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History of the Glee Club

The Rutgers University Glee Club is one of the oldest and most distinguished men’s choruses in the United States. Tracing its roots back to 1872, the Rutgers Glee Club has been among the nation’s premier collegiate choirs for one hundred and forty years. Founded by a group of sophomores under the leadership of Edwin E. Colburn, the Rutgers College Glee Club performed its first concert in Metuchen in March of 1873. The Glee Club is strongly linked to the history of Rutgers University, and its early repertoire was dominated by songs of school spirit and the emerging collegiate sport of football. The Club’s early directors, Loren Bragdon and Howard D. McKinney took the then small group of students and shaped it into one of the University’s signature student groups and a fine choral ensemble.

F. Austin “Soup” Walter became director in 1946 and led the Club through four prosperous and active decades. In addition to numerous appearances on campus and abroad, the Glee Club formed the nucleus of the men’s section of the Rutgers University Choir. This mixed choir went on to perform major works with many of the era’s most significant orchestral ensembles, including the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra, under the batons of such notable conductors as Erich Leinsdorf, Leonard Bernstein, and Eugene Ormandy. Recordings from that era that feature the Glee Club include Orff’s Carmina Burana (still available on compact disc on Sony’s Essential Classics series) and a Grammy-nominated performance of Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, both conducted by Ormandy with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The Glee Club had several distinguished directors after Soup’s retirement in 1983, including Frederic Hugh Ford, Timothy L. McDonald, Robert Kapilow, Stephen E. Barton, and Bruce Kolb. Under the direction of Dr. Patrick Gardner since 1993, the Glee Club has moved to the forefront of men’s choral music, performing on a national (and international) stage and commissioning new works from major composers. In 2000, the Glee Club hosted the National Seminar of Intercollegiate Men’s Choruses, highlighting the conference with the premiere of The Miracle, commissioned from Pulitzer Prize-winning composer William Bolcom; the club also appeared at the 2004 seminar at Harvard and the 2008 seminar in Vienna, VA. The Glee Club also performed at the 2010 IMC conference held at Miami University of Ohio, performing Eliot Carter’s Tarantella and Steven Sametz’s Dulcis Amor on that program. The Club has performed at the invitation of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA), singing at the national convention in San Antonio in 2001, the eastern division conventions in New York City in 2006 and 2020, and in Philadelphia in 2010; the 2006 performance included the premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s Voice of the Bard, commissioned for the Glee Club.

The Glee Club has also been invited to perform with some of the finest orchestras at the area’s most prominent venues. In 2000, the Club performed Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia; the following year, the Club appeared at Carnegie Hall to present the New York premiere of The Miracle. Critics from the New Jersey Star Ledger and Home News Tribune lauded the Club’s “wonderful” performance, which displayed “Patrick Gardner’s superb direction.” In 2003, the club joined the Philadelphia Singers to present Berlioz’s Requiem at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts and in the spring of 2006, the Club joined the men of the Riverside Choral Society and Kirkpatrick Choir to sing Shostakovich’s Symphonies No. 2 and 3 with conductor Valery Gergiev and the Rotterdam Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall. That fall, the same choral forces returned to Avery Fisher Hall to perform Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 “Babi Yar,” with Maestro Gergiev and the Kirov Orchestra. The chorus also premiered a newly-discovered piano arrangement of the first movement, joined by pianists Misha and Cipa Dichter.

The Glee Club has increased its international profile with several tours that have included concerts at significant venues across Europe. In 1996, Dr. Gardner led the Club on a tour of the Baltic States, followed by a tour of Eastern Europe in 1999. The 2003 tour to Germany, France, and the Netherlands was highlighted by the performance of the Pentecost Vigil Mass at the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, as well as appearances at the invitation of the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Chartres and Eglise Saint-Sulpice. In 2007, the Club returned to Germany and the Netherlands, singing at such venues as the Berliner Dom, Dresden’s Dreikönigskirche, and the Thomaskirche of Leipzig. In 2011, the Glee Club toured Italy, singing at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, Venice, Florence, and more. The most recent tour occurred in 2018, which saw the Glee Club travel to Sweden, Finland, and, in honor of 100 years of independence, Estonia. These tours have fostered relationships with notable European choirs; one such group is Cantabile Limburg of Limburg, Germany, who traveled to the United States to sing with the Glee Club at Rutgers, New York’s Riverside Church, and the Intercollegiate Men’s Choruses seminar in Virginia. The Glee Club plans to continue this tradition by going on another international tour of Italy in the spring of 2022. Other highlights of recent seasons have included concerts at Mount Holyoke College, Wellesley College, Lehigh University, and the University of Pittsburgh.