The Occidental College Glee Club had its beginning in 1906 with the founding of a men’s choral group, followed in 1912 by a women’s club.
Except for a period in the latter part of the 20th century, there has been both a Men’s Glee Club and a Women’s Glee Club. Each had a succession of directors in the formative years, local men and women of distinguished musical talent. One of the first was O. F. Tallman, who conducted the Men’s Glee Club from 1911 to 1918 and gave the Women’s Glee Club its start.
In 1926, Walter E. Hartley, an experienced music scholar, became a full-time appointment in Occidental’s department of music and directed the Glee Club. Howard Swan followed as director from 1934 until retirement in 1971, a period when the Glee Club earned a national and international reputation for superb choral music. He was succeeded for a brief time by Henry Gibbons, who was followed by Thomas Somerville, a Bach scholar, under whose specialty and expertise performances of classical masterworks, especially from the Baroque, received wide acclaim. Jeffrey Bernstein, Glee Club director from 1997 to 2008, brought a keen focus on a cappella repertoire to his work with the choral program. Joined in 2008 by Director of Choral Music Desiree LaVertu, the Glee Club continues to attract national and international attention for its unified tone, intense musicianship, and varied repertoire.
From the beginning, the Glee Club has played a central role in the life of the College, giving voice to college spirit and drawing musicians of the highest caliber to Occidental. Their reputation for excellence has carried the banners of Occidental far into the musical world through national and international tours and recordings and through the generations of choral conductors who have been affiliated with Occidental.
An example of national recognition came in 1961, when by invitation the Glee Club sang under famed conductor Bruno Walter in an all-Brahms recording for Columbia Records. In 1969, the Glee Club was selected to represent the United States in the second International College and University Choral Festival sponsored by Lincoln Center in New York City. Another memorable event was its participation in Elinor Remick Warren’s Good Morning, America!, a work for chorus and orchestra commissioned by Occidental for the 1976 Bicentennial. In 2000, as part of the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the death of J. S. Bach, the Glee Club collaborated with the nationally acclaimed Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra and soloists in a performance of Bach’s St. John Passion. Since then the Glee Club has performed numerous choral-orchestral works including Faure’s Requiem, Handel’s Messiah, and Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, and has sung in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Pasadena and Santa Monica symphony orchestras.
View the Historical Glee Club Photos.
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