It is not hard to find a lovely voice on this campus. If you want to hear a classic rock song, you can turn to the Eliphalets, but if you prefer barbershop tunes, there are always the Dutch Pipers. Along with the Heavenly Voices Gospel Choir, the Garnet Minstrelles and the Union College Chorale, these clubs give Union a reason to listen.
The origins of glee clubs can be traced back to the late 17th century. Groups of men and women would gather together following supper and perform practiced songs for their guests. Soon these small groups ventured out into the public and began to perform for anyone willing to listen.
Union’s “glee clubs” can claim credit for continuing the longest tradition in the musical department here at Union. The origins of these groups can be traced all the way back to 1854, in the form of a 10-man singing group aptly named the Glee Club.
In 1861, the two other notable singing groups of the college were The Amateurs and the Union Musical Association. These early college groups put on quiet the shows for their audiences. A typical show would consist of singing, banjo plucking, dancing and extravagant aerobics. While the members of these early groups had much respect for music, the glee club performances proved to be more of a place to enjoy a good tune and a good time.
With all the fun being had, the vocalists proved to be very capable and performed at George Washington’s birthday celebration in the spring of 1862. It should be noted that this ceremony was the brainchild of Abraham Lincoln and William Seward, Class of 1820.
By 1891, the Glee Club performed every morning inside of Old Chapel. The club had three different coaches until 1920. The first man to take the reins was William Rost, Class of 1873. Two years later, Frank C. MacMahon replaced Rost. When MacMahon finished up in 1899, the club was left without a coach. Students within the club carried out all of the practices and training. In 1908, the club was taken under the wing of Bernard R. Mausert. Mausert remained as the coach from 1908 to 1917 and brought the members of the club to perform in concerts outside of Schenectady.
In 1918, the Harvard Glee Club began to take its training much more seriously. Union, not wanting to be outdone by Harvard, quickly tightened up their chords. The first step to better vocal harmony was in the hiring of Henry A. Schauffler in 1920. Not only did he aid in creating a better harmony within the club, but he also brought them to the Northern New York Intercollegiate Glee Club Contest.
Union’s Glee Club reached new highs following the hiring of Coach Elmer Tidmarsh in 1926. Realizing that Union was a far cry from the sweet voices of other glee clubs across the Northeast, Tidmarsh implemented laborious practices and intense vocal sessions with the singers.
This intense training proved to be worthwhile for the students. In 1931, the club won the state championship and, in 1942, it took home second place in the Fred Waring National Collegiate Glee Club Contest, beating out 118 other clubs. Along with the national prizes, the Glee Club was also on the radio quite often and was heard at the national level in 1936, on the NBC Blue Network.
The singing groups of Union went on to have much success. In 1977, under director Hugh Allen Wilson, the club brought its talents to Venezuela to perform with notable signers of the 1970s.
There have been many different musical groups at Union, and only a few have endured the test of time. The Dutch Pipers, formed in 1949 by members of the Glee Club, lasted until 1950. The group was revived in 1954, but died again in ’66. Luckily, it was saved in 1982 and continues today to sing loud and proud here at Union.
The Garnet Minstrelles, formed in 1981, was the second all-female vocal group on campus, following the Women’s Chorus of 1970. Along with the Garnet Minstrelles, the Eliphalets also began to sing for the college in 1981.
The Chapel Choir, mother to the Union College Chorale, first performed for Union in 1881. The choir’s existence constantly fluctuated until 1966, when it finally ceased to exist due to the removal of Sunday service. Luckily for the college, dedicated students revived it in 1985.
Just keep singing, U!