Bowties and baritones

BY ERIN KIRKLAND

Published December 5, 2013

I’ll be the first to tell you that I can’t sing. So I set out to explore the campus’ a cappella culture. It’s no secret that in recent years, as seen in movies such as “Pitch Perfect,” the depiction of college a cappella culture stresses the transition from stiff, straight-laced chorale groups to loosened-up groups singing mashups.

But what about the oldest student organization on campus — The Men’s Glee Club? Founded in 1859, the organization is known as the roughly 100 undergraduate and graduate men who don penguin-esque tuxedos and sport boutonnieres. Since they incorporate musical accompaniment they don’t fall underneath the a cappella umbrella, but they still straddle the line between musical tradition and modernity.

“We want to honor the traditions the 154 year old student organization holds dear . . . However it’s important to think critically about those traditions and ensure that the club’s culture evolves with the times,” said LSA senior and Club member Chris Osborn.

In doing so, the group’s set list includes both classical and contemporary selections, and a few performances from the 8 person comedic musical group known as The Friars. Each year Glee Club participates in their outreach program known as Brothers in Song, providing mentorship and musical opportunity for a local high school. And as far as loosening up goes, you can hear them singing at Cottage Inn after Thursday practices.

While documenting the group as they prepared for their fall concert, I realized that the organization stands as a musical reminder of the University’s historical tradition and legacy. In fact, each spring the club comes to a football practice to teach the next team how to properly sing "The Victors." For me, what once stood as an image of shiny shoes and neatly pressed shirts, has been replaced by the final act of the fall concert. In the last 5 minutes the group sings Michigan-specific, age-old songs—"In College Days," "The Victors," and "The University"—which echo throughout Hill’s rich-colored ceiling.

The end result of my sociological, photographic exploration? I still can’t sing. But I know of an organization on campus that certainly can.