Glee Club to sing its history at Nov. 3 concert

The Cornell University Glee Club, the university’s oldest, continuously operating student organization, will celebrate its sesquicentennial with a free concert. The group will sing pieces from different eras Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. in Sage Chapel. The event is open to the public.

“We realize we’re celebrating the importance of the Glee Club’s rich history – dating back 150 years ago – as we want to propel ourselves well into the next 150 years of Cornell’s history,” said Ben Hein ’20, president of the group.

Under the direction of Robert Isaacs, assistant professor of music and the Priscilla Browning Director of Choral Programs, the Nov. 3 concert will feature such favorites as the spiritual “Got a Mind to Do Right,” “Ave Maria” arranged by Franz Biebl, Pavel Chesnokov’s “Spaséñiye Sodélal” and the English sea chanty “What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor?”

Two pieces by alumni will be performed: Thomas A. Dorsey’s “Precious Lord,” arranged by Ron Schiller ’86, and “Dona Nobis Pacem,” composed by Joseph Gregorio ’01. Isaacs called the spiritual “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel” “a real show-stopper that is energetic and fun.”

Stephen Foster’s “Gentle Annie” features a throwback tone, said Isaacs, as three Glee Club members will accompany the group on banjo and mandolin, which hark back to sounds from the club’s earliest days.

According to “Songs From The Hill,” the history of the Glee Club by Michael Slon ’92, students started to organize a glee club in November 1868. Then called the Orpheus Glee Club, Slon wrote that the group enlivened the Cornell Library Association’s anniversary celebration Jan. 21, 1869. The Ithaca Journal said it was “one of the pleasantest entertainments ever given in Ithaca.”

It was the group’s only appearance as the Orpheus Glee Club. The name changed to the Glee Club in the 1880s, and for a short time in the late 19th century, it was known as the Glee, Banjo and Mandolin Clubs. The singers returned to using the Glee Club moniker by the early 20th century.

When Thomas Sokol was appointed director of the Glee Club in 1957, the group formed a serious repertoire and took on ambitious engagements, according to Slon.

In 1960-61, the group became the first U.S. collegiate ensemble to tour the Soviet Union. The U.S. State Department sponsored the Glee Club on a three-month tour of Southeast Asia in 1966, where they sung to 100 million people in 10 countries. For Cornell’s sesquicentennial celebration of the university charter, the Glee Club practiced for and sang at Carnegie Hall in 2015, and also performed at Lincoln Center in New York City and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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 2015 Homecoming Weekend: Professor Robert Isaacs (MUSIC) speaks at the Cornell Glee Club Homecoming Concert.