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Glee Club returns home

JON RETARTHA | Thursday, October 30, 2003

The weather may be getting colder, but the Notre Dame Glee Club is just getting warmed up for its Fall Concert weekend. This group of about sixty male performers has already taken the South by storm, spending fall break touring Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Illinois and Pennsylvania, and now they are gearing up for their return to South Bend on Thursday and Friday.

The Glee Club has a rich tradition in music at the University, spanning eighty-eight years and 2,000 participants. The group is particularly known for its close-knit membership, with many members choosing to live together both on and off campus. The Glee Club also has a very strong Alumni club, as was seen earlier in the football season as dozens returned to sing on the field during the annual Glee Club Alumni Weekend.

Known as “the musical ambassadors of Notre Dame,” these young men tour the country and the world while also dedicating their time to developing and strengthening their talents while not performing. This dedication stems from a shared love for music, as is seen in the variety of different performances they put on each year, with audiences from four to 4,000. They have four premier performances each year – one in the fall, one for Christmas, one in the spring and one for Commencement. Some of their smaller performances include events on home football weekends and at freshman orientation activities. Their attire also mirrors their performances, ranging from polo shirts and khakis to bow ties and tails.

The men of the Notre Dame Glee Club tour many parts of the country, including many Southern states, New England and the Midwest. They tour twice a year and hit anywhere from seven to ten engagements in a tour. In addition to the American tours, they travel abroad every two years. Their most recent tour, in the summer of 2003, included bookings in Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, France, Spain and Ireland. The 2001 tour traveled through Bangkok, Singapore, Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong and Taipei. They have also toured the Middle East as well.

Before all this jet setting and fame can materialize, however, a prospective member must go through the audition process. Many of the members are quick to point out, though, that the audition is not the spotlight on a dark, empty stage that many would imagine. Nor are the judging members Simon Cowell impersonators. Most auditions are held in the fall, at the beginning of the year, but some may be held at mid-year if the numbers warrant it. The audition process is very informal, and all male members of the Notre Dame community are welcome to try out, regardless of experience. As their club Web site points out, “singing in the shower is documentable singing experience!” The audition itself does not even require prepared music, but is rather a chance for the director, Dan Stowe, to simply get a feeling for the ability of the applicant in regards to matching a pitch or holding a tune. The ability to read music is not required. The second aspect of the audition process is an interview with several glee club members.

The Glee Club has a repertoire rich in Notre Dame Tradition. Some of the songs that make their way frequently into performances include the “Victory March,” the “Alma Mater,” “Hike Notre Dame,” “Irish Backs,” “On Down the Line” and “Notre Dame We Hail Thee.” They also specialize in many Irish classics, such as “My Wild Irish Rose,” “Loch Lomond,” “Danny Boy” and “Clancy Lowered the Boom.” Several spiritual tunes are favorites of the Glee Club as well, including “Got a Mind to Do Right” and “Swing Down Chariot.”

All of these years of performing these classic songs have given birth to an extensive recording career for the Notre Dame Glee Club. Their latest release, In Dulci Jubilo, exhibits many of the Christmas tunes performed in during the holiday season by the club. Their album Under the Dome mirrors their fall and spring performances, with mixtures of classical songs and Notre Dame Traditions. Shake Down the Thunder is the collection of Notre Dame Fight songs performed by the Glee Club. Finally, Music from the Basilica highlights many Renaissance pieces performed in Glee Club concerts.

Much of the broadening of the club’s collection of music is attributed to Stowe, who is entering his tenth year at Notre Dame. After doing graduate work at the University of Southern California and Cornell University, he went on to conduct the U.C. Davis Chorus, Chamber Singers and Early Music Ensemble, as well as the Cornell University Chorale. He also serves as the Notre Dame Orchestra conductor.

The Glee Club is ready to embark on another exciting year of concerts at Notre Dame. With music that everyone will enjoy, this Halloween weekend is the perfect time to experience one of Notre Dame’s unique treasures. Performances are Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m. in Washington Hall. Tickets may be purchased at the door or at the LaFortune box office. The Thursday performance is free of charge, and the Friday performance is $3.00.