Fairfield Now - Summer 2007
The Fairfield University Glee Club:
60 Years Young
By Joan M. Grant
December 12, 1947 - "The Fairfield Glee Club will be formed within the near future. ... If the club can prove that it is capable of representing the college, an instructor will be hired to direct the organization." - The Fairfield College "Tentative"
|As the Glee Club's first director, Simon Harak (right) would provide expert musical direction for 22 years, creating a legacy of excellence that continues to this day.|
And so, the gauntlet was thrown to Fairfield University's first freshman class with a brief announcement in the college's weekly newsletter. Eager young men rose to the challenge with enthusiasm, passion, and determination; Simon G. Harak of Derby was installed as the new director.
It was the Rev. Laurence G. Langguth, S.J., dean of Fairfield's College of Arts and Sciences, who appointed the moderator of the club. In what became a prescient choice, he settled on the Rev. John P. Murray, S.J., a tone-deaf, non-musical mathematician who used his practical skills to organize the group and instill in it the discipline that would allow it to excel. Tom Donnelly '57 recalls Fr. Murray as a person who, "could line up 80 guys on a stage behind a closed curtain with two words: Gentlemen, please! Then he'd step back in the shadows."
With Fr. Murray as a quiet force and under Harak's expert musical direction, the club's membership increased. Within the Glee Club, specialty groups evolved, including the Bensonians, a barbershop quartet, and the Campus Minstrels, who sang comedy songs.
The Glee Club, aptly known as the "Ambassadors of Song," entered competitions and regularly brought home first or second prizes; they appeared on radio shows, performed on campus and throughout the Northeast and Midwest and, on several occasions, took the stage at the legendary Carnegie Hall. During these early years, the young men established a reputation for choral excellence that ensured a demand for their talents and - an important byproduct - enhanced the prestige of the emerging University.
The Glee Club's barbershop quartet, known as the Bensonians, added fun and flavor to concerts on campus and on the road.
The Rev. Charles Allen, S.J., the Glee Club's current moderator (or chaplain, as he prefers to be called), remembers being a seminarian in Lenox, Mass., in the late 1950s and looking forward to performances by the traveling singers. "Fairfield's Glee Club was the best," he says, savoring the memory. "They always had something new in the repertoire and it was great fun because they had such obvious camaraderie."
Harak's untimely death in September 1970 led to the arrival of Paul La Medica who, in October, became the Glee Club's second musical director. Fr. Murray retired from his position as moderator in 1973, passing the torch to the Rev. Albert Cardoni, S.J., a philosophy professor. Well into the early 1980s, La Medica and Fr. Cardoni continued the tradition of musical excellence and genuine fellowship that enhanced the college experience of more than 600 men.
The admission of women to the University in the 1970s brought new voices to a changing campus, and with that came the eventual establishment of the Women's Chorale. Dr. Carole Ann Maxwell arrived at Fairfield in 1980 to direct the group.
The blending of male and female voices would come four years later with the founding of the Chamber Singers, directed by Dr. Maxwell. Critical acclaim followed and, in 1987, Dr. Maxwell was named director of choral and liturgical music; the student music groups, including the Glee Club, were then combined under her direction.
The enduring legacy of the Glee Club may just be the camaraderie that flows from it. Dr. Maxwell describes the trademark element she works to develop with every new group as, "esprit de corps! That's what I want to infuse into the Glee Clubs I direct." In saying so, she exudes the energy, focus, and passion that can - and always seems to - light a fire in the singers she directs.
The curtain falls behind Dr. Carole Ann Maxwell, current director of choral and liturgical music, as the 2006-07 Glee Club concludes a concert in the Quick Center.
Desirae Brown '07 was too busy with classes for three years to audition. But she now thinks of the Glee Club as "a special gift I gave myself for my senior year." Of the many challenges Brown's gift embodied, she was most surprised at the precision she was expected to achieve. "Carole Ann demands absolute attention to detail of pitch, production, and interpretation. Working with her has taught me patience in a way I never knew before."
Alumna Kristen Record '95, a physics major who grew up with music, knew as an incoming freshman that it would be important to be part of what was, for her, a creative and refreshing outlet. Despite a heavy load of classes and the need to earn the requisite average for acceptance to graduate school (she received her master's from Harvard in 1999), she auditioned successfully for the Glee Club and discovered abilities she didn't know she possessed. "Carole Ann's passion enables her to bring singers to a new level through her energy and positive expectations of our achievement," Record says. "And she makes it fun."
Formality left behind, one of the Glee Club's many subgroups entertains the audience.
Passion, accomplishment, and fun: three essential qualities for living a full and productive life. For many Glee Club alumni, the association continues well beyond their time at Fairfield University. For a number of years, an all-male group carried on the legacy of the original Ambassadors of Song, performing in a host of venues wearing the traditional tuxedo and red armband. Another outlet for alumni emerged when Dr. Maxwell formed the community-based Mendelssohn Choir of Connecticut (MCC) in 1984. "Tuesday nights are sacred to me," says Record, now president of the MCC. "Colleagues and friends know better than to schedule anything on that night if they want me to participate."
For Frank Natale '98 and scores of others, the ongoing learning they experience through music and performance is a source of personal enrichment. "Carole Ann asks what's behind (the music); why was it written?" says Natale, membership secretary of the MCC. "Answering these kinds of fundamental questions makes a huge difference in performing."
Dr. Carole Ann Maxwell conducts the 125-member mixed chorus in the formal annual Spring Concert.
Brown agrees, noting that these components enhance her understanding of each song she sings, which in turn deepens her performance. She acknowledges that those same qualities just might come in handy when she attacks her twofold goal of a law degree and an MBA.
Clearly, the original "Ambassadors of Song" live on and continue the proud tradition established six decades ago. While they might be surprised to find women standing among the men, one suspects that Fr. Langguth, Fr. Murray, and Mr. Harak would find today's Glee Club more than "capable of representing the college."