The first thing the Penn Glee Club Band will want you to know about them (apart from the fact that they won Street’s Battle of the Bands) is that they’re nothing like the hit TV Show, Glee. Jackson Price (C’18) and a drummer for the band says that whenever he tells people he’s in the Glee club at Penn, he has to explain just exactly what that means; “I tell my friends back home who don’t go here I’m in the Glee Club, but don’t worry, it’s nothing like the show.”
Most people at Penn have a similar reaction. Sam Orlin (C’19), the president and a tenor sax player for the band, clarifies the role of the Glee Club as a whole. Glee Clubs are a well established part of the collegiate performing arts scene, and can be found at most universities across the country. More specifically the Penn Glee Club is the oldest performing arts group on campus, and dates all the way back to 1862. There are three sections of the club: the choral section, the tech section, and the band. The Glee Club has a strong tie to the university, and Sam notes how that connection is reflected in the group’s function: “The best comparison I can make is that we’re like a singing version of the Penn band. We do a lot of historical tunes, we’ve historically sung at all the big university events, we’re like a staple in that way.”
Though the band’s primary function is to accompany the choral section at all of the club’s main shows, it is in no way limited by this role. The band very much exists as its own entity, and actively pursues a presence separate from that of the Glee Club. Will Drobnick (E’19), the band’s director and a trumpet player, details the band’s rigorous performance schedule. He says, “We’re basically a cover band, and we do gigs all around Penn—parties, formals, we’ve done gigs at Saxby’s, weddings even.” Pianist and singer, Jimmy Paolini (E’19) jumps in, adding, “We’ve played across the country, even just this past summer, in Southeast Asia.”
Hearing the band play live, you can expect to sing along to their setlist—after all, they are a cover band. Though their covers are easily recognizable, they’re fresh enough to keep you interested and engaged. They do so primarily by arranging all of their own music. The band members agree that they are able to breathe new life into these radio hall classics by creating an original musical composition. Jackson sums up the arranging process for the Penn Glee Club Band by saying, “[We play] songs that everyone recognizes and we put our own more modern spin on it.”
Many members of the band also attribute this compositional flexibility to the band make–up itself. Perhaps the most unique thing about the Glee Club band, though, is its horn section. Comprised of a trumpet, a trombone, two saxophones, and an occasional clarinet, the brass section of the band is as dynamic as it is unusual for a cover band.
Will believes the horn section gives the band a versatile edge. “Us having a horn section and just us being so eclectic musically, makes us able to make, you know, not just a cover of the original but something totally different,” he says.
Guitarist Mac Finkle (C’18), agrees, “It totally changes the game. It’s way more fun to play with a band with a horn section even if it’s a song that we’re transcribing that never had a horn section. It really adds so much to it.”
At Battle of the Bands, it was obvious the horn section of the Penn Glee Club Band worked its magic. Will recalls how the band took the stage with the intention of showing the crowd a good time.
He says, “I didn’t know what the vibes were going to be like there, or how it would seem with us coming up there really loud—like okay now it’s party music—but it definitely was good for that sort of thing.”
Sam agrees, and explains how the Penn Glee Club Band didn’t really know what to expect from the night. He says, “I don’t think we went in like, ‘oh we have to win,’ it was just fun to be out there and hanging with all those guys. The music community at Penn is pretty tight.” Clearly, the band’s game plan of putting on a fun show worked.