Musical Clubs at Brown have a history which dates back to 1775, when Andrew Law 1775 organized a singing group of fellow students. The diary of Williams Latham 1827 contains references to the Harmonic Society on November 24, 1826, “Harmonic Society got excused from singing in the Chapel any more this term, and on March 25, 1827, “the Harmonic Society to Mr. Edes’s Meeting house, where with the use of the Organ we sung many tunes out of Bridgewater Collection to the gratification of Rev. Mr. Edes and some others.” There were also some early bands. A student band played at Commencement in 1828. The “Brunonian Band” performed at the junior and senior exhibitions in 1837. There was a Brown student orchestra as early as 1858, according to a flyer advertising a concert on April 19, 1858, at the Town Hall of nearby Seekonk, with “a chorus of forty singers ... accompanied by the ORCHESTRA of Brown University.”
The Brown Paper, in its first issue in 1857 contained a roster of a Glee Club. A more formal Glee Club or Chorus came into being in 1868. At a concert performed in the Horse Guards Armory on June 14, 1869, the new Glee Club introduced the “Alma Mater,” which had been written nine years earlier. In 1871 the club was an added attraction at the Junior Exhibition. Progress was reported in the Brunonian of July, 1871:
“Brown has been making proficiency in musical culture, as well as in muscle, in the season just past. The glee club, started three years ago, when ’72 came into existence, consisted for two years of a very excellent double quartet. This year we have had a chorus of larger dimensions. The idea of forming it was suggested by the chapel singing, which had been so often alluded to as ‘massive and grand.’ Mr. Elliott ^Richard M. Elliot 1872` very justly thought that for no training and no arrangement of parts, this musical exercise was the proof of a large talent in college, and much excellence, if rightly developed. Accordingly a few were first added to the usual number, and the encouragement thus given warranted a farther trial. Strenuous efforts were put forth, and succeeding meetings drew out larger numbers, until the collected crowd was regarded as ‘the Brown chorus.’ The cantata of Mendelssohn, entitled ‘To the Sons of Art,’ was taken up for practice, and long and faithful drill was bestowed upon the preparation of the work. A hall was an imperative need, and at a reasonable rate one was secured in an unoccupied fourth story of a new building on Weybosset, or rather, Pine Street. A piano was hired and thus were the singers armed and equipped.”In its first year the chorus gave a concert in Westerly and was invited back the next year. In 1871 a concert was given in Music Hall on the evening before Commencement, at which “The college songs pleased best, and the applause to them was loud and long.” In the 1870s the pages of the Liber Brunensis attest to the existence of the University Glee Club, some class glee clubs, assorted independent groups, as the Delta Kappa Epsilon quartet, and an occasional class orchestra. In 1882 the Glee Club secured the services of Mr. Reed, director of the choir of the Central Baptist Church, as musical director. That year beneath of the listing of the University Glee Club in the Liber appeared the College Glee Club, identified as “Rival of the former.”
In 1882 the Brown University Musical Association was formed to promote interest in college singing and serve as a financial basis for the glee club and insure the permanence of the club. In the 1890s the standard musical clubs were the Glee, Banjo, and Mandolin Clubs. The banjo group fell by the wayside around 1903. The Mandolin Club was instructed in 1893 by Senor L. T. Romero. Club member Walter G. Cady 1895 wrote his recollections of the musical clubs many years later:
“The Brown musical clubs followed the pattern that was common at American College in the 90s. There was a glee club with membership of about 16; a mandolin club with mandolins and guitars, about 10 in all, to which we added later a violin or a cello, or a flute, or a combinations of these; and a banjo club with banjos, banjeaurines (a short banjo with a big head), guitars and later a piccolo banjo. There was a great deal of overlapping in the membership and the three clubs formed one organization with a common manager. We made extended trips during Christmas and Easter vacations, and also gave a number of concerts in or near Providence.... For each performance we received either a flat sum or a fraction of the gate receipts. I don’t think we ever failed to come out in the black at the end of the season, and the profit was divided among the members of the club.”Women students had their own musical organizations. In 1895-96 a glee club, which consisted of a double quartet, sang at the College. They had Jules Jordan as a coach, and the next year, with sixteen members, the club began to perform at local churches and schools, sometimes accompanied by the banjo club of four members, two banjos and two guitars. The women’s club sang at the Baccalaureate in 1897, and after 1900 sang at chapel exercises. The women were also permitted to sing at the men’s concerts, and a group called the Hope Club, consisting of a quartet from the Women’s College and one from Brown Glee Club under the direction of Willard G. Ward ’02, went forth to sing in Providence churches and as far afield as a Y.M.C.A. gymnastics exhibition in the Newport Opera House. Other women’s clubs were the short-lived Choral Club in 1909 and the Chapel Choir, established in 1909-10 under the direction of Professor Hamilton MacDougall, and directed by Blanche N. Davis from 1913 to 1938. In 1914 the women’s Glee Club presented the operetta, “Japanese Girl.”
