Friendship between the director of Cornell University’s Glee Club and conductor of the Pasadena Master Chorale brought the two singing groups together Sunday afternoon for a joint concert at the La Crescenta Presbyterian Church.
The choir from Ithaca, N.Y., has been on a tour of 12 California cities charming alumni, parents and friends of the 146-year-old Ivy League school with its youthful participants singing a wide-ranging program of songs that exhort the wonders of earth, sky, love and faith. The glee club traces its roots to 1868, a mere three years after the founding of the university.
The relationship between Pasadena Master Chorale Conductor Jeffrey Bernstein and the Cornell University Glee Club Director Scott Tucker stems from a music association at another Ivy League school, Harvard, when both were attending that institution. The Bernstein’s family also has had deep connections to Cornell.
The Pasadena Master Chorale’s participation was brief but proved odd in that Bernstein selected works from Mozart’s “Requiem” and “Ave Verum Corpus”—two pieces that celebrate death—whereas all but a smattering of the songs by the young men spoke of life and love. The earnestness of the glee club was a hands-down winner over the muted, somewhat scattered, offering by Pasadena Master Chorale.
The glee club men were dressed in perfect Ivy League attire—a blue, three-button jacket, striped necktie—for the program by the 40-member undergraduate choir. They sang about faith (a sacred work by Soviet composer Pavel Chesnokov), love (“Love Songs” by Matthew Harris based on the works of William Shakespeare and Robert Burns), and hope (from Jean Sibelius’ “Finlandia”).
In between, the glee club was able to hail the music of some of the university’s alumnus talent, such as David Lefkowitz, who attended the concert. The glee club sang Lefkowitz’s work, “Four Rubaiyat,” based on writings from Omar Khayyam. Strong choral work from all sections and a leadership from Tucker emphasized clear diction and a disciplined approach. Lefkowitz is a professor of composition at UCLA.
A highly blended and mature approach was heard in “Crossing the Bar” composed by another Cornell alumnus, David Conte.
A sub-group of the glee club, The Hangovers, was led by student Ian Goldman. The Hangovers were formed in 1968 to perform lighter fare and here sang the Gospel number, “Take Hold of Me,” and concluded with a snappy version of the doo-wop staple, “Brown-Eyed Girl”.
Tucker completed the program with songs of Cornell University. Many students and college friends in the audience cheered the glee club’s version of a college tune written in 1890, “Song of the Classes,” that depicted college life from freshman to senior. Memories were stirred as they sang the university’s traditional “Evening Song” and the Cornell Alma Mater.
Bill Welker, a Glendale resident who served as an assistant director of the glee club in his student years, joined in singing the college songs alongside the glee club as did alumnus Bill Barber, a resident of La Cañada Flintridge, who graduated in 1949.
The stop at the La Crescenta Presbyterian Church was the final concert of its California Tour.