Men's Glee Club searches for lyricist

Sunday, September 11, 2016 - 3:04pm

The University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club is preparing early for the University's bicentennial celebration, launching a contest earlier this month for a lyricist for a new song they plan to perform at the November 2017 festivities.

All students, alumni, and faculty members are eligible to submit to the contest. It will close on November 15th, after which a committee of the Glee Club’s director, the song’s composer and student members of the Glee Club will choose the winning lyrics. The song will be added to a Michigan songbook, which contains all the Michigan songs ever written including "The Victors" and other traditions.

Eugene Rogers, associate director of choirs and conducting with School of Music, Theater, Dance and the director of the Men’s Glee Club, said there is a precedent for this type of contest at the University, tracing back to the alma mater, “Yellow and Blue.”

“Charles Mills Gayley wrote the very first Michigan song, the alma mater,” he said. “He responded to a student ad and received twenty dollars for writing the alma mater as we know today. And that’s the case for a lot of our Michigan songs.”

After the committee has chosen the lyrics for the new song, Kristin Kuster, professor of composition with SMTD, will compose a piece of music to accompany them.

Rogers said Kuster is the first woman to compose for the Men’s Glee Club and add to the compilation of Michigan songs.

“So that’s for us really a triple excitement because we have a brand new text, a brand new piece written by a new composer, as well as the first female professor to compose it,” Rogers said.

Kuster noted she is only the second woman to receive tenure in the Composition Department at the University and said she is honored that the Glee Club asked her to write the piece.

“I am grateful to be part of this important milestone in the Men's Glee Club's commissioning history,” Kuster said. “I am committed to advocating for the underrepresented composers in our contemporary classical music scene; namely, female composers and composers of color. My hope is that my presence in commissioning projects such as this will help transform our field into a more inclusive, and therefore more enriched culture of music making.”

She said she will have ample inspiration to help her compose the song, coming particularly from students.

"This opportunity to write again for our Men's Glee Club is thrilling, and I am excited,” Kuster said. “The inspiration for writing music for this group for this occasion surrounds us on our campus: it is exuded by all of our students, across every discipline.”

The piece, she added, will be inspired by a series of emotions she's oberved on campus.

The expressions of nostalgia, pride, and/or camaraderie that emerge from this new piece will be dependent on the lyrics we choose, yet also will drench every single note on the page,” she said. “All of these feelings will inevitably be present because I adore this place.”

This new Michigan song, once completed, will premier at the Glee Club’s spring concert in April. They will also perform the new song during their annual spring tour, which has a bicentennial theme this year. Finally, it will be performed as a part of the University’s bicentennial celebrations in November 2017.

SMTD senior Patrick Kiessling, president of the Glee Club, said he was looking forward to participating in this new part of the Glee Club’s repertoire.

“To be commissioning and helping create a new Michigan song with the Glee Club, that will be in this Michigan songbook and a part of the Glee Club and the University’s history for the next years to come, is truly a unique privilege,” Kiessling said. “We’re really excited to be writing the first chapter of this new song’s story with the Glee Club.”

The Glee Club sings a few selections from the Michigan songbook at their end-of-semester concerts, and Kiessling said finding out which songs is always a large part of preparation for these concerts.

“We always enjoy learning which Michigan songs we get to perform during our semesterly concerts in Hill Auditorium,” he said. “We really enjoy them, they’re all beautiful, moving pieces and very personal, obviously, for us as a group at the University of Michigan.”

Kiessling said he is hoping for lyrics that highlight the best parts of the University.

“We are looking for lyrics that help celebrate the University, the fact that it has remained such an incredible location and avenue of opportunity for so many for the past 200 years,” he said.

He said another important requirement for the lyrics is the inclusion of the three main ideals of the Glee Club, which are tradition, camaraderie and musical excellence. However, he added that beyond these requirements, there's a large range of possibilities for the song.

“These lyrics are fairly open-ended as well, so we look forward to seeing all of the different submissions we’ll receive, and all the creativity that the University of Michigan tends to foster,” Kiessling said.

Kuster echoed his sentiments.

“Because our lyrics will come from U-M-affiliated writers, we also expect we'll be moved by something beautifully and brilliantly unexpected,” she said.