Have you ever had a moment when you’re singing in the car with your friends (or maybe it’s the living room), and things come together for a second?
Men’s Glee Club 155th Spring Hill Concert
April 18th, 2015
“That sounded good,” someone says. You agree, and perhaps discuss how you wish you were singers.
Maybe this analogy doesn’t work for you. Maybe you just really enjoyed “Glee.” For some reason, you found the stylized group renditions preferable to their superior originals.
If this doesn’t resonate either, maybe it’s because you’ve been lucky enough to understand the unique pleasure and pull of a group of voices in person, at a concert or, in my case, to my parents’ driving music.
Finally, if you are in the group to whom the beauty of choral harmony is unfamiliar entirely, then an introductory opportunity awaits you.
“Choral music has the ability to tap into folk music from every culture, because every culture sings and has done so for thousands of years,” said Eugene Rogers, University of Michigan Men’s Glee Club director. “The ability to connect our world, that’s what makes choir singing unique.”
The Men’s Glee Club is 155 years old, making it the oldest student-run organization on campus and of one of the oldest collegiate choirs in the nation. The choir is made up of 100 men, ranging from 17 to 27 years old.
Rogers, who studied choral music education at the University of Illinois and conducting at the University of Michigan, has led the Glee Club for four years now. In this time, the choir has continued to grow in musical excellence.
“This year has been an epic year for us,” Rogers said. “We were just selected through blind audition to perform at the National Choral Directors Association Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah.”
The Glee Club is one of two collegiate choruses selected for this honor. All 100 choristers will be attending this six-day tour, entirely free of charge, due to the club’s extensive fundraising efforts and alumni support.
LSA Senior, Patrick Pjesky, the Glee Club’s current president, was in Dr. Roger’s first graduating class. Pjesky and Rogers work as a team, with Rogers handling all matters musical and Pjesky and the rest of the board managing publicity, alumni relations and other business matters. Pjesky said his involvement in the choir is what helped him land a job working in development.
“It’s a unique combination of faculty and students together running this group. If it was just one or the other, it wouldn’t be the same,” Rogers said. “That’s what makes it so strong. These guys are like my brothers.”
Pjesky added, “It’s not uncommon that I receive a call from DR (Dr. Rogers) at 11:30 on Friday night.”
Aside from the powerful camaraderie of the choir, the Glee Club is a support base for students. Each year, the Glee Club gives away over $30,000 in scholarships, made possible by the continuous involvement of over 2,500 living alumni. Chorister needs from travel expenses to tuxedo costs are covered. The choir has always been strong in providing its students with support, financial and otherwise.
“Leadership and social outreach have always been very strong within the Glee Club. Our goal is maintaining student leadership and engagement as well as the highest level of musical excellence possible,” Rogers said. “To push our musical excellence, achieving national recognition was huge, as well as exploring as many different types of male choral singing as possible.”
Constructing a diverse and meaningful repertoire is challenging. Rogers tends to organize repertoires around certain broad themes that can be applied to many occasions. This year’s theme is “homeland.”
“We focus on pieces that deal with distant and foreign lands, as well as the heart,” he said. “The word is being used in both a specific and a very general sense.”
With an entire fund dedicated to commissioning new pieces, the choir is constantly adding new music. At this year’s spring concert, the men will premiere two new pieces.
“One piece by a former University of Illinois professor is set to a David Woodsworth text. It connects to the land idea by exploring the contradictory way in which we appreciate so many things around us, yet forget the very essence of beauty in nature,” Rogers said.
Another piece is written by a Detroit native, Brandon Waddles. This gospel-inspired piece, “Come and Go to that Land,” is dedicated to Detroit Public Schools and their long tradition of musical excellence.
The wide contrast between the two pieces is typical of one of the choir’s concerts.
This Saturday, the University’s Men’s Glee Club will also be joined by the men’s glee club from the University of Miami Ohio. The two groups together will total to about 180 performers.
“It’s not common to have this many men singing at such a high level,” Rogers noted.
In addition to friends, family, administrative regulars and Ann Arbor fans, the Glee Club is looking to expand its audience, and Pjesky is helping to lead this mission.
“I am convinced that choral music is the way to bring this world together,” a Persian audience member said to Rogers after hearing his chorus sing Persian music.
Singing together creates solidarity. Music breaks barriers. The audience becomes a part of the sound and the sound a part of everything else. So, unplug your headphones and plug in to something special.