Football games provided an opportunity for the glee clubs of the participating colleges to get together for a joint concert on the eve of the game. The Brown and Amherst clubs held a concert in Providence on the eve of the Brown-Amherst game in 1907. In 1910 Dr. Lacey-Baker, organist at Grace Church in Providence volunteered to coach the Glee Club in return for volunteers from the Club to sing with the church’s choir. In 1919 the Brown musical clubs took part in an “A.B.C.” (Amherst, Brown and Cornell) concert in New York City. In 1926 the Brown Glee Club participated for the first time in the Intercollegiate Glee Club contest in Jordan Hall with twelve other glee clubs.
From 1949 to 1959 the Glee Club was under the direction of David Laurent. An Ivy League Musical Activities Council was formed in 1955, designed to create close ties among the eight universities by featuring joint concerts of three clubs each year in New York. In 1956 Brown was one of the three clubs participating with Yale and Cornell. Erich Kunzel became director of the Glee Club in 1959. It was then composed of sixty upperclassmen with training in the Canticum Glee Club for freshmen under David Laurent. In 1960 the club made a record of Brown songs. The Chorus became the first Brown performing arts group to represent the University abroad when it traveled to England for the 350th anniversary of the crossing of the Mayflower in 1970 and sang in thirteen English cathedrals. In the summer of 1973 there was another trip to Czechoslovakia (where the Chorus, with Robert Molison as director, gave the first officially recognized American concert in Prague since the Russian invasion of 1968), Hungary, and Austria. In 1974 William Ermey replaced Robert Molison as director of the University Chorus and the Chamber Choir. Fifty-two members of the Brown Chorus traveled 20,000 miles in 1976 on a 24-day trip to India and Nepal sponsored by Friendship Ambassadors, Inc., a private foundation which promotes harmony between nations through music. The Chorus, the first American choral group ever invited to India, gave nine formal concerts, sang in airports, factories, and in the streets, and performed before Mother Theresa in the Bombay Airport and before Indira Ghandi in her garden. In June 1979 the Brown Chorus became the first American college performing group to tour the People’s Republic of China, sponsored again by Friendship Ambassadors. In Canton the Chorus opened the concert with an ancient Chinese song, “Moli Hua,” and later the combined choruses of Brown and Canton sang “America the Beautiful.” They sang before musical societies, with professional groups, over Canton radio and Radio Peking. The Chorus sang “The Stars and Stripes Forever” at the Great Wall, and the Hi-Jinks sang “My Wild Irish Rose” at the Summer Palace. They exchanged performances and discussed music with the Liaoning Song and Dance Group. Before they left China, the rector of the Central Conservatory of Music proposed an exchange of teaching materials between Brown and the conservatory. Aaron Copland performed with the Chorus and the Wind Ensemble at a Commencement concert in 1980. On April 12, 1987 the Chorus and Orchestra, sponsored by the Brown Club of New York, performed in a benefit concert in Carnegie Hall and raised $20,000 for financial aid. The Chorus and Orchestra made another appearance in Carnegie Hall with Dave Brubeck on February 18, 1990.
The band has played at college events continuously since 1924 when Irving Harris 1928 reorganized it. There are references to the existence of informal student bands in earlier years, at Commencement in 1828 and at the junior and senior exhibitions in 1837. In 1893 the Brown Daily Herald noted, “Owing to military drill, the Band has been kept steadily at work through the year.” That year the band also played at Reeves’ reception and accompanied the Minstrels on their Easter trip, then played at the baseball games. But that was not all – “the principal new feature for this year being the blue coats and brass buttons.” In 1897 Captain Cunliffe Murray, professor of military science, reported the purchase of eight brass band instruments which, “in conjunction with those usually owned by the students, will ensure the permanent organization of the band with only a slight yearly expense to the University.” A band composed of students was organized in the fall of 1921 through the efforts of Charles H. Pinkham ’22 and made its debut on the Faunce House terrace and escorted the football team to the station before its game with Syracuse. The band’s first appearance on Andrews Field, in white flannel pants and brown sweaters, was at the Springfield game on October 22, 1921.
