen and buy here! As a reminder, all proceeds from sales go to support the Glee Club.

From the Virginia Glee Club archives, on Bandcamp

As I was writing Ten Thousand Voices, one of the things that kept hitting me was that it was a little like dancing about architecture. How could readers who hadn’t listened to all the various recordings connect with some of the stories about the music that is the Virginia Glee Club’s mission?

We’re addressing a bit of that today with an experiment. Music for a Noble Acoustic, released on cassette in 1993 and capturing the Glee Club’s early 1990s repertoire in concert, is now available for preview and purchase on Bandcamp, on the Virginia Glee Club’s very own artist page. You can now hear what the group sounded like under John Liepold, as well as hearing early renditions of “The Winter Song,” “Shenandoah” and other Club favorites.

This is an experiment. There are a lot more recordings awaiting remaster and publishing if this one works out, so all are encouraged to check it out.

And one of the benefits of the Bandcamp platform is the ability to embed a preview here, so check it out!

Ten Thousand Voices, Coming Soon

Cover of the forthcoming history of the Virginia Glee Club

I’ve been working on Ten Thousand Voices, the book about the history of the Virginia Glee Club for … a really long time. Finally you’ll be able to buy the book—it’s being published this spring and will be distributed through the University of Virginia Press.

Featuring some of the stories I’ve told on this blog, and much more, the book can be pre-ordered in many places. (Please note that, some of the options on that link to the contrary, audiobook and ebook versions aren’t available yet!) I’m so looking forward to getting the book into your hands.

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.

New year, new writing

I haven’t written much on the blog in a while. But that’s not because I haven’t been writing.

On Wednesday, December 30, I finished my first draft of a book I’ve been working on, off and on, for years: the history of the first 150 years of the Virginia Glee Club. Sort of finished, anyway: I closed the document, took our dog for a walk, and realized when I walked back in the door that I had forgotten things.

I expect to continue to have that realization for a while. There is, of course, a lot of ground to cover, and I’ve inevitably left things out—like the biographies of many individual Glee Club members I’ve researched over the years. Or important historical events that add context to the work. Or…

Well, you get the drift. The reality is that the work that I’ve done on the history of the group is spread across a bunch of places: Glee Club newsletters, the history wiki, even a Pinterest board I started over the summer. The book will hopefully, for the interested reader, be the tip of the iceberg.

And now I can, maybe, start writing in other places. Like here. Someday.

Just as soon as I get the thing published. And that’ll be a whole different journey that I will share as I am able.

Finding faces from 84 years ago

“Glee Club,” 1930s, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library

My latest exercise in madness has been an effort to index all the images on the Virginia Glee Club History Wiki. In doing so, I took the opportunity to link images to their sources where I could and to find some more context, including trying to identify individuals in photos. Which brings me to the photo above.

There might be no more momentous photo from the early years of the Glee Club. It’s one of the better photos of legendary Club conductor Harry Rogers Pratt (conductor from 1933 to 1943), a showman who took the group to New York City, got them their first radio gigs, and instituted the Concert on the Lawn, among other achievements. And just over his left shoulder, eyes closed, is one of the more famous Glee Club alums, at least to UVA graduates, Ernest Mead. The two professors together had about 80 years of teaching UVA students between them.

But who were the other students with them? I decided to find out. Thankfully Corks and Curls came to the rescue.

The man on the left is the easiest guess. Since Mead was only in the Glee Club in 1936-1937, that narrowed the field, and my first guess proved correct. Say hello to Mac—or McDonald Wellford, president during that year. The only reason I was able to make the identification was thanks to a fraternity brother, Mr. Bosher, who donated photographs to the UVA online exhibit “100 Years on the Lawn” (sadly, the exhibit is no longer available and was not archived. Boo!) Wellford, like many a Glee Club alum, went on to practice law, and was the commissioner of accounts for the chancery court and the circuit court of the City of Richmond from 1963 to 1994.

After that it gets a little squirrelly, but thanks to Corks and Curls I was finally able to identify the other two men. Next to Mac stands Chester Harris Robbins, of Worcester, Massachusetts, who sang in the Glee Club from 1933 to 1937.

And at the end is the distinctive visage of Kenneth Seaman Giniger, who had the most colorful career of any of the alums. While a student, he instituted the Jefferson Society’s Woodrow Wilson Memorial Banquet, with guests including five US senators, the University’s president, a Supreme Court justice, and the governor of Virginia, to say nothing of Mrs. Woodrow Wilson (Edith Bolling Wilson), who was elected as an honorary member of the Society by the end of the evening, the first woman to be so honored. After serving in World War II, Giniger became the assistant to the director of the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency in 1951-1952. And then he went into publishing, forming the K.S. Giniger Company and writing inspirational books. He might be the only person to receive both the French Legion of Honor and the Norman Vincent Peale Award for Positive Thinking.

So, quite a gathering in one unassuming photo!