The Penn Glee Club has just made its first outside hire in over half a century — and is welcoming its first new director in 15 years.
After C. Erik Nordgren retired last year, the Glee Club hired Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University graduate Joshua Glassman to lead the Glee Club forward. Glassman hopes to keep the traditions of the Glee Club that have endured for over 150 years, while adding his own flair and direction to the club by planning new events and updating its musical repertoire.
“To be able to go now to a historic university and direct the fourth oldest glee club in the country, that has all this tradition and history, and to now be a part [of it], to lead an organization like this, is, although it sounds cliche, a dream come true,” Glassman said.
As the first outside hire in 50 years, Glassman has many new ideas to introduce at Penn. Initially, he said he would like to add more traditional choral music that was previously underrepresented in the club’s repertoire. He hopes to bring back the historic Award of Merit, an honor given out in the past to a significant contributor to music.
Though the Award of Merit was suspended 23 years ago, he would like to bring it into the 21st century to raise money for the club. This black-tie gala is planned for the end of March, with the honoree yet to be revealed.
Glassman additionally wants to introduce more community engagement into the club’s activities. As it is the oldest student group on campus and one of the top five oldest glee clubs in the country, Glassman believes “we have a civic obligation to reach out to our community and get off campus.” He envisions a system to pair up the Glee Club with middle or high school boys, mentor them, encourage appreciation of the arts and show that “singing is cool.”
Glassman, a native of Ann Arbor, Mich., attended the University of Michigan, where he was a member of Michigan’s prestigious and historic glee club. He received his master’s degree from the Peabody Conservatory before entering the singing profession. He has performed in numerous operas, including one that won a Best of Baltimore Award for Best New Social-Justice Opera.
At Michigan, his glee club experience was “easily the definitive aspect of my collegiate career,” he said. “The brotherhood that came out of the music making has since been unmatched by any experience that I’ve had.”
He said he knew that this would be an ideal job for him, but he applied unsure of his qualifications to lead such a respected group — reservations that soon proved unnecessary. Glassman said he is often mistaken for an undergraduate. “Employees in the president’s office called me ‘sport’ and the student move-in crew asked me where my luggage was,” he said. “When I am in the blazer with the tie I look like one of the members.”
The Glee Club is excited to see what Glassman brings to the table. “He keeps the rehearsals very productive, but also isn’t afraid to let his guard down and tell a joke once in a while,” Glee Club President and College senior Daniel Carsello said. “We really hit the ground running since he took over in August. ... We’ve only had four rehearsals, but we’ve gone though a lot of music.”
Band Director and College senior Tom Peterson agreed.
“Get ready, because you’re going to see big changes on campus with this guy,” he said.
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