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Harvard Glee Club in Asia

  • PDF: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40373088

This article reflects a panel that was part of a Symposium entitled
College Music Abroad, which took place at the December 29, 1961, session of the CMS annual conference, Salem College, Winston-Salem, N.C. The other panelists were Iva Dee Hiatt, Thomas A. Sokol, and Wilton Mason. Their articles also appear in SYMPOSIUM Volume 2.

A complete report on the nine-week tour of the Harvard Glee Club around the world last summer [1961] is of course impossible to make here. I can suggest perhaps what role music played in a tour which, from its first planning, had more in purpose than the making of music or learning about it. The idea for the tour came from the Club members themselves and the central purpose soon became clear: to develop a communication between students of East and West through the singing of music. The members wanted to avoid as much as possible the image of artists who, having delivered their wares, then concentrated on sight-seeing at the expense of getting to know the people they were visiting. To that end we sent our manager on a pre-tour to arrange as much as possible student involvement in our concerts, in the use of our free time and in our overnight stays. We hoped for music to be the avenue to a free exchange of ideas on any and all subjects between Harvard students and students of the countries we visited. Naturally we succeeded much better in some countries than others and the total experience could be found only from a report by each tour member as to what he learned about the diversity of Asia and reports from all people abroad who had their image of American students amplified or altered in any way.

The role of music in our travels could be divided into 1) music that we sang alone; 2) music that we sang with our hosts, and 3) music that was performed for us. It was this second category—music that we sang with our hosts—that was foremost in my manager's mind as he pre-toured to make arrangements. For this joint activity, carried out formally or informally, was an effective way of "breaking the ice" between students.

Travelling West immediately after Commencement we were able to reach Japan for a three-week visit before the Japanese student body had left campus. Here the student exchange was the most fruitful, due largely to our sponsors, the Asahi Newspaper chain, which was helped, as were all our local sponsors, by the USIS. There is a great development of college glee clubs and choruses taking place in Japan. And in our touring up and down the islands all but two of our stops were directly connected with colleges who put us up and whose glee clubs greeted us in song at the station platform. We sang at least one joint number with seven of them and sang informally with all of them.

There followed four- to five-day visits in five different countries: 1) In Korea we stayed again in student homes and joined with the Seoul Symphony Orchestra in an outdoor concert with the following program: Berlioz—Choruses from The Damnation of Faust; Mussorgsky—Coronation Scene from Boris Godounov; Stravinsky—Act I (modified) from Oedipus Rex and Thompson—Parts 1, 2, and 4 from The Testament of Freedom, joined in this last by a Korean chorus. 2) In Taiwan our contact was restricted to one formal meeting. 3) In Hong Kong two of our programs ended with joint choruses with local school groups. 4) In the Philippines, besides two concerts which ended with joint numbers and student receptions, in Manila, we serenaded the villagers of the outlying town of Santa Rosa, an experience that proved most meaningful for the men. 5) In Thailand we experienced the contrast of a command performance for the King with two concerts followed by receptions at two Bangkok universities. It was our habit to begin the program with the national anthem and begin our encores with a folksong, both sung in the language of the country visited. The Thai people are very uninhibited and when we started their folksong "Loy, Loy Gratohng" too slowly, they responded quickly by clapping the time faster and faster until they were satisfied that we had the right tempo. We didn't make that mistake a second time.

The Asian part of our tour ended with a twelve-day visit to India. In the four cities of Calcutta, Madras, Delhi, and Bombay, the opportunities to meet with students were limited to one rehearsal for an Indo-American Society, one church reception and two student receptions. But some of us were lucky to get Indian hosts part of the time, invariably a rewarding experience.

The tour ended in Greece. The premise had suddenly changed; we were not visiting students but participating artists in the Athens Festival. But we had the chance to make music jointly once again with an orchestra: this time Bach and Handel choruses with the Camerata di Cremona, the next to last of the forty concerts given.

But the most exciting use of music as a joint enterprise was still in Japan. And the most moving single concert from this point of view was our Sayonara concert in Tokyo which we gave with four different glee clubs. After presenting the first half alone, Harvard joined with each Tokyo club in turn after it had sung first from its own repertoire. Then all five clubs, 400 strong, joined in a memorable rendition of Handel's "Let Their Celestial Concerts All Unite."

Our repertoire, which represented four full programs, was about half sacred and half secular. It ranged from the music of Brumel and Des Pres in the fifteenth century to a piece by our assistant conductor, Bruce Archibald, on the G.M. Hopkins' text "God's Grandeur" which had been composed (for the tour) in the spring of 1961. There was great variety in what was chosen by the local choruses to sing with us jointly. For the occasional collaboration with women's choruses we drew on the music of Bach, Fauré and Thompson; our collaboration with men's choruses involved music ranging freely from the sixteenth century to the present. And all of it was beautifully prepared by our sister organizations. As was to be expected, music based on the concept of harmony no longer poses any problem of comprehension or appreciation for the Far East countries in Asia, such as Japan. But as we travelled into India it was interesting to see the heightened curiosity about such a piece as Archibald's "God's Grandeur," which is based not so much on harmony as on individual line and timbre. Consistently full houses showed that choral concerts such as ours are welcome and appreciated throughout Asia.

We brought our music, but in return we were given rich musical offerings by our host countries. A choral piece written by the Japanese composer, Fukunaga, for the Doshisha Glee Club appealed to us so much that it is on this year's repertoire. In Korea, we were treated to the music of the ancient court, and to an exhibition of folk dance music. A special performance of classical opera and instrumental music was staged for our benefit in Taiwan. We were shown many examples of Philippine dance and some of our group were encouraged to try some of them. The Thai dance like the dance that we were shown in Madras, India, was performed by a single dancer to a preponderantly percussive accompaniment. A classical singer in Delhi and a sitar player in Bombay complete the examples of hospitality in music that were arranged for us. For these unforgettable experiences we owe grateful thanks to many people at home and abroad. The point is that this kind of tour can be made and should be made. Through a love of singing an increase in the understanding of the world we live in came to those sixty of us who were privileged to make this tour.

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Last modified on Thursday, 15/11/2018