The Virginia Glee Club is a critically acclaimed men’s chorus based at the University of Virginia. It performs both traditional and contemporary vocal works, typically in TTBB arrangements. Founded in 1871, the Glee Club is the University’s oldest musical organization and one of the oldest all-male collegiate vocal ensembles in the United States. It is currently conducted by Frank Albinder.
The Virginia Glee Club was founded in 1871 as the Cabell House Men. In the 1893–1894 session of the University, the Glee Club was combined with other extant student musical groups to form the Glee, Banjo, and Mandolin Club, a more permanent organization, with professor of mathematics (and University Chapel organist) Harrison Randolph as the director. During this period, the group toured major Southern cities annually, playing to standing room only crowds in Richmond and traveling as far afield as Atlanta, St. Louis. and Memphis, according to contemporary accounts, donating the profits to the Athletic Association of the University of Virginia. The group continued to perform and tour the South through the early 1900s; they are recorded as visiting Atlanta on tour under the direction of a student, John Shishmanian, in October 1905, and a contemporary letter attests to their existence in that fall 1905.
After the fall of 1905, the group disbanded and reformed periodically; University historian Philip Alexander Bruce indicates it disbanded in 1905, then reformed in 1910–1911 and began to perform again. The group went on hiatus for a year in the fall of 1912, citing “disadvantageous circumstances” with the hope of reforming later. It apparently did reform in late 1913 or early 1914, based on a January 1914 photo of the group. Finally, in January 1915, it was reorganized under the leadership of Professor Alfred Lawrence (A.L.) Hall-Quest (professor of educational psychology); Hall-Quest is said to have modeled the group after the glee club of his alma mater, Princeton University.
Since 1915, the Virginia Glee Club has been in continuous existence as a men’s chorus at the University. From the 1920s into the 1980s, the Glee Club enjoyed an association with the McIntire Department of Music through a series of directors who were members of the music faculty, including Arthur Fickenscher, Harry Rogers Pratt, Stephen Tuttle, Donald Macinnis, and Donald Loach. The group was viewed as an educational resource that enhanced other offerings; a course catalog from the 1920s offered students in the Composition class the opportunity to have their works performed by the Glee Club.
During the 1940s, the Glee Club worked with composer in residence Randall Thompson when director Stephen Tuttle commissioned Thompson to write The Testament of Freedom, a setting of Thomas Jefferson’s words about liberty, for the Virginia Glee Club. In the later years of Tuttle’s tenure, the Glee Club recorded an album with RCA of traditional university songs, accompanied by the University of Virginia Band.
In 1953, members of the Glee Club formed the Virginia Gentlemen, the oldest a cappella group at UVA, which originated as a performing subset of the Glee Club and became an independent organization in the 1980s.
The 1960s and 1970s found the group developing a specialty in Renaissance music under the direction of University professor Donald Loach, who developed a countertenor section within the group to meet the demands of the polyphonic style. At this time the group performed on national and international stages, including a performance at the State Department for the Washington Diplomatic Corps Banquet in 1968, the only college glee club to be so honored at the time. In 1971, the Z Society gave the Glee Club its Organization Award in recognition of its concerts, the recording of its album A Shadow’s on the Sundial, and its pending first European tour. The group toured Europe in 1972, funding the trip with individual and community contributions, as well as profits from their 1972 recording, A Shadow’s on the Sundial.
In 1989, the Virginia Glee Club became a Contracted Independent Organization, with substantial assistance from Gilbert J. Sullivan and the UVA Alumni Association, when the Music Department moved unilaterally to combine it with the Virginia Women’s Chorus into a mixed choir, which would have eliminated the Glee Club’s independent identity.