Occidental’s Glee ‘fun, intense and crazy’ tour spreads choral cheer and community

Photo courtesy of Max Tel.

After returning from the Occidental Glee Club’s recent tour across the Southern United States, Max Tel (senior) said the trip could be described in three words: fun, intense and crazy.

“It’s the first time we really spent a lot of time with each other,” Tel said.

Glee Tour is an annual opportunity for the group to travel to different parts of the world or country, with an opportunity to work on their confidence while performing choral music.

According to their website, Occidental’s Glee Club — which, according to the club’s manager Hayden Jennings (sophomore), is referred to as a class by their director — has been touring for over 75 years, including trips abroad to countries like the Czech Republic, Italy and Spain. This year, the group toured Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

The group participated in multiple activities while on tour, such as watching movies in hotel rooms, attending jazz club events and singing “Io Triumphe” in public. Along with rehearsals, icebreaker activities and meeting other choirs, Glee Club managed to settle into entirely different communities rapidly, and learn from the spaces around them.

“There was quite a few gospel songs [in the set], which was important to us because we were going to be singing in the South on MLK Day,” Tel said.

In total, Glee Club brought 13 songs on tour, and performed 10 to 11 for each performance. The set list for the tour included gospel songs, a piece in Sanskrit and one in German, among others.

Being on tour allowed Glee Club the opportunity to travel, and let them interact in spaces that they had not experienced. According to Tel, the group mainly performed in churches and chapels, so they found it important to be aware of the spaces and their audiences.

Photo courtesy of Max Tel.

In Jackson, Mississipi, the group performed in a concert with the Mississippi Boy’s Choir and Copiah-Lincoln College Choir. Tel said the Jackson concert was their favorite.

“They were so excited to have us there, and we were so excited to meet them,” Tel said. “They said they had never heard music like the music we made, which was really moving.”

The tour also helps with building confidence within the group as well as improving performance quality and energy.

On the first night on tour in New Orleans, Tel said the group was immediately able to utilize their performance skills in a dance battle initiated by a dance team in the same restaurant.

“They had this big dance floor and this band playing Zydeco, and then this dance team of middle-school aged girls with tight ponytails and Jojo Siwa bows, like Dance Moms, started dancing too, and started showing off,” Tel said. “They challenged us to a dance battle and obviously they won because they were doing cartwheels and backflips.”

Along with interacting with the communities around them, the Glee Club was able to reflect on their own relationships and connections as a group. Jennings said he marveled at how much Glee has grown closer to each other since their return from the tour. Now that the group has started learning new pieces, Jennings said he has noticed a distinct difference in the way the group has grown and learned to complement each other while rehearsing.

“The sound — it’s crazy how you’ve exhausted your voice for so many reasons, you know from travel, we sounded better than ever somehow. There’s no reason you should sound as good as you do on these tours, and yet, you just connect with each other, and you’re singing together everyday, and I just feel like we’ve found our sound now,” Jennings said. “You just know how something is going to sound before you sing it, you’re able to predict and know how your own voice is going to fit into it, I mean everyone is just locked in.”

The growth in group connection allowed them to connect with the music as well. According to Jennings, regardless of the religious affiliation of each member of the group, singing songs that come from different religions allows the group to recognize and preserve history. Even if someone personally does not connect with the religious content in a song, there is still a connection through sharing a space in a larger community.

“Some of what we’re singing isn’t the most accessible, whether it’s German or Latin, old text,” Jennings said. “A lot of it is coming from different religious traditions and we’re using biblical language. It’s history, that’s why we’re doing it.”

Previous member Michelle Teh (sophomore) attended last year’s trip to Sacramento, Las Vegas and Reno. Teh said she learned important skills for singers to utilize for performances, including performance etiquette and how to adjust dynamics for the spaces they occupy.

“You have to trust each other,” Teh said. “And trust Desiree, the director. It definitely strengthens the ensemble.”

Each Glee member interviewed said they would love the opportunity to go on tour again and connect with audiences all over the country, learn from the new spaces they visit and celebrate those spaces with others using the art of song.

Contact Sela Dingpontsawa at dingpontsawa@oxy.edu.


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