Smith College was still young in 1885, when a group of 14 students in Hubbard House gathered after dinner to sing. In short order and in proper Smith fashion, they gave themselves a name (the ’88 Glee Club), elected a leader (Ann Short 1888), secured a practice room in Music Hall and began adapting songs from the Yale Glee Club book, when no songbook for women’s voices could be found. The group eventually morphed into the Glee Club, the premier singing ensemble at Smith.
Over the years, choral groups have come and gone, changed leaders and revamped repertoires. No longer do classes have their own choruses, for instance, as they once did. Performance standards have remained high, though, and the music just as challenging. “The enthusiasm has stayed the same,” said Jonathan Hirsh, director of orchestral and choral activities for the past 18 years. Indeed, students in Smith’s various choral groups—whether the Glee Club or a student-led a cappella group—practice for four to six hours a week, a rigorous extracurricular commitment that leads to lifetime friendships.
“For students, it means so much to be able to put the academic stuff aside to raise their voices with other students,” said Clifton (Jerry) Noble, M.A. ’88, staff accompanist, who also composes and arranges music for women’s voices. “Standing next to someone and singing is a pretty intense feeling.”
Here’s a look at Smith’s current lineup of ensembles.
Smith Chorus: The gateway choral group at Smith, its focus is on first-years but it is open by audition to all women in the Smith community. Conducted this year by Joseph Baldwin, the chorus performed a commissioned work last fall for women’s voices by Dominick DiOrio.
Glee Club: The largest and oldest of Smith’s choral groups, the club is open to upperclass students by audition. The group sings at major college events and travels to other colleges. Each spring, it invites a male glee club from colleges like Harvard and the U.S. Naval Academy to collaborate on a major work, such as Carmina Burana or Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
Chamber Singers: This auditioned group of 20 to 30 students forms every other year to go on tour, in recent years to Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic. It was created in 1951 by Iva Dee Hiatt, and achieved national fame the next year when Life magazine followed the group on its tour of postwar Europe. The singers performed in elegant white chiffon gowns, which, as Gail Cameron Wescott ’54 recalls, became so tattered by the end of the tour that she gave hers to the hotel maid in Paris. “She was so grateful she said her daughter would be married in it,” Wescott said. “It’s remarkable now for me to realize this was only seven years after the end of World War II.”
Alumnae Chorus: Alumnae organized themselves informally in 2001 as a Chamber Singers reunion tour of Europe, led by Jonathan Hirsh. In 2010, alumnae singers gathered for another tour, which led to the creation of an official Alumnae Chorus that in 2013 performed in Estonia and the Baltic States. “It’s music and sociability and alumnae connections all wrapped up together,” says Caroline Winschel ’09, vice president of the chorus.
A cappella groups
Smith’s vibrant and competitive a cappella scene kicks off each fall with Arch Sing, when the groups showcase their style in a bid to attract new singers. Auditions follow, with hundreds of students vying for a few open spots. A cappella groups hold their own campus concerts, featuring a mix of contemporary pop and old standards, and they travel to other schools as part of a network of collegiate a cappella groups. Most also sing for hire at events on campus and off as a way to raise money for recordings and travel. Check out their websites or Facebook pages for performance updates or new recordings.
Smiffenpoofs Formed in 1936, the ’Poofs claim the title of first all-female collegiate a cappella group in America. Their name was inspired by their male contemporaries, the Yale Whiffenpoofs; the groups often performed together. Favorite songs: “Manhattan” and “Softly.”
Smithereens The ’Reens began in 1945 as the Albright Quartet. They’re identifiable by their black and red concert attire. Recently they were finalists in the WGBY Together in Song competition. Favorite current song: “Mercy” by Duffy. Old standard: “Fly Me to the Moon.”
The Noteables Founded in 1982, it was the first campus group to use the now ubiquitous vocal percussion. Navy blue is their color. Old favorite: A jazzy take on “I Want You Back.” New favorite: “Riptide” by Vance Joy.
The Vibes Last year, the group, which got its start in 1995, performed in their trademark black and pink at the MTL a cappella festival in Montreal. Old standard: “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics. New favorite: “Miss Independent” by Ne-Yo.
Groove A Cappella Founded in 2001, Groove is the only group affiliated with the music department, and its members are drawn from the Glee Club and Smith Chorus. They wear black and white in concert. (Official food? Oreos.) Favorite current song: “Breezeblocks” by Alt-J. Old standard: “The Parting Glass” (traditional Irish).