Occidental College’s Glee Club embarked on their annual winter tour this past January, connecting with audiences throughout Arizona. Under the direction of Director of Choral and Vocal Activities Desiree La Vertu, students performed a variety of songs ranging from classical pieces such as Exsultate Justi by Andreas Hakenberger, to the Broadway classic Seasons of Love by Jonathan Larson, to contemporary pieces such as True Colors, composed by Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg.
“I am committed to our students experiencing as wide a variety of choral music as possible,” La Vertu said. “So I chose music that was historical, classical and contemporary. Also folk songs from around the world and some American songs.”
Glee Club performed at several venues, and Occidental alumni attended many of the concerts. According to David Kasunic, chair of the music department and professor of music, the intergenerational mixing plays a special role in alumni involvement.
“[The tour] is bringing something that was so central to the Occidental experience for many alums, bringing it to where they live,” Kasunic said. “Often [alumni] serve as hosts in their own cities, to welcome them and to connect.”
When selecting the music for the tour, La Vertu said she takes into account theindividual skills of her students. For instance, La Vertu chose songs in different languages and utilized students’ bilingual skills so that they could instruct Glee Club on how the song should be performed.
“[Glee Club] did one song in Mandarin, for example,” La Vertu said. “We have a Chinese student in Glee Club — our bass section leader — and they knew that he could coach us on that. We did another piece in Hebrew, and one of our students is fluent in Hebrew. So I also try to think about who my students are in Glee Club at that time, and try to represent their cultures as much as I can.”
Occasionally, the set of songs is adjusted to adhere to time constraints, according to La Vertu, but the performance is always tailored to fit the specific venue.
“There’s great value in singing the same repertoire in many different venues because the pieces are living and breathing. We don’t just do them the exact same way every time,” La Vertu said. “We have to make adjustments based on how the sound is different in each space.”
A highlight for both La Vertu and Glee Club member Ian Zunt (senior) was visiting the Chapel of the Holy Cross, which is built into the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona. The Chapel usually requires visitors to remain silent while visiting, but according to Zunt, the group received special permission to sing a few songs from Glee Club’s program.
“I think it’s pretty moving for the people involved, and also for us to be up and looking at the rocks,” Zunt said. “That’s the culmination of Arizona.”
According to Zunt, who is in his fourth year of Glee Club, the tour also serves as a way to create and develop meaningful friendships with other members.
“I always feel like I come out really a lot closer to the people I was already close with, but also I make friends across all grade levels,” Zunt said. “Touring as a concept, being on the bus for three hours a day — squished up and everyone living out of a suitcase — it’s really easy to bond through the struggle.”
Zunt said raising enthusiasm for Glee Club is a goal for his last semester at Occidental. Zunt, who hails from a performing arts high school in Seattle,recognizes a lack of support for arts programs across the Occidental student body compared to his high school.
“Once people get there, they love it,” Zunt said. “It’s just getting people to realize that they might like a choral concert.”
Glee Club finished their tour with a home concert at Herrick Chapel Jan. 26. La Vertu and Zunt both described plans for the upcoming season of Glee Club, including a pops concert April 19, as well as a combined performance with Occidental’s Symphony Orchestra of French composer Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem April 25. According to Kasunic, several members of Glee Club also opted to perform with the Pacific Opera Project in Thorne Hall Jan. 25, Feb. 1 and Feb. 2.
“This is a professional opera company. You are not going to have that experience going to most liberal arts colleges or most universities, where you get, as a student, to participate on stage in a professional production,” Kasunic said.
A full schedule of events for the Spring 2020 semester can be found on Glee Club’s website.