In the fall of 1924, when Irving Harris arrived as a freshman, he was surprised not to find a band performing at the first football game. He was told that the Brown Band at this point was an informal group of musicians who came out for student rallies. When Harris learned that the elected leader of the bnad was not about to call a rehearsal, he asked permission to assemble the band members himself. In response to an announcement in the Brown Daily Herald only a few freshmen appeared. Since they had no music and few instruments on hand, Harris asked those assembled to register and return for a rehearsal a few days later. That gave him time to purchase some band music and to smuggle some drums used by the Naval Reserve during World War I from their resting place in Lyman Gym. Very soon after the band of about 25 members began rehearsing, a rally was called to see the football team off to its game with the University of Chicago. When Harris’ friends urged that the band join in the march down the hill, he argued that they knew only one selection and that he had no drum major’s baton. His roommate obligingly wrapped a mop handle with the belt of his bathrobe, which provided a suitable brown cord and tassel. A deciding factor in the inexperienced band’s decision to join the parade was the unexpected announcement in the Brown Daily Herald that the band would be present. On the morning of the departure of the team for Chicago, Irving Harris, intrepid freshman, led the band and the student body down the hill. The large crowd gathered downtown required a policeman to clear a lane for the marchers – fortunately for leader Harris, who had been in Providence for about three weeks and did not know the way to the station. The band played its one piece over and over, only to learn in the Evening Bulletin the next day that its selection was a Harvard football song. The band continued rehearsing and, with more members and an enlarged repertoire, offered its services to Athletic Director Frederick Marvel, who was less than enthusiastic, but said that, if the band would play at games through the winter sports season, it could help dedicate the baseball field in the spring. For this occasion Irving Harris’ father purchased white duck trousers for the band members, who combined them with white shirts, black bow ties and white gob hats into a uniform. For the dedication the forty-member band assembled in right field and marched to center field, where a sharp left turn brought all but one absent-minded bandsman into center field to play the national anthem. The band had gained acceptance. Harris took a conducting course at Columbia during the summer, and Brown had a full-fledged band playing in the new stadium in the fall of 1925.
Within a few years the band was playing not only at football, hockey, and baseball contests, but also at concerts in neighboring communities and concerts in the vicinity of away football games. The band also welcomed the freshmen during Freshman Week, performed at the Monday evening campus sings in the spring, was featured on local radio broadcasts, and finished its season with the promenade concert on the Middle Campus in honor of Junior Week. New uniforms consisting of brown sweaters and white flannels were adopted in 1930 and worn until 1947. The new design adopted at that time consisted of “white Eisenhower jackets, with white shirts and brown ties, the jacket lapels and cuffs borrowing the red from the University seal. A white ‘B’ appears on a red shoulder patch. Trousers will be brown, with white and gold piping.” The cost of the uniforms was raised by Lewis S. Milner ’02 from the alumni, while the University spent another $1,900 on new instruments.
In the 1960s Brown and other Ivy League bands changed their style from precision marching to an informal running about on the field. At Brown football games a low-voiced “Ladieees and gentlemen ... friends and alumni ... the Brown University Marching Band,” on the public address system introduced the band’s half-time shows, which combined unusual formations with irreverent and often offensive scripts. In the interest of not annoying the alumni too much, a University adopted a policy which required the band to submit the scripts to the athletic director for editing prior to presentation. In the spring of 1969 the admission of women members strengthened the dwindling numbers of the band, and in 1970 the appointment of John Christie as the band’s musical advisor and faculty liaison improved its performance. Christie came to Brown as a result of a student petition for the establishment of a wind ensemble and the hiring of a full-time director for the ensemble and the band. The first Wind Ensemble had 55 students. When eighty tried out in 1971, the excess players formed a new group, the Concert Band. The Brown Band began to operate in three groups, the marching band, the hockey band, and the basketball band. The Brown Stage Band was formed independently in 1972 by students from the wind ensemble and other musical groups and performed under the direction of Bill Becker ’75 for a year without seeking University support. In 1973 Ken Fradley ’76 succeeded Becker as band leader. After a year the informal group sought student activity funding.
On November 2, 1974 the Brown Band celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. Former band members came back and played with the band at a halftime performance in which Irving Harris in his original band sweater led “Stars and Stripes Forever.” The band uniform at that time was white pants and a brown turtleneck sweater. In 1982 the band conducted a campaign to raise $14,000 from band alumni and parents for new uniforms to replace their now outmoded white bellbottom pants. They changed again in 1989 to brown tunics with vertical red and white stripes. Matthew McGarrell succeeded John Christie in 1984 as director of the Brown Band, the Wind Ensemble, and the Jazz Band.
