Smile Politely

Despicable Glee

First formed in 1886 as The Apollo Club, later The Varsity Men’s Glee and Mandolin Club, now The University of Illinois Varsity Men’s Glee Club, is the oldest registered student organization on campus. Those who attended Saturday’s concert were happily entertained with the continuation of that long tradition of musical excellence.

Beginning with the traditional March of the Illini, the group marched into place from both wings, conducted by Glee Club President Kevin Potts, who then kept time for another Varsity Men’s Glee Club tradition, a song of brotherhood, Gaudeamus Igitur. By then I was feeling quite at home, having sung these songs many times in three years with this group under the leadership of William Olson in the previous century.

There followed the introduction of Dr. Barrington Coleman, the conductor of Varsity Men’s Glee Club, now in his seventeenth year in that position. Dr. Coleman led a wonderful new work, Fratres in Unum, by Elijah Smith (a current member of VMGC) and Bernard Fitzgerald. This was accompanied by a brass choir situated in the balcony above, and to the audience’s left, of the singers. Dr. Coleman skillfully guided the brass and singers through the song, despite the tricky physical seperation of the performers. This composition is a worthy addition to the choral repertoire and should enjoy long life.

E’en So Lord Jesus Quickly Come by Paul Manz began a series of Christian-themed music to finish the first half of the concert. Franz Biebl’s Ave Maria, described by Dr. Coleman as “one of our beloved pieces,” was a very pretty performance featuring The Other Guys and soloists David Catalano, Jangho Seo, and Lucas Smith. Dr. Coleman then introduced with high praise his Assistant Conductor, DaeKwang Kim, who led the next two works, O Magnum Mysterium and Come Sing to Me of Heaven. The latter began with soloist Seunghyun Park, and both pieces showed Mr. Kim was deserving of all the appreciation expressed by Dr. Coleman.

Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho, brilliantly arranged by Moses Hogan — yes, that’s his name — finally showed full voices and genuine excitement, even smiles, in the group. The singers then broke their choir arrangement to form a wall-to-wall semicircle for a gentle beauty, Little Lamb, by Joel Phillips. Moses Hogan’s arrangement of Plenty Good Room (soloists: Tucker Debolt, Crofton Coleman), complete with the energetic VMGC trademark sforzando-crescendo and ringing final fortissimo chord, ended the first half in style.


Returning after intermission, The Other Guys sprang into action. This group is a subset of eight members of the Varsity Men’s Glee Club who perform close-harmony a cappella numbers, independent of the larger group. On this occasion they were only seven. No explanation was given, and none was needed, as they introduced themselves with the theme song from the cartoon Underdog, re-worded “Other Guys,” and continued with Story of My Life (One Direction) and Faith (George Michael). These were well-grounded by a solid bass presence. The jokes and patter grew wordy and exceptionally corny with the intro to Morrow Plots, a favorite of this group for many years. This comedy song explains that the Undergrad Library was built underground because “you can’t throw shade on the corn!” 

The next section of the three-part second half began with a rousing Brothers Sing On! and then Felix Mendelssohn’s Festgesang an die Kunstler. The Mendelssohn was sung with the VMGC holding music -a first in my memory. This was also accompanied by the brass in the balcony, and Dr. Coleman masterfully gathered the groups together through a challenging number. They then ditched the music folders to sing Arirang, accompanied beautifully by Minji Kim and conducted by DaeKwang Kim, who also sang the opening solo. Classic in the beginning, it transitioned into a sort of boogie/rock ending. This piece was new to me and I thoroughly enjoyed it. After a fast, bright, subtly complex, clement Janequin song titled A ce joly moys de May, there was another surprise: a movie! More accurately, a short film with the Varsity Men’s Glee Club President and Conductor concocting a despicable plot involving the shrinking of Krannert Center and an attempt to destroy the VMGC. (The model of Krannert presently displayed in the lobby was not harmed in the making of the film. I checked.) This was the “despicable” in the concert’s title, and it introduced the song Glee which was performed with choreography to end what I would consider the concert proper.

The last section of the performance was ended, as I remember, like most Varsity Men’s Glee Club concerts, with VMGC alumni invited to the stage to join in singing. They performed The Big Ten Medley (Plus Two),  the Illinois State Song (with “super-senior” soloist Alex Corrao) and Alma Mater (Hail to the Orange). These were sung with gusto and style by the Glee Club and the audience, whereupon the Illinois Varsity Men’s Glee Club ended their 2013 Spring Concert with a march through the house to the lobby to the final cadence of March of the Illini. Not to be outdone, three of the alumni remained on the risers to belt out the song alone with Dr. Coleman conducting!


Coming soon to the Krannert Center… more U of I musical talent! On Tuesday, see the UI Philharmonia in the Great Hall or the UI Jazz Combo in the Studio Theatre. Wednesday offers another Jazz performance in the Studio Theatre and UI Wind Orchestra in the Great Hall. 

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