UW News

November 29, 2007

Real men do sing: Renewed Glee Club proves it

The University’s newest singing group is, in a way, also one of its oldest. The Men’s Glee Club was revived this year by Music Professor Steve Demorest after a 53-year absence. But the group had already been in existence for at least 54 years at the time of its demise.

“It was supposedly founded in 1899-1900, although we have a photo from the library archives that says circa 1895,” Demorest said. He said the group may originally have been an informal student organization.

Like many such groups, the Men’s Glee Club fell on hard times during World War II, when so many men were in the military, but it didn’t disband until 1954. Demorest was interested in reviving it, he said, because he “loves the literature and the sound of a male chorus. I’ve had only brief chances in my career to conduct men’s choirs and I’ve always wanted the opportunity.”

The new glee club, which boasts 22 members, made its debut at the Nov. 17 Husky football game, where they performed with the band before the game and sang The Star Spangled Banner to open it. Although the glee club is a course that students can take multiple times for credit, Demorest said he is also open to having faculty and staff sing with them. Anyone interested should contact him at demorest@u.washington.edu.  

But he has a larger purpose for reviving the glee club. “As a choral music educator, I’ve been observing the declining participation of men in singing,” he said. “Even as young as third grade, boys are saying that singing is not what boys do. My problem with that is not that it’s harmful to a choral program. My problem with that is that I think it’s harmful to boys. I don’t think there’s any way to replicate the experience one gets from singing, either alone or in an ensemble. I don’t want to see boys selecting out of that opportunity because they have this perception that it’s not for them. So one of the long-term goals of the ensemble would be to get out in the schools and sing and have young boys see men singing.”

Maybe young boys would be more interested if they knew what being in a chorus or choir could lead to. Blake Lewis, the Bothell native who was a recent runner-up on American Idol, participated in choir all the way through middle school and high school, Demorest said.

“I know his choir directors, and I would guess that’s where he learned his vocal technique.”

The technique is transferable, though the music and style are quite different. Demorest said the glee club is singing a wide variety of music, from Bow Down to Washington and The Star Spangled Banner to Goodnight Sweetheart and The Lion Sleeps Tonight. On Monday, Dec. 3, the club will be part of the School of Music’s CarolFest, performing a Spanish carol, A La Nanita Nana, accompanied by a guitar and two violins, as well as a second number with a surprise celebrity guest.

“The other reason I wanted to revive the glee club is to have it be a part of campus life,” Demorest said. “Singing at the football game was a beginning. In the future I’d like to see us be a fixture at events like that, much as the marching band is now.”

Some of that performing will likely be done jointly with the Women’s Chorus, which, like the men’s group, had been dormant for a while. It was revived two years ago, and is now directed by Gene Peterson.

But women have never stopped singing in large numbers, as men have. “I wrote an article a number of years ago — an opinion piece — in which I said that boys do the things they see men do,” Demorest said. “So if they see men singing, then they see that that’s OK, that singing is for them.”

He said the School of Music used to do a very successful campus workshop for middle school boy singers that was discontinued because of scheduling problems. “I’m hoping to bring that back, with the Men’s Glee Club as the host organization.”

CarolFest, which also features the Chamber Singers, University Chorale, University Singers, the Women’s Chorus, the Vocal Jazz Ensemble, and the Gospel Choir, is at 7:30 p.m. in Meany Theater. Tickets are $10 and are available at the Arts Ticket Office, 206-543-4880, or at www.meany.org.