Glee Club, The,

Glee Club, The, was founded in 1874 in response to an editorial in the February Nassau Lit, in which Andrew Fleming West 1874 (later dean of the Graduate School) lamented Princeton's lack of such a society and urged the ``University Quartet'' to ``take this matter in hand and push it energetically.'' That popular campus singing group acted quickly and vigorously; the Glee Club was formally organized at a student meeting in March and gave its first concert at Commencement time.

In its early years the Club had only thirteen members. Its modest repertoire consisted mostly of college songs, and included ``Old Nassau,'' the opening number of the first concert.

In 1876 the newly formed Instrumental Club, a rudimentary orchestra, performed at the Glee Club's spring concert. This collaboration, which continued for almost a decade, was later taken up by the Banjo Club in 1884 and the Mandolin Club in 1890; they performed at Glee Club concerts until the early 1930s. Since then, as its capabilities have grown, the Club has sung with the University and other orchestras.

Very early the Club began scheduling concerts outside of Princeton, taking brief tours during the spring recess and then longer ones at Christmastime. In 1894 the Christmas tour extended as far west as Denver, Colorado.

By the opening years of this century the Club had become particularly active during the football season. At the games Club members sat together in order to take the lead in student singing between halves, a practice that continued until the founding of the University Band in 1920. There were also occasional concerts before important games, and in 1913 Princeton, Harvard, and Yale Glee Clubs began holding dual concerts on the eve of Big Three games, a custom followed with only a few lapses ever since.

The Glee Club had a succession of instructors but no steady professional guidance until 1907 when Charles E. Burnham was appointed director. He was succeeded in 1918 by Alexander Russell, who served until 1934, when, music having gained a place in the University's curriculum, the Glee Club became a responsibility of the music faculty. James Giddings became director in 1934, Timothy Cheney in 1940, J. Merrill Knapp in 1941, Russell Ames Cook in 1943, J. Merrill Knapp in 1946, Elliot Forbes in 1952, Carl Weinrich in 1953, and Walter L. Nollner in 1958.

The Club's musical development led to a number of notable achievements in the thirties. It joined with the Philadelphia orchestra under Leopold Stokowski in the American premiere of Stravinsky's ``Oedipus Rex'' in 1931 and in performances of Sch”nberg's ``Gurrelieder'' and Wagner's ``Parsifal'' in the next two years. It presented Bach's Mass in B Minor at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1935 and with the Vassar College Choir gave the first United States performance of Jean Philippe Rameau's ``Castor et Pollux'' in 1937.

The Club continued to sing with choral groups from Vassar, Bryn Mawr, Wellesley, Mount Holyoke, and Smith until a mixed Princeton chorus was formed after the advent of coeducation. In company with singers from Smith College, the Club toured Europe in 1965 and 1968, Mexico in 1969, and South America in 1971.

In the summer of 1965 the Smith-Princeton chorus gave concerts in Munich, Salzburg, Rome, and other cities, took part in the famous choral festival at Spoleto, made a radio and television appearance in Paris, and gave a final concert in the Chartres cathedral. In 1968 they sang a Josquin des Pres mass, a Bach cantata, and other works in West Berlin, Nuremberg, Prague, Vienna, and Venice, again concluding with a concert at Chartres, which was taped for radio and television. A French critic commended their ``naturalness . . . dynamism . . . [and] truly contagious ardor of interpretation.''

The visits to Latin America were also well received. In 1969 the Smith-Princeton singers appeared with the Mexican National Symphony in Mexico City's Palace of Fine Arts. They received standing ovations throughout South America in 1971. High points of their tour were appearances with the Argentine Air Force band at a Fourth of July celebration at the United States Embassy in Buenos Aires and with the National Symphony Orchestra of Brazil in a performance of Haydn's ``Paukenmesse'' in Rio de Janeiro.

The first foreign tour of an all-Princeton mixed chorus in the spring of 1972 was sponsored by the Yale-Harvard-Princeton Club of Jamaica. In Kingston the Glee Club sang to 16,000 schoolchildren on the front lawn of the prime minister's official residence, joining with them at the end in the Jamaican national anthem.

On the 1973 trip to Mexico the Glee Club was accompanied by a chamber orchestra. They performed works of Brahms and Haydn and Latin American folk songs in five concerts, gave an informal concert at Ambassador Robert H. McBride '40's reception for them, and sang ``Old Nassau'' on top of the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuac n.

During the Latin-American tours the performers, who were guests in private homes in each country, took every opportunity to sing folk songs of the host countries as well as of the United States, and gave a number of free concerts in order to reach wide audiences. Everywhere they received a warm reception, caused in large part, Professor Nollner reported, ``by the realization that we were coming to learn and to give of our art.''

In 1974 the Club celebrated its hundredth birthday with a concert in Alexander Hall, repeated a few nights later in Carnegie Hall. An ensemble of men and women adding up to an appropriate total of 100 singers, accompanied by soloists and orchestra, presented works by Arnold Sch”nberg, who was born the same year as the Glee Club, as well as by Bach and Haydn. A Times critic complimented the singers on the ``flexible, transparent, even airy, massed tone'' they achieved in ``a program chosen and presented with . . . taste and musical discrimination.''


The quartet that originated the Glee Club in the 1870s has had its modern counterparts in small singing groups, the first of which spun off from the Glee Club before the Second World War. They called themselves the Nassoons and they became noted for their close harmony, exact blending of voices, and five- (rather than four-) part arrangements, some of which were handed down to them by their Glee Club director, a Yale Whiffenpoof.

The Nassoons were followed by two other men's groups, the Tigertones (1947) and the Footnotes (1959), and after the advent of coeducation by a women's group, the Tigerlilies (1971), and a mixed ensemble, the Katzenjammers (1975).

For the initiated, each of these groups may have its own special style, but an average listener is apt to be most impressed by something they all share: the enjoyment they take in their singing and their ability to impart that enjoyment to those who listen. This they do at paid engagements at proms and club house parties, at alumni dinners and reunions, at southern resorts during the spring recess, and on more free-spirited occasions beneath Seventy-Nine Tower after football games and at the top of Blair steps with the first sign of spring or at Christmastime.

From Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, copyright Princeton University Press (1978).

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