Glorious music fills the air as the Glee Club sings

On the evening of November 4th, a deluge of paper airplanes, balloons and Yale transfer applications were released from every corner of Richardson Auditorium. The elements came together in the performers on stage – the Princeton Glee Club – as they sang the Princeton Football Medley. The attackers? None other than the Yale Glee Club. Meanwhile, the audience erupted into gasps and eager chatter.

It was the night of the Princeton Glee Club’s final concert in collaboration with the Yale University Glee Club. Such a scene encapsulates the vibrant, interactive energy that the Princeton Glee Club brings to the campus community with each performance.

The Princeton University Glee Club was first established in 1874 and will celebrate its 150th anniversary next November. The group originated as a small men’s group when Princeton was an all-male school. After the university became co-educational in 1969, so did the choir. Nikki Rosengren, who served as president of the Glee Club during the first year of co-education at Princeton, set a powerful precedent for women to have an equal voice and presence in the university choir.

The Glee Club still performs traditional Western choral music—the style they started with—but have since expanded their repertoire over the past few years, thanks in large part to their “Gifts” series. Once a semester, the Glee Club invites an outstanding musical artist to work with individuals on their style of expertise.

Sidney Eck ’24, who is the current president of the Glee Club, said this series “allows Glee to learn from the best of the best and immerse themselves in different styles of singing.”

Eck is a former features editor for Prince.

Last fall, prolific composer and arranger Stacey Gibbs came to collaborate with the Glee Club. Gibbs arranged the famous spiritual song “Sit Down Servant”, originally written by The Staple Singers. This piece is an embodiment of the glory that African Americans imagine they experience in the next world, but with the background of their trials and tribulations in the present realm.

“Gibbs brought an energy and humor that was so contagious,” said Glee member Evan Shidler ’27. “Working with him was an experience I will never forget.”

This coming February, Glee plans to collaborate with the American Spiritual Ensemble (ASE), which is comprised of some of the best singers in the world of classical music. With ASE, the Glee Club will have the opportunity to learn traditional American spirituals.

“It’s perfect because it’s only appropriate to learn this style from experts who have personal connections to this music,” Eck said. “Some young singers wouldn’t feel comfortable exploring this style otherwise, so it’s a golden opportunity to grow as a musician.”

Shidler, whose mother and uncle are Princeton Glee Club alumni (’96 and ’99, respectively), just finished his first semester as a Glee member. He provides a unique perspective on the musical group, having witnessed the development of the Glee Club for an entire decade.

“My mother became a professional opera singer at the New York Opera,” Shidler shares. “She first encouraged me to take up singing when she heard me sing pop songs as a child.”

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From her family’s musical influence, Shidler went on to sing in the MET Children’s Chorus, then in the Manhattan School of Music Pre-College division. He sat in the audience at Glee concerts from the age of nine, when Gabriel Crouch had already started leading the group as director since 2010. From a young age, Shidler had great respect for Crouch and the choir.

Instead of feeling pressured by his family’s strong musical past, particularly one that revolved around Princeton’s glee club, Shidler said he “always genuinely enjoyed the voice.”

Shidler also stated that although Glee has always sounded very high caliber, the sound quality has improved in recent years and he credits this change to Crouch’s guidance. “There’s a certain radiance to our band’s sound that wasn’t there in the past,” Shidler said. “Gabriel Crouch has certainly made the Glee Club a respectable institution.”

The Princeton Glee Club shines not only for its high standards of music making, but also for its uniquely strong sense of culture and Glee pride. Eck noted that an integral part of the Glee Club spirit stems from their long-held tradition of rivalry against fellow Ivy Leaguers. The Glee Club serves as a traditional ambassador and lead musical ensemble for the university. This is especially noticeable during football games, where the Glee Clubs boost campus pride by singing traditional football songs, including the infamous “Fight Song.”

“Out of sports rivalry was born this wonderful musical tradition,” Eck said. Outside of football games, Princeton, Harvard, and Yale alternate visiting their colleges annually to collaborate on concerts. For example, last November, Yale came to the Princeton campus to perform in the Princeton Glee Concert, while our Glee Club joined Harvard for their Glee Concert. The weekend-long collaboration allowed Glee clubs to sing together, hear each other’s repertoire, have dinner together and spend the night at each other’s schools. Although the friendly rivalry is still not forgotten — “it’s a tradition to throw objects at rival Glee Clubs,” Eck said — the activity is effective in fostering community at these rival schools.

Glee also makes members feel at home with the tight-knit intergroup community. As many clubs do, Glee implements a big-and-little system where new members from each semester pair up with a veteran Glee member. Or in Glee parlance: the Glig-and-Glittle system. Caitlin Hodge ’27 said that having a strong community between seniors and juniors made her feel supported and cared for.

“I was actually left out, or ‘Glorphaned,’ because my original Glig assignment had a very busy semester and understandably couldn’t devote too much time to Glee,” Hodge said. “But another upperclassman immediately took me under his wing and I was ‘smothered.’ Glee has this implicit castaway mentality that I really appreciate.”

Because Glee’s community of upperclassmen value mentoring and spending time with the younger members, they have created their own “Gloffice Hours.” These “Gloffice Hours,” run by Glee employees (“Glofficers”), provide Glee members with a place to study and eat breakfast together. Each school year, Glee also maintains an active spreadsheet of all classes members attend, allowing members to easily reach out to the Glee community for help.

Parties, post-concert gatherings, Gline & Gleese Night (Glee’s wine and cheese night), and landmark sing-along sessions are other regular activities that keep the Glee connection alive and strong. Glee also rehearses very often – three times a week for two hours, under Crouch’s direction. The band travels together frequently for concerts at Harvard and Yale or football games, and also tours internationally every other year.

Yet Glee is still constantly striving to strengthen its community. This year, for the first time, we organized a retreat at the beginning of the year, right after the second week of classes. The group spent the day together at the Pocono Environmental Education Center, walking together and doing bonding exercises. Glee clearly carries a strong ambition for continued growth and a desire to maintain its past legacy.

“Maybe it’s the heritage of the club, or its age, or just our niche jargon,” Shidler said. “But it’s very touching how it culminates in an ever-improving, very loving family that is the Princeton Glee Club.”

Shannon Ma is a writer for The Prospect. She is in the class of 2027 and hails from Saratoga, California. She can be reached at [email protected].

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