Tradition, Camaraderie, & Musical Excellence
Camaraderie is an integral element of the Glee Club experience. It manifests itself in many ways; singing raucous songs on the bus, playing hacky sack during a stop on tour, or simply celebrating after a concert or a great rehearsal. When you ask a Glee Clubber for an example of camaraderie, the first thing they will probably say is "Cottage Inn". During these informal gatherings, the group sings, socializes, eats, and drinks. For many Glee Club alumni, when you ask them for their favorite college memory, invariably several men will reply that it is these evenings at the bar with fellow singers that they hold dear. The Pretzel Bell was the bar of choice for decades until its closing in the 1970's. After the P-Bell closed, the group moved to Cottage Inn and then Metzger's, where often they would sing for beer and pizza. The next place of choice was Pizzeria Uno's until its demise in 1999, and then, after a short stint at Pizza House, Clubbers returned to Cottage Inn in 2000. During these Thursday night gatherings, the group sings Michigan songs, as well as other Glee Club favorites. Most of the Michigan songs used to be well-known and sung around campus, but today few people other than Glee Club members know the words and melodies to these classic school songs. For many Clubbers, the Thursday evening gatherings provide their fondest memories of the group. David Wynne, a member in 1988-89, was so moved that he left $15,000 to the Glee Club, specifically for the Thursday night gatherings, after his premature death in 1993. He explains in his letter received in March 1993:
"When I was a Glee Club member, one of my favorite times was on Thursday nights after practice when many members would hike over to Uno's for pizza, beer, song, and camaraderie. I spent some very good time there. To encourage this activity in the future, which I feel is vital to the Club spirit, I would like [to create a fund from which the interest would be used for pizza and beer on Thursday evenings]. This bequest may seem frivolous, but as I have already stated, some of my fondest memories of the Glee Club are of those Thursday nights singing with a beer in my hand and friends all around. Raise a glass to me now and again."
Another incident which illustrates the importance of camaraderie is related by Robert E. Fritts, retired U.S. Ambassador in Foreign Policy and Glee Club member from 1953 to 1956:
"Each year on Spring Tour we generally ended up in New York State where the drinking age was only eighteen or nineteen. Once the final tour concert was over, we no longer had to worry about our voices, and twenty or so of us went to a local bar, took over a group of tables, and started singing. On an unseasonable warm April night in Schenectady or somewhere, the owner opened the doors and people packed in. They were also ranked four or five deep on the sidewalk. Once the crowd formed, Bob McGrath stood on a table and did Danny Boy while we ad-libbed the accompaniment. At the end, half the patrons were in tears. At this point, Bob went to the owner and stated that unless all the drinks before and after were on the house, we'd move to another bar. We got the first option."
Tradition is also a big part of the Michigan Men's Glee Club as illustrated by the Thursday night gatherings. One of the longest standing traditions in this group is singing of Laudes atque Carmina as the opening hymn of every concert. For over 100 years this song has opened every Glee Club concert. Similarly, the University of Michigan alma mater, The Yellow and Blue, has closed each concert of the group for almost as many years. Another tradition of the Club is snapping instead of clapping. The reason behind this (as legend goes) is that you can't clap and hold a beer! Another possible reason is that snapping is less disruptive than clapping during speeches and announcements. The singing of the humorous "Where Oh Where" when a member does or says something exceedingly stupid ranks among the more lighthearted traditions. This song ends with a large raspberry from the group. Another is having the new members volunteer to dress head to toe in Glee Club flyers the day before the concert at Hill Auditorium. Finally, the Michigan songs are the big tradition which binds all generations of Glee Clubbers together. Whenever members, past and present, get together, the groups ultimately end up singing several of these poignant and meaningful songs. It is these traditions, coupled with the memories of tours and concerts, which keep Glee Club alumni coming back for reunions in such large numbers--in 1992, 85% of the 1967 Glee Club came back to Ann Arbor for a reunion concert at Hill Auditorium on the 25th anniversary of their world tour.
Musical Excellence. Camaraderie. Tradition. In today's Glee Club, like the clubs that preceded it, the group attempts to achieve a balance between these three ideals. In the early years, a large focus of the group was on drinking and camaraderie instead of high-quality music. During the Duey years, the group was very serious musically, but often the rehearsals were grueling. In more recent times, Dr. Blackstone tried to keep the rehearsals focused and concentrated, but often interjected his own bit of humor to keep the mood light. Camaraderie is still an integral part of the group, but the key words are time and place--knowing when it is appropriate to focus musically and concentrate, and when it is appropriate to joke and get rowdy. The Glee Club is a old and strong campus group, and as long as it continues to maintain the right balance of its three principles, it will continue to make great music and represent the University around the world for many years to come.