The Symphony Society began to give annual mid-winter concerts in 1886. It added other local performances in 1893 and continued until 1900. Another orchestra was started in 1912. An orchestra of undergraduates was formed in the fall of 1919 under the leadership of Robert Reed Baldridge ’21 and played classical and semi-classical music in Providence and on tours. Soon the orchestra, led by Arlan Coolidge ’24 and coached by Leonard Smith, was performing about twenty concerts a year for enthusiastic audiences. In 1924-25 there were only eight concerts, and Samuel T. Arnold ’13, supervisor of non-athletic activities noted in his annual report, “This may be due in part to the increase in the number of radio receiving sets, since it is now possible for a person to hear music in his own home that would compare favorably with that rendered by the Brown University Orchestra.” There was no orchestra in the year 1928-29, and Arnold surmised that the prevalence of jazz orchestras with which students could make money was taking musicians away from the orchestra. The first “Jazz Troupe,” formed in 1919 under the leadership of Marshall N. Fulton ’20, had two pianists and three mandolin players who played in “southern syncopated style.” The next year there was a band named “Nick Brown’s Jazzers.”
On May 12, 1940 the combined Brown-Pembroke orchestra was the first college musical group to perform at the New York World’s Fair. In the mid-1950s a six-member jazz band called the Brunotes began to play for campuses dances at Brown and other colleges. The Brunotes of 1958 spent fifty days in Europe playing a series of night club engagements and appearing at the World’s Fair in Brussels.
On April 30, 1978 violinist Isaac Stern, whose daughter was a senior, played a benefit concert with the Brown Orchestra in the Veterans Auditorium, and was awarded an honorary degree. The proceeds of the concert were used to establish a “Guest Artists Fund” to bring other great performers to play with the Orchestra. The orchestra, which had played with cellist Mstislav Rostropovich at President Swearer’s inauguration in 1977, played with him again in November 1981 in a benefit performance for music at Brown and for the International String Quartet and the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1981 Wolfgang Balzer was named director of the orchestra, which for thirty years had been led by Martin Fischer. Balzer was followed by Eije Oue in 1985, Richard Westerfield in 1986, and Christopher Blair in 1988. Paul Phillips became musical director and conductor of the orchestra in 1989. His orchestra performed with the Chorus in Carnegie Hall in February 1990 and in Avery Fisher Hall with violinist Itzhak Perlman on April 28, 1991.
There are and have been a number of singing groups for students. The Bruinaires, a group organized in 1945 with Francis Madeira as one of its founders, performed as a featured ensemble of the Glee Club, of which all the “Bruinaires” were members, and also went on separate singing tours. The Pembroke Double Quartet, known as the PDQ’s, began about 1948, modeling themselves after the Double Quartet at Amherst. The group sang at parties on campus and off, and serenaded the freshman dorms at the beginning of the year. The “quartet” also increased in number (fifteen members were reported in 1963). The Jabberwocks, a male double quartet, began in 1950. They wore grey flannel suits, white button-down oxford shirts, striped ties and white buck shoes, and travelled to out-of-town concerts in a 1928 Rolls Royce. The group turned coed in the early 1970s and then disappeared, to be revived in 1980 by Jack Dorer ’81 and Tom Dorer ’84, sons of John Dorer ’55, a member of the earlier group. In 1983 the Jabberwocks released a record called Street Night. The Chattertocks got their start in the fall of 1951 in the interdormitory group singing competition, when Nancy Tobin ’55 arranged for her dormitory, Sharpe House, to perform a skit imitating the Jabberwocks. Copying the costume of that group and coached by Nancy’s boyfriend, John Dorer ’55, the Chattertocks won the contest. They continued to sing together, dressed in preppy clothes, and traveled to other campuses, where they sometimes exercised their talent for imitating their host group. From a cappella they branched out to guitar and piano accompaniment, returned to a cappella in 1982, and added choreography and comedy skits to their concerts. A tradition for the Chattertocks has been the singing of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” in Latin at the Latin Carol Service.
The Brown University Chorale accompanied the Brown University Brass Ensemble on a bicentennial tour of the Middle West during spring break in 1964. The High Jinks, a barbershop octet with bow ties, began in 1975. The Brown Derbies, a group which began in the early 1980s, adopted vests and derbies for a turn of the century look. The Higher Keys, a coed a cappella group, was formed in 1983. Stone Soup, an eight-member coed madrigal group, specialized in sixteenth-century Italian songs; Ursa Minors is a women’s singing group which performs contemporary music a cappella; With One Voice is a coed Christian a cappella singing group; and Just in Time is women’s a cappella group which sings both contemporary music and golden oldies.