The Glee Club is a staple of Penn. Founded in 1862, it’s the oldest performing arts group on campus, with 150 years of history in singing a mix of classics, standards, and hits that showcase the talents of its members. Beyond its male singers, the Glee Club also includes a tech staff and a pit band, the latter of which often performs its own gigs in addition to supporting the semesterly shows. In fact, the Glee Club Band was one of the groups that performed at Street’s Battle of the Bands competition hosted at Smokey Joe’s in November—and they won.
I had the chance to speak with a few members and learn about their experiences as a part of the group. One such member was Band Director and tenor saxophone player Chris Stanczak (C, E ‘20), who is in his fourth and final year on the band and served as its Coordinator last year.
“I saw the band perform during NSO freshman year and thought it would be a great way to continue doing music during college in a more enjoyable, low–intensity manner than I did in high school,” Chris said.
As Band Director, Chris is responsible for scheduling rehearsals, picking songs and developing arrangements for gigs, and coordinating logistics for performances. This last task is done with the help of Band Manager and bassist Kathryn Wilson (N ‘20).
“We’ve had a lot of fun performing at parties and formals, as the crowd is great and it’s exciting to have everyone enjoy the band playing in the middle of the crowd,” Chris said. “We’ve also played at multiple bars internationally as part of our tours, which have been a great experience as well.”
Kathryn, who is in her third and final year with the band, was particularly proud of the group’s performance at Battle of the Bands. While it wasn't a fancy international tour, she stressed the value of the occasion. “We performed a few years ago and won it then, so we were excited when we heard Street was doing it again,” Kathryn said. “We like doing it because we reach an audience we don’t usually perform for, and we love performing so gigs are always fun for us.”
Current Band Coordinator and drummer Brian Johnson (C ‘21) is responsible for regulating attendance at group rehearsals and working with Kathryn to ensure that members are available for gigs and aware of what they entail, including performance demeanor, song and set choices, and fashion styles. Speaking of the band’s victory, he espoused the importance of its musical context.
“We feel great about it, since it’s really exciting for us to get the opportunity to play alongside other groups and musicians there that we get to see around campus in other contexts,” Brian said. “They’re people we know and appreciate, so winning was very humbling and we’re all very proud of it.”
When asked what he would say to convince new individuals to join the band, Brian explained that the opportunity to be in the Glee Club Band is a chance to have a diverse musical experience.
“As a musician and someone who simply loves playing an instrument, you can seek various musical environments but you’ll usually end up specializing in one style,” Brian said. “This is not that—this requires growth and thinking, which is important for a musician.”
As seniors with only a semester left before graduation, both Kathryn and Chris glowingly praised the Glee Club Band as they reflected on their past experiences.
“It’s been my favorite part of college for sure, since it’s continued to keep music in my life despite the academic pressures of Penn,” Kathryn said. “The people in it have become my best friends, and it’s just been a really positive experience for me and my life. Nobody else puts the amount of effort in preparing and arranging music the way they do—they’re some of the most talented people I know and it’s really cool to have had them as friends and spend time with them.”
Chris echoed these sentiments. “It’s nice to have rehearsal on a Friday evening and go play music or do a gig with my friends, including as a nice escape from classes,” he said. “It’s great to play music and sound as well as we do, and as the director now I am proud and fulfilled to help lead the great things we do.”