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Inside Harvard Choirs

By Elijah T. Siegler

Despite Harvard's cultural pretensions, more first-years arrive with Guns'n Roses in their tape collection than Brahms. Though some students dismiss them as stodgy and outdated, choral music groups at Harvard are still very much alive. Directed by Harvard music faculty, the six major choral groups comprise a vital, vibrant part of the University's music community.

The groups find a following among students and alumni alike. A following so sizeable that last spring's Missa Solemnis, a joint concert between The Harvard Glee Club, The Radcliffe Choral Society (RCS), and the Collegium Musicum, played to a full Sanders Theater. The Collegium sold out its St. Matthew's Passion performance well in advance. And Glee Club members say they expect a full house of school-spirited students and nostalgic alumni at their traditional Yale Game concert next week.

The three groups collectively known as the "Holden Chapel Choirs" hold the highest position in the traditional choral hierarchy. The Glee Club, Collegium and RCS are named for the building behind Hollis and Stoughton Halls where they customarily meet. Their prestigious alliance extends beyond geography; they hold auditions together every fall. The Glee Club and Collegium even share a director, Senior Lecturer in Music Jameson Marvin. Beverly Taylor, associate director of choral activities, oversees RCS.

But it is a mistake to present the Holden groups as any sort of organic whole. Like so many antiquarian Harvard organizations, the Glee Club is all-male. Established in the early 1800s, they still view themselves as keepers of the Crimson flame, singing the traditional Harvard Fight songs at concerts, games and alumni functions. Established half a century later, the all-female RCS "carries on the Radcliffe songs," says RCS President Melissa Haber '91. The newer Collegium, performing mostly early Renaissance music, claims the only co-ed spot in the Holden group.

But the choirs do not exist without an uneasy competitiveness. Like the a cappella groups, there is a perceived hierarchy among the Holden groups. Susmita Pati '92, a member of the Collegium, says that traditionally women have opted to join Collegium over the RCS. This year, Pati says, Marvin told her that many men chose to join Collegium rather than the Glee Club. In the past, Glee Club has received the most respect of campus choral groups, being the oldest university choir in America.

Glee Club President Darren Walker '91 says their past gives club members a unique male bond, and member Henry Roman '92, a three-year club member, calls the group a "fraternity-like brotherhood." But all the Holden groups seem to share a social link. The groups' parties, outings and weekend retreats in early autumn allows for social networking that sometimes takes a romantic turn. "There have been a few romances between members of different groups and they have not been discouraged," says Collegium President Kelly Flynn '91.

Collegium member Robert Bocchino '94 also says that the groups give him a sense of community. "Socially, I can meet upperclassmen and there's a great feeling of togetherness," he said.

Members are quick to emphasize the differences between them and the a cappella groups. The choral groups give "much less individual recognition" than a cappella groups, says Flynn. "People don't sing solos and don't walk to the front of the stage making jokes. It's really something humbling when your voice has to blend in with others." Although she says that, "Concerts are a special highly charged event,"Flynn is quick to point out that the "bestmemories of Collegium come from rehearsals."

According to Roman, "it's hard to compete witha cappella music, which is very fun." Andseveral choir members commented that it isdifficult but possible to be in both a choralgroup and an a cappella ensemble. "TheVeritones are the one group that traditionallyworks their schedule around ours," says Roman. Asa result of the flexibility shown by theVeritones, eight of them also sung in choralgroups last year.

The communal feeling shown by the Holden Chapelchoirs does not seem to extend to the other threechoirs on campus: The University Choir, TheHarvard/Radcliffe Chorus (HRC), and Choir inProgress (CHIP). The University Choir, which singsin Memorial Church on Sunday mornings, has thedistinction of being the only salaried choralgroup. All members receive a pay check for theirrehearsal and performance time, albeit onlyminimum wage. The trade-off is a somewhat limitedrepertoire. "Our music is basic church anthems,what every Protestant choir sings," says choirmember Kristine Haglund '91.

The HRC, also directed by RCS' Taylor, is aco-ed group of 150 to 200 students and members ofthe Cambridge community who sing two major works ayear. The HRC is appropriate for voices not readyfor the Holden choirs or people who want to singwithout making a large time commitment (itrehearses only once a week). Finally, the CHIP,which rarely performs, is geared towards studentswhose ears and voices need more help.

Besides next week's Yale Came concert, upcomingconcerts include tonight's appearance of RCS withthe Wellesley Chorus. Next spring, for the thirdyear in a row, the Holden choirs will combine tosing a major work, the massive Verdi'sRequiem.

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