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150 Years of Yale Glee

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My freshman year in college, someone asked me my major. My immediate response was "Glee Club." At Yale, Glee Club is an extracurricular activity, but I continued to "major" in it all through college. The group celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, and next weekend, decades' worth of Glee Club alumni will head to New Haven, Conn., for a reunion.

Singing has always been a big part of life at Yale, no matter what you're studying. The Yale Glee Club dates back to 1861, and over time has attracted a diverse crop of future luminaries. Vincent Price and William Sloane Coffin both spent time in Glee Club, as did Cole Porter, who penned Yale's fight song "Bulldog" as an undergraduate.

Another alum is Richard Brookhiser, who is now senior editor at the National Review. In college, he was already active in conservative politics, so he enjoyed the wide cross-section of people he met in the Glee Club.

"These were people who weren't into politics, or didn't share my politics necessarily," Brookhiser says. "But when you were singing, that didn't matter, because you were all focused on the music."

Students through the years have found the Glee Club's rehearsal room in Hendrie Hall a refuge from academic and other pressures. Prochie Mukherji arrived at the Yale Law School in 1972 from India; Glee Club, she says, provided her with instant kinship.

"The Yale Glee Club really was my door to making friends and to meeting people," she says. "It was a wonderful experience to have a common language in music."

Current conductor Jeffrey Douma says the social element is key to his group.

"When the personal connections are strong," he says, "we're not only trying to serve the music and the composer, and we're not only singing for the audience, but we're also singing for each other. And we want to get it right for each other."

The reunion concert will feature 75 years's worth of Glee Club members on stage together — including this year's group, which is set to perform at Carnegie Hall on April 8th. Current senior Mari Oye says she's looking forward to it.

"I'm hoping we'll still be kicking for the 200th reunion," she says, "and we'll be able to come back to Hendrie and bawl our eyes out."

 

Fenno Heath (conductor, 1953-1992) in front of a picture of Marshall Bartholomew (conductor, 1921-1953), two of the seven men who have conducted the Yale Glee Club over its 150 years.
Fenno Heath (conductor, 1953-1992) in front of a picture of Marshall Bartholomew (conductor, 1921-1953), two of the seven men who have conducted the Yale Glee Club over its 150 years.
The Yale Glee Club appears on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1969.
The Yale Glee Club appears on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1969.
Jeffrey Douma leads the current members of the Yale Glee Club in a rehearsal.
Jeffrey Douma leads the current members of the Yale Glee Club in a rehearsal.
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