Few campus groups can boast that past members had fought in the civil war, but heading into its 150-year anniversary, the Men’s Glee Club can.
The oldest student organization on campus, the Glee Club was formed in 1859 by a small group of men. Since then, it’s steadily grown to include about 100 students representing all schools within the University.
LSA senior Eric Portenga, the Glee Club’s publicity manager, said only a few of the club’s members hail from the School of Music. Instead, he described the group as simply a collaboration of “guys who like to sing.”
“Most sang in high school and wanted to keep doing it,” he said. “What better way than to join a group with a rich history?”
LSA junior Greg Fear, the Glee Club’s historian, said beyond the singing, the history of the club is just as important.
“It is interesting to be a part of a group as old as we are and to really respect it,” he said.
Many of the songs they sing stem from the early 1900s when club members performed in operas held at the Union. Because only men were allowed to perform in the operas, they took on women’s roles as well, making for “an interesting array of music,” Fear said.
While the club has certainly changed with the times, Fear said, it still retains many of the traditions of its past. For over 100 years the club has opened its concerts with “Laudes atque Carmina,” a song about the University sung in Latin. They’ve been ending each concert with traditional Michigan songs for almost as long.
Glee Club alumni are invited to join the group on stage to sing the Michigan alma mater at the end of every concert. Last Friday, the 1939 Glee Club President Dr. Colvin Gibson sang with the group in Washington D.C., Fear said.
And in a more social tradition, every Thursday after rehearsals, members hang out at Cottage Inn over pizza and beer. David Wynne, a past member, left the club $15,000 when he died – specifically to fund the Thursday night outings because he said he enjoyed them so much. Once a semester, club members celebrate “David Wynne Day” and enjoy a night out on his tab.
The group goes on regional tours every winter and summer, along with performing internationally once every four years. They’ll be jetting off to Spain at the end of this month.