Despite pandemic, UNI's Glee Club sings on

They stood 10-feet apart, masked, in the parking garage on 23rd Street. And they sang.

The harmonies of the 1883 Glee Club classic “Brothers, Sing On!” bounced across the concrete walls of the Multimodal Transportation Center. The song was a fitting choice for the performance, which was posted in part on Facebook, by the University of Northern Iowa Varsity Men’s Glee Club. Because despite a global pandemic that has ushered in sweeping changes to the campus, the club is indeed singing on.

Performances by the Varsity Men’s Glee Club are a staple of campus life at UNI, but the group had to get creative to continue this trend in the fall.

As the school year approached, the club realized practicing as a full group in person wasn’t going to be feasible, so they began exploring other options. The group decided the safest way to continue making music together would be through a hybrid rehearsal procedure. Students were split into six cohorts at the beginning of the fall semester and took turns alternating between virtual work or in-person sectionals with John Wiles, associate professor in the School of Music and director of the club. 

“Over the summer, I talked with colleagues around the world, with university administrators, and with my colleagues here at home and became convinced that the Glee Club would be able to function in a hybrid model. It's not perfect. But we get shades of the Glee Club's magic every now and then -- and we are grateful for those moments.” Wiles said. “I've been incredibly humbled by the Glee Clubbers ability to adapt to the many changes. The logistics alone are staggering, yet the students have adjusted with very few problems. There are times when we are able to come together as a full group and in those moments we still feel like the Glee Club.” 

Damond Jones, a senior psychology and sociology major, has helped lead the group forward. Work on planning the Varsity Men’s Glee Club fall semester in the midst of a pandemic began at the beginning of the summer, he said. 

“This summer was a lot of communicating with Dr. Wiles and the rest of the council members to figure out how we could make it work,” said Jones, the council chairman. “He was talking to other people in the music department, and then he’d draft a syllabus and send it to me to check and see if it made sense and if I thought it would work with students. Then I would send it to the rest of the council, there’s about eight of us total, and we’d talk about it.”

Like many ensembles on campus, the Glee Club has had to get creative when it comes to how and where they perform. The recent video from the parking garage provided a glimpse of the ensemble’s vocal magic, and they hope to be able to schedule a short performance for friends, family, and fans to safely join them.

The Varsity Men’s Glee Club has also begun work on virtual projects as well. With COVID-19 making it impossible to pack Lang Auditorium with people for the traditional Christmas Variety Show, they have decided to release a CD version with recordings from years past. It will also include a song from this semester the club has been hard at work on. All proceeds from the CD will benefit the Northeast Iowa Food Bank. 

“Even though there’s a lot of unknowns this semester, I honestly think it’s kind of exciting. I don’t really know what’s going to happen, and constantly working around COVID to make stuff work has been a good challenge.” Jones said. “I love my job for the club and I’m glad I’ve been able to help contribute.”

Despite the uncertain times, Wiles is looking forward to what’s to come for the group.

“I’m really excited about what this semester will mean for the Glee Club moving forward. The students who are currently in the Glee Club are going through a shared experience unlike anything the Glee Club has ever experienced.” Wiles said. “I'm convinced that this shared experience will bond the group together in a new and fresh way. I'm incredibly grateful for the Glee Clubbers, their work, their attitude and their music."