The Notre Dame Glee Club celebrates a century of song

Author: Michael O. Garvey

Notre Dame Glee Club

The University of Notre Dame Glee Club is celebrating its 100th birthday this weekend with a reunion that has drawn more than 500 of its alumni back to campus.

In addition to a Friday night (Oct. 2) concert in South Bend’s Morris Theatre, the alumni singers from the classes of 1943 to the present — not a few of them well into their 90s — will be going on campus tours, sharing meals and memories, and giving impromptu a cappella performances.

“We’ve been planning this reunion for years, so to see it come to fruition is like a dream come true,” said Sean O’Brien, assistant director of Notre Dame’s Center for Civil and Human Rights.

O’Brien, a first tenor in the 1995 Glee Club, said that the reunion “is a chance to welcome my brothers in song back to campus and to share, once again, albeit briefly, the intense companionship of our youth. I auditioned for the Glee Club on my first weekend on campus as a freshman, so these guys are the ones with whom I shared my entire Notre Dame experience. As we read the great books, hit the highs and lows of adolescence and explored all that college offers, we always had each other — rehearsal every day in Crowley Hall at 4:45 followed by dinner — to count on.

“Glee Club provides the opportunity to make music together,” O’Brien said, “but also the chance to be a part of something beautiful that is larger and more lasting than ourselves. I use the present tense because even after 100 years, we are still ready and eager to drop it all and return to our Notre Dame home be transformed by the magic of choral music.”

Choral singing and music have been a part of Notre Dame student life since the University’s earliest days, and various forms of what is today the Notre Dame Glee Club performed at commencements and other celebrations on campus in the mid-19th century. But it wasn’t until Sunday, Oct. 15, 1915, that a hundred Notre Dame students gathered after Mass in the Sorin Law Room for the inaugural meeting of the Glee Club. Notre Dame’s president at the time, Rev. John W. Cavanaugh, C.S.C., was in attendance and was elected the club’s honorary president. With Father Cavanaugh’s support, the Notre Dame Glee Club very soon began to develop a national reputation. Within less than a year of its formation, he arranged for the Notre Dame singers to give a concert in the Minat Theater of Indianapolis before an audience of 2,000 people, including the city’s mayor, Joseph Bell, and its Catholic Bishop Joseph Chartrand.

This and other stories of the Notre Dame Glee Club evolution from a local to an international legend are recounted in a history, “The Singing Irish: A History of the Notre Dame Glee Club,” by Michael Alan Anderson, a 1997 Notre Dame Glee Club alumnus, published this month by the University of Notre Dame Press to mark the centenary.

“I have always thought of Notre Dame and my four years in the Glee Club with the kind of passion and grateful nostalgia that Hemingway had when he recalled Paris," O’Brien said. “Hemingway said that ‘if you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.’ Any time I sing, I am connected in a very physical way to my brothers in song, with whom I shared my entire Notre Dame experience. It’s a blessing to be able to bring the feast back home and make music once again with more than 500 alumni and their families on campus this weekend.”

A live stream of the Friday night concert is available here: