From China to Japan, the Penn Glee Club took the stage in five Asian cities during its annual summer tour, singing a diverse selection of songs in a variety of venues, often performing with local choral ensembles.
This year’s “Cities That Never Sleep Tour” included concerts in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Macau, Taipei, and Tokyo. The 15-day trip involved 43 club members: the all-male choral group, the co-ed band, and technical staff, says May graduate Sam Orlin, club business manager, who sang baritone and played tenor saxophone.
A daily blog chronicled their travels and performances: penngleeclubtour.tumble.com.
The first concert, a formal affair attended by nearly 500 people at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, was one of the most memorable, Orlin says, because they sang with members of the conservatory’s choir before, during, and after the performance.
“After the concert ended, we stayed on stage and their choir stayed on stage, and we just sort of hung out and sang some random songs and continued sharing. It was really cool,” says Orlin. “I think that that was definitely one of the most unique experiences. It came so early, and we were all so tired, so it took us by surprise but was really awesome.”
The set list of music selections ranged from classical to Broadway to Chinese and Japanese folk songs. In addition to formal concert halls, the group performed at schools, universities, churches, and even an underground music club. The tour included six formal and four informal concerts. The members dressed in white tie and tails for some, and for the rest they wore “khaki-blaze”—blue blazer, khaki pants, and the traditional red-and-blue tie.
This is the 61st year the Glee Club, founded in 1862, has toured internationally, traveling to nearly all 50 states and more than 40 nations and territories on five continents. The destination is chosen based on cost, performance impact, and the Penn connections in the area, Orlin says, emphasizing that the tour is self-funded by the club.
It had been 15 years since the club performed in China, and 20 years since it went to Japan, so Asia seemed like a good choice to mark those milestones, says Orlin, who was responsible for planning the tour. “Additionally, it's the 40th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act as well as the 40th anniversary of U.S.-China diplomatic relations.
“We really try to emphasize the features of the tour that relate to cultural exchange and educational learning experiences for our members,” he says. “Beyond that, the Club is all about brotherhood; the memories that members form on tour last a lifetime and often define the way that our alumni relate to the Club and Penn.”
Penn and Wharton School alumni clubs hosted events, gave tours of local landmarks, and attended performances. Each appearance featured the Glee Club’s anthem, “Afterglow,” by former Club director Bruce Montgomery, as well as Penn’s traditional “Red and Blue.”
A number that featured solos by Orlin and the other seniors was “For Good” from the Broadway musical “Wicked.” Singing in the final two-hour formal concert in Tokyo was especially emotional, says Orlin, who majored in chemistry and philosophy and has gone on tour every summer.
“I don’t think it hit me until we were on stage at the end of our set that it would be the last time we would be performing under the moniker of the Glee Club,” Orlin says. “And it was really, really special.”
Photos courtesy of the Penn Glee Club.