“Carmen Ohio” calls for students to “sing Ohio’s praise.” One student group has been singing Ohio’s praise better than anyone for more than 130 years.
The Men’s Glee Club is the oldest of all clubs at OSU. It was founded in 1875 and carries with it one of the strongest legacies of all OSU traditions. It is one of the few programs at OSU that has an active alumni following. Some former members still sing with the group on occasion. Robert Ward, associate director of choral studies at OSU and glee club conductor, said he understands the tradition resting on his soldiers.
“You can’t deny the power that comes by virtue of tradition. In this part of the world there is a strong tradition of male singing,” he said. “I would expect that tradition is what drives Ohio University’s glee club, Miami’s glee club and the University of Michigan’s glee club.”
The club reached a high point in 1990 when it was unanimously declared “Choir of The World” at a competition in Wales. Ward said that traveling abroad again is “on the radar screen.”
“The Men’s Glee Club has not been to an international competition since then,” he said. “But we are building up to that point.”
Senior electrical engineering major and glee club member Andy Ferguson agreed.
“I think we are very close to having everything lock in,” he said. “We’ve been talking and former members have been raising money.”
While the men of the glee club sing traditional choral songs, they also like to mix it up a bit. Assistant conductor and musical graduate student Tim Sarsany has arranged several Beach Boys songs and Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” for the Statesmen, a smaller traveling version of the glee club.
Ward has been the leader of the glee club for five years. Keeping track of nearly 100 club members is difficult, so he makes sure that those who join are dedicated. He stressed that while it is a club, it is also a class that requires members to dedicate class time throughout the academic year, with at least three practice sessions a week. He said he looks for more than vocal talent, he looks for good men.
“It’s a community. We are the spokespeople for The Ohio State University for the 70 minutes we are on,” Ward said. “We not only recruit talent, we also recruit individuals who have a contribution to make to the university as a whole.”
The community Ward referred to is evident in its members. Few of the men in glee club are actually music majors. Most are just drawn together out of enjoyment for singing.
“I would say 80 percent are not music majors,” said Anthony Tipton, a sophomore in music education. “We’re a really tight-knit group, regardless of major.”
The fraternal element crosses university lines as well. On Saturday the glee club performed a joint concert with the Singing Men of Ohio from Ohio University. OU performed its set first and was followed by the Men’s Glee Club. Michael Whithead, a graduating member of the club, challenged OU in jest.
“You all know this is not a competition,” Whithead said. “But we are going to win.”
The two sides were supportive of one another, frequently rising for standing ovations for the other. The sense of community also stretches to OSU alumni and in particular to glee club alumni. Glee club alumni joined the current members onstage to sing the closing medley of OSU songs at Saturday’s show.
Glee club alumni have their own performance group that performs during homecoming week every other year with the glee club. Ward said the glee club is trying to get former members to come back for events.
“The alumni are pleased with what’s going on with the current club and are becoming more assertive and aggressive in building their own ranks so they can support the tradition that changed their lives when they were undergraduates,” Ward said.
The club is also aware of its role in representing the university to the public.
“You can’t take the football team everywhere,” Tipton said. “We’re a physical manifestation of OSU’s traditions.”
Many alumni were present at Saturday’s show even if they didn’t have a family member or friend in the club. A bus had taxied nearly thirty senior Buckeye fans to the show.
Ward said that while he aims to make the Men’s Glee Club the best he can, he knows that after 130 years, it could survive without him. The alumni would keep coming back, regardless of who was in charge.
“It’s not about me. It’s not about the guys singing right now,” Ward said. “It’s a moving train, and we’re just lucky to be along for the ride.”
Ryan Book can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.