On the first traveling tour as a gender-neutral choir, the Penn Glee Club performed in front of an audience made up of former students in a Parisian ballroom and passers-by in the streets of Barcelona.
Since 1959, the Glee Club has embarked on a performance tour, alternating between international and national venues each year, in its unofficial role as the “musical ambassador of the University,” says Daniel Carsello, who served as Glee Club’s director at over the past five years. .
The pandemic canceled tours in 2020 or 2021, says Carsello. “It was great to be able to share our music with people outside of the Philadelphia community for the first time in a long time,” he says, “and I think the students really enjoyed that too.”
Fifty-four Glee Club members made the trip, including 35 singers, seven band members, two backing vocalists, and nine technical crew members traveling and on tour for nearly two weeks.
In April 2021, the all-male Glee Club choir and the all-female choir Penn Mermaids decided to merge, which means that for the first year since its founding in 1862, the Glee Club includes singers of all genres and performs repertoire for soprano and alto voices, in addition to tenor and bass, and for the four votes. Women have been members of the backing, band, and technical sections of the Glee Club since 1993, but not as singing members.
Rising elder Rebecca Hennessy, a cognitive neuroscience major from Smithville, New Jersey, is the new president of the Glee Club and the first singer to be named president. Hennessy, a soprano, was on the Sirens’ board of directors when the groups began the merger process.
Last year, as deputy director of operations, she led efforts to expand the evening wear ensemble, known in the group as “Ties & Tails,” to include gender-neutral options, allowing performers to choose between a tuxedo or a concert dress, she says. . The ensemble made its debut at an event at the Hotel Ritz Paris for European alumni sponsored by the Penn alumni France club.
“I’ve always loved being around a group of dedicated people whose shared passion for music brings them even closer together, and the tour was that feeling in its purest form,” Hennessy said. “I think many would agree that our performance at the Ritz exemplified that feeling.”
The band also performed at a hospital on behalf of Hop we care and in a pop-up street concert in Barcelona and Nice, France. The band had their own gig at the band’s hostel in Paris. Along the way, they made detours to Monaco and Versailles and visited museums, monuments and flamenco and Afro-Latin music venues.
Musical selections included favorites like “Let the River Run”, “The Red and Blue”, and “Afterglow”, rearranged to include all vocals. And separate group performances included both the soprano/alto and tenor/bass chamber choirs. “Everyone in the audience was very receptive to the three backing vocals,” Carsello said.
For more than three-quarters of the students, it was their first time on a Glee Club tour, and for some it was their first time traveling abroad. Calling the tour a “once in a lifetime” experience, Hennessy says a defining moment for her was in Paris.
“My little group had ended up at the Eiffel Tower on a whim, and we had arrived just in time to see it light up at midnight. We were left speechless and elated, still in disbelief at the thought of being on tour in Europe, watching the Eiffel Tower twinkle for five minutes straight,” she says. “The sheer joy I felt in that moment is an experience I will never forget.”
This was the sixth tour, four international and two national, for Carsello, a 2016 graduate who was a member of Glee Club during his four years at Penn. “That’s one of the things that helped shape me as a person: this ability to see beyond the reach of Penn and Philadelphia,” he says.
Hennessy says it has been “incredibly rewarding” to be part of the process of merging Glee Club and the gender-neutral choir’s first year. “Our ultimate goal throughout the merger process was to be a group of people who are dedicated to creating the best performance possible,” she says. “This year has proven that inclusivity is key to achieving that goal, and we exceeded expectations by sharing our best performances around the world on tour.”
Images courtesy of Penn Glee Club.