We sat down over coffee with Penn Glee Club President Scott Ventre and Business Manager Stephen DiGregoria to talk about Penn Glee Club, its history and its upcoming show "Office Bass," which hits campus this weekend
Street: Let’s start with a little background information on the oldest performing arts group at Penn.
SV: The Glee Club was founded in 1862, which makes this its 151st season. It’s been growing and shrinking in size and becoming a very integral part of the University and the culture of the University. The Glee Club for a long time has been welcoming students at Convocation and when they become seniors, sending them off at Commencement. It’s sort of become a tradition.
Street: What are some of the traditions important to the club?
SV: [Tradition] is one of the things the Glee Club is based on. We have three pillars we’ve been building on. The three pillars are performance, brotherhood and tradition. Performance is the self–explanatory one. We strive for musical excellence in terms of our vocal quality and our sound but also in other aspects of our performance, whether it’s dancing or acting or staging—or whatever it may be. Then there’s brotherhood. In many ways, Glee Club is very fraternal.
Street: Is the Penn Glee Club essentially an all–male group?
SV: The group actually does have female members but they don’t perform as singers. The Glee Club in its entire existence has never really accepted female singers and not because we do not like females. There’s something very special about the male choral sound. Men singing with one another has a specific sound, a timbre of voice quality, that’s different from what you’d get with a coed choir or with an all-female choir. We like the male choral sound so we maintain that sound. However, we do have a full band, the PGCB, our Penn Glee Club Band, which consists of male and female members.
Street: How did the Penn Glee Club coin the term “musical ambassadors” of the University?
SV: That term has been thrown around for many years. We travel all around the country and all around the world every year in addition to going to semi–local places. Every year in the spring we go on a big tour. We usually go back–and–forth every year. We do domestic and international. We put on big concerts for the people in the community.
Street: What kind of music do you do sing and perform?
SD: We’re a very musically diverse choir. We don’t just perform old choral repertoire that no one’s really heard of. In our show coming up, we’re doing two pieces from Disney, “Colors of the Wind” and “Go the Distance.” We do barbershop pieces, we do contemporary pieces, we do classical choral pieces. We spread the entire gamut of musical spectrum. We’ve done everything.
Street: What would be a contemporary song in the Glee Club repertoire?
SV: Lady Gaga. We’re singing “Edge of Glory” for our upcoming show. One of our subgroups in our Glee Club is doing “Bills, Bills, Bills” by Destiny’s Child.
Street: How would you describe the kind of show you put on?
SD: Since 1971, we’ve been putting on these original Broadway–style musical comedies. They’re all jukebox musicals. We don’t arrange our own music for the show. We take songs that already exist and we adapt them to the show.
Street: How does this Glee Club compare to the TV show, “Glee?”
SV: So, essentially the way we differ from the show Glee—they’re coed, they’re high school. But it’s also the style they like to do. They do music in the acapella style. They make the sound of the instruments similar to what acapella groups here do—a lot of jimbos, cymbals, simulate the sound. We hardly ever do that. We sing acapella music. What that means is music that just doesn’t have any instruments, just choral music that is just voices singing in harmony, no instrument sounds with our voices no beatboxing or whatever.
Street: Tell us about your upcoming show, “Office Bass.” Can Penn students expect a musical satire on Wharton and the business world?
SV: Definitely a musical satire on the business world and corporate life. The drama between departments, the drama between interns, the people that are already working there, the corruption that you often see in business. It’s all there—everything from what it’s like to be an intern to sting operations and conspiracies. It’s hilarious.
SD: When we were choosing our theme we were definitely inspired by the Occupy Movement. We were certainly not uninspired by the Wharton School. [laughs]
SV: We were able to keep it down to only one Wharton joke in the script. It was hard to do!
Street: What’s one of the most memorable aspects of the show?
SV: This is a tradition. The show ends with what we call the 11 o’clock number. The curtain comes down and then we have a coda to the show, which is an end bit. It’s something we’ve always done. It’s our big tap finale. We dress in ties and tails, the whole club. We all tap dance. It’s phenomenal.
SD: So if you can imagine 40 guys tap dancing on one stage, that’s essentially the end of our show.
Office Bass: a Corporate Musical
Times: 8PM on Friday 2/15, 1PM and 8PM on Saturday 2/16
Location: Zellerbach Theatre in Annenberg Center
Ticket price: $20 for non-Penn card holders, $12 for Penn card holders. Group price of 8 tickets for $10 each on the Walk.