Monty in Full, continued...

Gazette: What other musical activities besides the Glee Club were going on when you began?

Monty: Nothing like what there is today. At that time, about 400 members of the freshman class would line up on the Schuylkill River and go into a great phalanx across the campus, trying out for everything. I would always audition three or four hundred people for a relatively few slots in the Glee Club. Nowadays, there are, I think, 36 extracurricular musical organizations—which is astonishing—and many of them were started by Glee Club people. I directed Mask & Wig for years, and I worked with a number of the smaller a-cappella groups and arranged things for some of them. And I’ve been musical director of Penn Players and stage director for Penn Players for a number of their productions. So I’ve kept my finger in a lot of pies. Fortunately, I was one of those first-cousin kids, so I have 14 fingers.
    At that time, I also did the band—I was probably the worst band director that ever worked on Franklin Field. Penn Singers [nČe Pennsyngers] was just getting started as a female chorus, and they found that they sort of outnumbered their audiences every time they performed—there really wasn’t a great demand for it here. So I got rid of their director and took it over myself and turned it into a co-ed chorus.
    The very first program I think I ever conducted of theirs we called “Three Ages of Faith.” The first half was early music by Buxtehude, a Schubert Mass and nine movements from the then-popular Jesus Christ Superstar, complete with rock band. After the intermission we did the one short Gilbert & Sullivan show, Trial by Jury, and we sold out before we opened. The following Tuesday was our next rehearsal, and I said, “OK—you’ve done romantic music; you’ve done contemporary stuff; and you’ve done light opera. Which direction do you want to go?” And they all said, “Light opera.” So we did Gilbert & Sullivan every spring from that moment on.

Gazette: But you don’t monkey with the script.

Monty: No. Never. The closest I ever came to that was in, I think it was 1972. We did Patience in the Zellerbach. This is a show that literally laughed the Pre-Raphaelite movement out of existence. Really—the aestheticism of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, and the affectations attendant thereto, were absolute parallels to the flower children of the late sixties and early seventies, and Oscar Wilde and Algernon Swinburne and people like that were the [Allen] Ginsburgs and the others. And so, just for fun—I didn’t change one note or one syllable, but we did Patience with the two poets wearing pink turtlenecks and pink jeans and sitting on a ladder with an electric guitar. And—again, not changing a single syllable—the women were the flower children of the 1960s and early 1970s.
    There’s a transformation at the end wherein Grosvenor realizes that this is a ridiculous affectation, so he and his women followers go through a complete change. And I brought all the women in in mini-skirts with high white-plastic boots and clear plastic umbrellas; we brought in a huge rolled-up Union Jack, which unrolled all the way down to the footlights; and in came Grosvenor in a leather jacket with studs all over it and Wellingtons with a British Flag painted on the front—and it was absolutely as appropriate as the day Gilbert & Sullivan wrote the opera. It was astonishing.

Gazette: With the Glee Club, you’ve been described as someone who “takes ordinary young men and molds them into an extraordinary program.”

Monty: I appreciate that comment. There certainly has never, in the history of this University, been anyone who has enjoyed working with extraordinary people the way I have. And yes, they all pass an audition vocally to get in, but they end up being the most remarkable young men I can possibly imagine working with. And that was true, believe it or not, during the late sixties and early seventies, when it was the time of “Do your own thing,” and joining an organized group was taboo, verboten. And they continued to join, and we continued to do, I think, meaningful statements on the conditions of the world, on the Vietnam War, on prison riots, on pollution, on whatever—and remained viable that way. So we never suffered the slump that other choruses around the country did—glee clubs were rolling over like dinosaurs and dying, literally by the hundreds. I was on the board of the Intercollegiate Musical Council for years, and that was made up of the directors of all the male choruses in the country, and it got to the point where there just weren’t many left—enough of an attrition where we terminated the program. The IMC doesn’t meet anymore.

Gazette: Beyond tradition, what is the appeal of an all-male glee club?

Monty: The sound. It’s absolutely unique. For years, earlier in the women’s lib movement, I would get a visit every year from the new head. And we would always chat amicably, and I would mention that it’s perfectly possible for a fine tuba player to wish to play with the Budapest String Quartet. It can be done, but it certainly changes the sound. And there’s something very special about the Budapest String Quartet, or the Juilliard String Quartet or the Curtis String Quartet. There’s something very special about the sound and the repertoire of a male chorus. And we already have a bunch of other mixed choruses; why destroy one just to be P.C.?

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