Portrait of an Artist: Samuel M. Galler '12
Samuel M. Galler ’12, president of the Harvard Din & Tonics, discusses “Glee,” Iceland, and foreign music
A cappella aficionado Samuel M. Galler ’12 is an East Asian Studies concentrator in Quincy House. As president of the all-male a cappella group the Harvard Din & Tonics, he recently led the organization on a singing tour around the globe.
The Harvard Crimson: What is your background in music?
Samuel M. Galler: I started very early on. I began playing violin when I was three, and I quit to play the cello when I was four. It’s actually kind of a funny story: I decided I didn’t want to stand up, I’d rather sit down. So I started playing the cello, and that has been my instrument ever since. I started singing in elementary school. We had a fantastic choir, and almost everyone in fourth and fifth grade did it, and that’s what sort of got me into singing. My parents met actually in orchestra, playing violin in college at the University of Toronto.
I stopped singing briefly when my voice changed in middle school, because it got really awkward and squeaky. And then I was playing tennis and I actually got injured, which happened to be a blessing in disguise because I tried out for the school musical. And then that got me into choir and I started doing a lot of musical theater and choir all through middle school and high school, and I’ve been continuing to sing ever since joining the Dins [the Din & Tonics] here at Harvard.
THC: What motivated you to join the Dins?
SMG: I knew I wanted to do a cappella before I stepped onto campus. I was the music director of an a cappella group in high school that was very similar to college a cappella groups—it was completely student-run, and we did most of our own arrangements. We actually had a little bit of mentoring from another a cappella group at Colorado University, and they helped us learn how to arrange and get off of our feet. That was one of the most fun and frustrating things that I did in high school, but I just really loved it. So when I got to Harvard, I tried out for and got into the Dins, and it’s been great ever since.
THC: How was your overall experience on the World Tour?
SMG: We’ve been singing all year, so we pretty much bring our repertoire from that year on tour and sing it again. Although this year we did a couple of new things that I was really excited about; we had a few songs that we arranged just for the tour that were in other languages. We had a song in Chinese that is a pretty famous folk song, which we were able to perform in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia. And in all of those places, there were people that knew the song and appreciated that we had taken time to learn a song in their language. We also sang two songs in Japanese that were huge hits all over Japan.
I think that’s something that really distinguishes our group. In the one sense, when we go on tour, we offer American jazz music and American collegiate a cappella, both of which are very culturally indigenous to the United States. But we also try to make a very big effort to acknowledge all the places and cultures that welcome us on tour. We did a lot of introductions for our songs in various languages—we had German, French, Chinese, Japanese, even a little Icelandic.
THC: Any interesting stories from a particular country?
SMG: One of my favorite countries was Iceland. When we were there, it was the summer and the sun never really set—it sort of ducked under the horizon and got a little dimmer, but it was still light. When we got there, we were a little jet lagged, but we sang at this Viking festival—which was already a little bit weird and crazy. They gave us capes, and had us walk around this festival where people were selling artisan goods and there were pigs hanging from screws.
THC: How do you feel about shows like “Glee” that are putting a cappella groups on the map and giving them a new ‘cool factor?’
SMG: I think it’s great. From our perspective, it’s certainly helped us get a few more opportunities to perform and more respect from professional organizations. We’ve always had a sort of interesting niche since we do jazz—we have a quirky sense of humor and we’re a little bit more old-fashioned in some ways. But I think anything that gives the arts more of a presence in everyday life is a probably a good thing for everyone.