Glee Club First to Try Classical Music

Started College Trend to Substitute Brahms for Barber-Shop Ballads

A friendly, if one-sided, 18-year-old rivalry draws to a close Friday when G. Wallace Woodworth '24, Conductor of the Harvard Glee Club, and Marshall Bartholomew, Director of the Yale Glee Club, perform for the last time on the same stage.

After 31 years as Director, Bartholomew retires at the end of this season to be replaced by Associate Director Fenno F. Health, Jr. Woodworth has been in charge of the Glee Club here since 1934. Starting in 1924 he directed the Radcliffe Choral Society for 10 years.

Oldest group of its kind in the country, the Harvard Glee Club has always managed to keep at least one jump ahead of its New Haven brethren. Although twelve Eli juniors started a Yale Musical Society in 1813, not until 1860 did a real glee club appear. By this time the Harvard Glee Club was two years old. The club has given at least one concert every year since then, and met Yale's club once a year since 1928. That spring, even the Yale Daily News conceded that "Harvard had the better club . . ."

For the first fifty years of its life the glee club was an adjunct of the banjo and mandolin clubs. Professional coaches were hired to teach members to sing the "Stein Song" and "Down by the Stream Where I First Met Rebecca" and similar pieces.

In 1912 the University asked the conductor of the College choir, Archibald T. Davison '06 to fill the post. Davison accepted, on the condition--that he get no pay. Coasting on the brink of bankruptcy the HGC agreed. Their leader for 22 years, Davison was "Doc" to a whole generation of Harvard singers.


The new coach started to improve the quality of singing and introduced it to Palestrina and Mendelssohn. In 1915-16 the club surprised itself and its competitors by winning the Intercollegiate Glee Club contest with Vittoria's "Ave Maria."

In 1917 a new singing group appeared here--the Harvard-Radcliffe chorus, organized to illustrate Davison's lectures on the history of choral music. The chorus combined with the Boston Symphony Orchestra for the first time in that year to present Beethoven's Ninth Symphony under the direction of Karl Muck.

Two years later came the revolution; the glee club realized it could no longer serve both Bach and the "Bulldog on the Bank." To the consternation of undergraduates an dalumni alike, the club, led by the late Mayo A. Shattuck '19 separated from the banjo and mandolin clubs and stuck to choral music. Critics applauded the group "as the finest chorus in Boston" and the B.S.O. invited the HGC to give another joint concert.

The HGC had left its college rivals behind; as one Chicago paper said, "The Harvard Glee Club offered a musical evening of genuine artistic worth and sang to a packed house. The Yale club giving a vaudeville program 'performed' in a house one third full."

In 1921 the club went to its first--and only--foreign tour. (Yale's club has taken five so far, the last one in 1948.) President Miller and of France invited 60 members of the club to pay a singing visit. The HGC raised the necessary $50,000 and sailed June 11 to begin a tour of 23 concerts in 13 French, Italian, and Swiss cities.

To help raise the standard of college singing, the HGC published a Harvard Song Book in the spring of 1922, but the Alumni Bulletin was still filled with letters calling for "good rough songs."

A New York paper in 1924 said that Bartholomew's policy called for singing standard works, but not neglecting informal college songs. "He is a great admirer of the work of the Harvard Glee Club, but does not intend to go so far in that direction, feeling there is something unique in a glee club's contribution to college atmosphere and spirit."

Prohibition caused Delcevare King '95 to object to a quartet singing Johnny Harvard ("Drink, drink, drink, drink, and pas the wine cup free . . .) as disrespectful to the law. The glee club quickly pointed out the quarter had no connection with it.

Rave Notices

From then until Davison's resignation in 1934 the club received almost uninterrupted rave notices. The Boston Transcript's headlines of the spring of 1933, however, were a glaring exception: "Dr. Davison makes the best of the present material in the soft, mild-mannered Harvard chorus." It was true, that Davison accepted practically all-comers in the club, "provided they can make a human sound and don't have a file-like voice . . ." He was content with a "homogeneous mediocrity of tone."