September 19, 2011

Glee Club Triumphs

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The Glee Club concert is a staple of every Homecoming.  Founded in 1868, the Glee Club is Cornell University’s oldest student organization and one of the oldest men’s choirs in the United States. The concert began with only five performers on the stage of Bailey Hall on Saturday night. One was the Glee Club’s conductor, Scott Tucker, and another was John Rowel, the Glee Club’s Assistant Conductor. The other three were students: Nathaniel McEwen ‘13 singing a tenor solo, Ian Goldin ’12 playing the tambourine and Chris Heidelberger ’12 playing the triangle as they performed “The Agincourt Song.”

Silently and slowly, the rest of the Glee Club’s sixty members filed in procession onto the stage. The first half of the concert focused on conflict and war featuring different perspectives on such perennial issues and a great variety of music. The concert continued with “Crucifixus” from Selva Morale e Spirituale by Claudio Monteverdi. Known as the bad boy of music during the 17th century, Monteverdi was notorious for his strong use of dissonance. Selva Morale e Spirituale is one of Monteverdi’s most significant liturgical works. The Glee Club’s beautiful singing brought out the haunting and sinewy chromaticism of “Crucifixus.”

Another striking song was “Waitin’ for the Dawn of Peace,” which portrayed two brothers fighting in the Civil War on opposite sides. The entire choir began by singing the song’s most prominent phrase, “one wore blue and one wore grey” in unison. Quickly, the choir split into different contrapuntal parts, singing gorgeous harmonies.

My favorite song was “Last Letter Home,” which the Glee Club and a consortium of choirs commissioned American composer, Lee Hoiby, to write. Hoiby, who passed away this past March, was a talented American vocal composer most well known for his opera Summer & Smoke. Unfortunately, his music is not frequently performed today, which is why I was happy to see the Glee Club performing his beautiful song. The text for the song is a letter written by Army PFC Jesse A. Givens who died in May 2005. Givens wrote the letter to be delivered to his family if he died. The song was incredibly moving, especially the last line in which the soldier says to his wife, “Don’t forget to smile.”

“Last Letter Home” led directly into Stephen Chatman’s “Reconciliation.” The two songs complimented each other nicely. Ithaca College’s School of Music trumpet professor, Frank Campos, beautifully performed the flugelhorn with the Glee Club. The flugelhorn is similar to the trumpet. The flugelhorn’s softer tone worked well with the choir and sounded like a wordless singer. “Reconciliation” used text from Walt Whitman’s Drum Taps, which focuses on the unity of all people, even those fighting against each other. The text poignantly notes that war creates personal losses for everyone.

The second half of the concert was very uplifting, featuring spirituals. Scott Tucker arranged one of the spirituals “Steal Away,” which featured many talented Glee Club soloists throughout the song. After the spirituals, the Glee Club’s A capella subset, The Hangovers performed. Always a crowd favorite, the Hangovers sang many fan favorites, such as “Brown Eyed Girl,” and even invited Hangover alumni from the audience to join them on stage.  Before rejoining the Glee Club, the Hangovers initiated a surprise performance of “Happy Birthday” from the chorus and the entire audience to celebrate Scott Tucker’s birthday. As the concert concluded, Tucker invited more alumni to join in singing Cornell songs. This year’s Homecoming was the earliest ever, allowing the Glee Club only two weeks of preparation for their concert. Despite the lack of time, the Glee Club’s concert was very successful, and the entire audience enjoyed it. Gleemen Ben Lillard ’14 mentioned that several alumni said this year’s Homecoming concert was one of the best they had ever seen.

The festivities continued long after the concert with a reception at the Big Red Barn.  Many alumni joined the choir perform songs together throughout the reception. Several Glee Club members listed the alumni as one of the best aspects of the Glee Club. Dan Kuhr ’13 mentioned that the alumni are not only eager to help the Glee Club as a group, but also delighted to aid individual members of the Glee Club. One Glee Club alumni, Victor Erali (’69) described returning to the Glee Club Homecoming concerts as feeling as if he never left.

The Glee Club has performed all over the world. In addition to their international performances, they also have toured in the United States with sold-out-performances at the Kennedy Center (Washington D.C.), Alice Tully Hall (Lincoln Center, New York City) and even sang a private performance at the Supreme Court for Cornell alumna Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and guests. The Glee Club has performed with major orchestras lead by noted conductors, such as Michael Tilson Thomas, Eugene Ormandy and Nadia Boulanger. The Glee Club frequently commissions new music from composers such as Daniel Kellog, Norbert Paleg and Bernard Rands. For their Midwest tour this January, the Glee Club commissioned composers from the University of Chicago: Shulamit Ran and Augusta Read Thomas.

The talented Scott Tucker, Cornell University’s Priscilla Edwards Browning Director of Choral Music, leads the Glee Club. In addition to conducting the Glee Club, Tucker also conducts the Cornell University Chorus. He has been the Repertoire and Standards Chair for Male Choirs in the Eastern Division of the American Choral Directors Association and is a board member of Intercollegiate Men’s Choirs. John Rowehl, the Assistant Director of Choral Activities at Cornell University, also leads the Glee Club. In addition to serving as Assistant Conductor of the Glee Club and the Chorus, Rowehl conducts Cornell University’s Chorale and Chamber Singers. He is currently a doctoral student in the Performance Practice program within Cornell’s Music Department.

Chorus fans take note — the next chorus concert is the State Choir of Russia performing on Thursday, October 27 at 8 p.m. in Sage Chapel. The same week, Cornell’s all-female ensemble, Chorus, performs their annual Twilight Concert for First Year Parents’ Weekend on Saturday, October 29 at 5 p.m. in Sage Chapel.

Original Author: Liza Sobel