Penn Glee Club: Still Singing After 151 Years

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Media Contact:Jill DiSanto | | 215-898-4820February 12, 2013

With its massive popularity among parents and adolescents alike, the Fox Network’s “Glee” certainly has staying power.  But, its longevity is no match for the University of Pennsylvania’s Glee Club

And, despite the substantial differences between “Glee” and the University’s premiere all-male singing group, the TV series has done a lot to bolster people’s interest in the Penn Glee Club and its performances.

The club singers are all male, but among the 50 members are a dozen non-singers , including women, who play in the band or fill various off-stage technical roles, such as stage manager, set designer or photographer.

“The membership is quite diverse in many ways,” explains Erik Nordgren, the director.  “We have everyone from freshmen to seniors, plus a few graduate students; we have some international students from Korea, Australia and Japan; and we have a good mix of students from the School of Arts and Sciences, School of Engineering and Applied Science and Wharton.”

Nordgren, a researcher in the Chemistry Department, has been at Penn for more than 20 years and leads the Glee Club, which performs nearly 75 times each year, including this coning weekend in Zellerbach Theatre.  He says the Glee Club is the oldest performing-arts group on campus and one of the oldest continually running glee clubs in the United States.

“What makes the Penn Glee Club really special is the unique degree to which the musical and the fraternal aspects overlap and mutually reinforce one another,” Nordgren says.  “The ‘special ingredient’ to such a tremendously energetic and entertaining performance is the strong social fabric and level of trust that exists amongst the membership.”

Eight undergraduate men formed the club in 1862.  Soon, another eight men were added to the group.  At its inaugural concert, each man wore red and blue ribbons in his buttonhole, and the Glee Club became the first known organization to wear the University’s colors as a part of its uniform.  Quickly, the Glee Club became a key component of campus life.

Through the years, the group has been featured on television specials, in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and at national championship sporting events with the Philadelphia Phillies.  They’ve performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Boston Pops.   And, they’ve shared the stage with celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Bill Cosby, Bob Hope, Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart. 

Since the late 1950s, the Glee Club has toured internationally, traveling to nearly all 50 states and more than 40 nations and territories on five continents.

Each year, the club members write and produce a fully staged, Broadway-style production, highlighting its choral singing, clever plots and dialogue, dancing, humor, colorful sets, costumes and its band.

“Our spring shows are renowned for being one of the best performing arts events you can see at Penn,” says Scott Ventre, a 22-year-old from Manalapan, N.J., who is the club president.  As a pre-med senior and bioengineering major at SEAS, he also works as the senior undergraduate researcher at Penn’s Traumatic Brain Injury Lab.

This weekend the Glee Club takes the audience into the world of big business with “Office Bass: A Corporate Musical.”

“This show includes Broadway song and dance numbers, Disney tunes, a few artistic choral pieces – both contemporary and centuries-old, great barbershop-style tunes and modern pop song arrangements,” Nordgren says.

Friday night’s performance starts at 8 o’clock.  There are performances on Saturday at 1 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Ventre explains that putting together such an epic production like “Office Bass” requires a concerted effort from dozens of people.

“The hardest part of putting a show like this together,” Ventre explains, “is balancing all of the things that need to be done on all fronts.  It takes a huge effort from the singers to learn their music, choreography and staging in such a short time-frame, just as it takes a huge effort to build the set pieces.”

“There is a great deal of collective time and energy required from all the members of the club in order to prepare the show,” Nordgren says.

Additional information and tickets are available at