Alumni Clubs & Groups

Singing Their History

Hearing the Rutgers University Glee Club fill Kirkpatrick Chapel—or any other venue—with selections from the Rutgers songbook is awe inspiring. The group never fails to boost scarlet spirit, whether it’s performing during the holidays, at university ceremonies, or at other events. Director Patrick Gardner entertains while expertly leading the ensemble in stirring renditions of “Old Queens Bell,” “Down Where the Raritan Flows,” “In a Quaint Old Jersey Town,” and other favorites.

Those performances are part of a larger story—one that spans many musical styles and a major portion of Rutgers history. The 2021-2022 academic year marks the 150th anniversary of the Glee Club’s founding, when, in 1872, a group of sophomores began practicing songs together. The Rutgers College Glee Club gave its first concert the following March, establishing a repertoire infused with school spirit and the growing fervor for college football.

It’s impossible to say how much the founders envisioned that repertoire evolving. What we do know is that the Glee Club developed a sophisticated artistic palette covering everything from old New Zealand Maori chants to modern Christmas carols, as it performed in more venues across New Jersey, the nation, and eventually the world. Even so, today’s members make a point to keep the fight songs of yore alive.

“There are many occasions when we want to bring the community together around time-honored Rutgers songs,” says Gardener, who has led the group since 1993 and is more cognizant than anyone of its wide-ranging abilities. “We are equally attuned to music that is innovative and of the highest classical artistry, whether that means beloved Christmas carols, a piece in Hebrew, or recent work by cutting-edge composer Melissa Dunphy.”

While the Glee Club continues to celebrate its 150-year milestone in many ways, perhaps the most visible will be its upcoming concert at the Nicholas Music Center in New Brunswick on April 30. “That will definitely be a high point,” says Gardner, “and it will honor a century and half of musical history.”

As anniversary celebrations continue, many Glee Club enthusiasts are remembering two important and supportive figures: longtime faculty adviser Peter Gillett and revered music professor David Drinkwater, both of whom passed away in 2021. Each holds a special place in the group’s history.

For more information on the Rutgers University Glee Club, visit the group’s website.

You can also view this video about the Glee Club to learn more about their history and activities.