Performing for universities and communities in Chile and for Penn Alumni in Panama, the Penn Glee Club took its international tour to Latin America for 11 days in May. Director Daniel Carsello led a group of 45 on the trip, including members of the choir, piano accompanists, band, and tech crew.
“It was an experience beyond anything I could have really hoped for,” says Ryan Oliver, a rising fourth-year from Wayne, Pennsylvania, who is the incoming president of the Club, and was the manager of this year’s tour.
Oliver had history in mind when he planned the tour, he says, thinking back to the Club’s 44 years under the direction of Bruce Montgomery, who describes in his book, “Brothers Sing On!,” the pride in adding new countries and continents for tour destinations. The Club has gone to Asia and Europe in recent years, so Oliver decided to look to Latin America, reaching out to alumni and embassies.
“I wanted to create a meaningful experience and bring members of the Club to places that they might not otherwise go,” says Oliver, a computer engineering major in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, who sings tenor in the choir.
The U.S. embassy in Chile, as it turns out, was scheduling cultural activities to mark the 200th anniversary of U.S.-Chilean diplomatic relations, and the Glee Club had not been there before. In addition, he says, the alumni in Panama gave him a warm welcome, and encouraged the Club, which was last there in 2009, to return.
In Chile they performed in Teatro Municipal de Nancagua, and the 300-plus seats were nearly full. “It was one of the most excited audiences I’ve ever performed for,” Oliver says, and they seemed to especially enjoy the songs in Spanish, including “Remember Me” from the Disney film “Coco” and a popular Chilean folk song, “Si vas para Chile.” “The entire audience started standing up and clapping before we had even finished our first phrase, and it was just really special.”
They next performed together with the choir at the University of Talca at the Aula Magna Bicentennial Building, a concert that was filmed and posted to YouTube. The experience was a highlight for Niara Urquhart, a rising third-year from Philadelphia who sings soprano.
“Collaborating with a group of students like ourselves and being able to connect with them through music, even though not all of us shared a language, at the University of Talca was amazing,” says Urquhart, who is majoring in East Asian languages and civilizations and health and societies in the College of Arts and Sciences. “I was able to meet some incredibly talented musicians and connect with them over a shared love of choral music, Chilean and American alike.”
The favorite performance for Oliver was in Curicó with high school students who are forming their own choir. The Glee Club taught them its arrangement of “Amazing Grace,” and then they all sang together. “It felt really special to be sharing music, which is so important to all of us, with a new community,” Oliver says.
A small group of Club members had a Q&A with teenagers about applying for college in the U.S. and about life on campus.
“There was a lot of effort not only to share music but to shared experiences, and I think that that was a very meaningful part of the trip,” says Carsello, a 2016 graduate who was in the Club when he was at Penn, and has served as director since 2018. “The music is important, and the performance is important, but the meaningful connections make it more than just a tour. It makes it an experience that you’ll never forget,” he says.
In Panama City they performed for the Penn and Wharton alumni clubs, singing University favorites like “The Red and Blue,” Oliver says. “It was a great way to send our seniors off.”
The rising seniors are the last class to have known the Club before it became fully gender inclusive in April 2021, after 159 years. “It’s nice to have seen how the Club has changed from when I joined during the pandemic until now,” says Oliver. Last year’s international tour to France and Spain was the first as an all-gender Club.
As the tour manager next year, Urquhart says she wants to “really emphasize the possibility for connection—both in terms of forming deeper connections amongst ourselves and forming new connections with people we meet—in the different activities and performances planned.”