Making Gleeful Noise: Alumni Help UVA’s Glee Club Celebrate Its 145th Year

As a first-year student, Joseph Marchese-Schmitt lost his way on Grounds and wandered into Old Cabell Hall to ask a group of students for directions. Unbeknownst to Marchese-Schmitt, he was walking into a now 145-year-old tradition that would define his next four years: the University of Virginia’s Glee Club.

“They gave me directions and asked me if I wanted to audition,” Marchese-Schmitt said. “They were very convincing, and it was the happiest mistake of my whole time here at UVA.”

Now a third-year student, he’s the incoming president of the Glee Club, which is celebrating its 145th anniversary this year. Founded in 1871, it is the oldest musical organization at UVA and one of the oldest collegiate all-male choral groups in the country.

This weekend, alumni and former conductors will return to celebrate the anniversary and perform alongside the roughly 50 current members and Grammy Award-winning conductor Frank Albinder. Members of the Virginia Gentlemen a cappella group, which originally formed part of the Glee Club, will also join them. The performances, to be held Saturday morning and afternoon in Old Cabell Hall, are open to the public. 

“I am looking forward to having at least 100 alumni on stage with the current members of the Glee Club, and looking forward to the fellowship and the music,” Albinder said.

The group also marked the milestone year with its first international tour since a trip to France in 2000. Over UVA’s spring break, the Glee Club traveled to Argentina, where it performed for audiences in Buenos Aires and the surrounding area.

The performances featured the Glee Club’s signature mix of old and new pieces, ranging from renowned works in the classical canon to more recent compositions, including several by famed Argentinian composer Oscar Escalada. They were able to meet Escalada – who Albinder called “the most famous conductor in Argentina” – in La Plata, a city about an hour from Buenos Aires. Escalada led a workshop with the students and served as a guest conductor during their evening concert, leading the Glee Club as it performed his compositions.

“Getting to work with Oscar Escalada was a highlight of the tour, as well as singing in some very beautiful churches.” Albinder said. “I tried to put together a program that featured some American works that might be familiar to a foreign audience, as well as music from Argentina. We always try to do a mix of pieces from many centuries, and the sacred, secular and folk genres.”

The club’s music is characterized by variety, Marchese-Smith said, citing a mashup of “Amazing Grace” and “House of the Rising Sun” as one of his favorite pieces to sing.

“I feel that it makes us a more relatable group and I like to think there is a song there for everyone,” he said. “Even if we are not singing only things you know, it is a great opportunity to hear both something you like and something new, which I think makes it a more vibrant experience.”

The Glee Club drew sizeable audiences at each appearance in Argentina, including several UVA alumni living in Buenos Aires. The most popular piece, Albinder said, was a spiritual medley called “Yonder Come Day” that drew Argentinians to their feet every time.

“The Argentinian people were some of the most appreciative audience members we have ever had,” Marchese-Schmitt said. “They were lovely to perform for and very gracious hosts. The country was beautiful and the food was delicious.”

Though the Argentina trip was the group’s first international tour in several years, the club does domestic tours each year, spending breaks traveling to different concert halls, churches and theaters around the U.S.

“Those are inevitably some wonderful memories,” Marchese-Schmitt said of the tours. “Glee Club is a great place to make some really good friends.”

The group’s membership and financial support have grown during Albinder’s tenure, and he has also established a group of a cappella performers within the club, to provide an outlet for students interested in that style of music. The Glee Club rehearses twice per week and conducts numerous performances throughout the academic year, building a strong sense of camaraderie among the students.

“In Glee Club, there is a vivid intersection of the musical and the social,” Marchese-Schmitt said. “It is not just a musical group, it is something I get to do with my friends.”

That camaraderie, he said, extends to alumni as well.

“We have an annual dinner that alumni return for each year,” Marchese-Schmitt said. “They are always just wonderful people, fantastic people to sit down and talk with, and I am looking forward to meeting more this weekend.”

Media Contact

Caroline Newman

University News Associate Office of University Communications