History

The History of BUMC

In the Beginning

“That Good Ole’ Baylor Line…”

Fall 1895 was not just another semester at Baylor University. The administration was being progressive as they looked towards the impending building program that was to be executed at the turn of the century. Development was on everyone’s mind. This period marked the beginning of another club. From the onset, this new organization was destined to be different. The latter part of the nineteeth century at Baylor University was not necessarily the best of times socially. The country was still pulsating with the repercussions of the Civil War, and enjoyment might have been the last thing on the minds of young men who had been terribly affected by the unrest. Professor Hargrove, an English professor in the Liberal Arts department looked upon the emotional turmoil of Baylor’s young male population, and set about to transform the otherwise despondent atmosphere into one of gratitude and vive — full of the spirit that grew to characterize Baylor University. The Baylor University Men’s Glee Club was formed.

Professor Hargrove was undaunted by the small group that responded. He gathered a lion’s portion of elbow grease, maybe a baton and all his musical expertise, and became the founder of the new society. Everyone understood that the main motives were musical appreciation and social satisfaction. The founder’s aim was “to promote the musical interest and social enjoyment among the young men at Baylor University.” Hargrove led the club to capture the attention of the campus as they sang fight and spirit songs — seeking to effect a change, thus attempting to remove the gloomy cloud of depression that plagued the south at the time. This move somewhat revitalized the pride in the heritage of the South, Christianity and Baylor University.

Spring 1896 welcomed the Men’s Glee Club as the “hottest, newest sensation at Baylor.” The Club was certainly brightening the droopy shades which were reluctant to leave the blooming campus. By the end of the school year, the reputation of the Club had far exceeded its numbers, so fall 1896 sought to compensate for the disparity – the club grew tremendously, and it continued to do so for a long time.

 

A Woman in the Ranks!

“That Good Ole’ Baylor Line…”

In 1903, everyone was surprised — twice. In the first instance, the club got a new director, and more astounding than that was that the new director was a woman. Who would have thought that an all-male group would have a female leader? One would have expected a more gradual, subtle introduction of the women’s influence, but this action was only the beginning of the interaction that the club would have with the opposite sex. Women would continue to play a significant role in the organization — 1903 was just a warm-up. In any instance, Miss Bessie Louise Finley, another member of the Fine Arts department stood at the helm of the growing group. More transition was forthcoming when the fall of 1904 rolled on. The first trained musician, and yet, another woman, became the head “honchess”: Miss Leona Randall.

Miss Randall was a graduate from the Baylor School of Music, which at that time was the oldest music school in the state of Texas. She was soon succeeded by Dr. Harry J. Spanell, another excellent musician in 1905. He led the Glee Club into further establishing itself by the adoption of a logo, and tying the vocal ability of the members with their skills at another instrument – the mandolin. In 1906 the Club became the Baylor Glee and Mandolin Club. This merger of voice and mandolin in the Glee Club appear to have had an unsteady history, but such an amalgamation occasionally occurred, even up to the 1930′s.

 

It Shall Never Die

“We’ll march forever down the years
As long as stars shall shine…”

By 1907, the School of Music was playing a more profound role in the development off the organization. The club was now one of the musical ensembles within the auspices of the Music School. A leading professor of voice, Mrs. JFB Beckwith became the director of the club in 1907, and she was succeeded by Dr. Fred E. Eggert in 1912. Mrs. Beckwith was the first director to use a full-time female accompanist with the club – Miss Higginbotham. Mr. Eggert’s superb training as a voice culturist channeled the potential of the Club’s voices to the very upper echelon of amateur choral performance within the school of early 20th century musicianship.

The club was dealt a severe blow with the organization of the first University Chorus (the earliest form of Baylor University Concert Choir of today) in 1913. Men’s Glee Club lost several members to this new group with a demanding regimen. Obviously, the Men’s Glee Club was no longer at the center of attention. In spite of this diversion, Professor John de Heck, the new director, was able to help the club recapture their long standing audience — the school population. By 1916, the now-renamed Baylor Glee Club, under the skillful direction of Professor John De Heck, was a permanent fixture for all University functions. The club was a regular item on the program for commencement each year. Also in 1916, they rendered “A Night in Chinatown” by Bobbie Blace. The chapel “was well-filled and every number on the program received hearty applause.”

The club went into slight recession again in 1917 until 1920 when Will Payne led the “comeback” of the men with the “golden voices.” This time, the group was quite large. Payne was able to maintain the group until 1926, but it dwindled again. It had simply become a “generic” Glee Club — a mixture of males and females, sometimes separating the males from the females for special pieces.

In 1927, Mr. Schuster gained support from the university in order to obtain new dress suits, for which the latter paid. Schuster’s time as director served as an important preamble for the further growth of the group. Samuel Palmer Brooks, also called “Prexy,” was a supporter of the organization. There is some evidence that there was a spirit song which the group sang, composed on the name, “Prexy,” that proved to be popular on campus. Schuster remained responsible for the group until the legendary Professor Robert Hopkins became the last director before the great metamorphosis in 1937. Hopkins was a phenomenal musician, and was in charge of many of the choral ensembles on campus. In his wisdom, he ceded directorship to a renowned musician — Mrs. Martha Barkema.

 

Only Better…

“We’ll fling our green and gold afar
To light the ways of time…”

By the time the late thirties were winding down, the world was preparing to be enveloped by the onslaught of the negativities of World War II. The tension was mounting, and everyone felt the anxiety. While world history was being changed, another change became evident on campus. In 1937, the Baylor University Men’s Glee Club had become the Baylor Bards Men’s Glee Club. The new name was supposed to be in stark contrast with Rhapsody in White — the female version of the group. The male group eventually dropped the “Glee Club” annex — it was just too much to be spoken at once. Barkema’s change of name for both Men and Girl’s Glee Clubs was representative of her ideals for the groups’ music — separate yet together. She did not want to rob either group of its identity and distinction; however the renewed focus provided newer opportunities and activities for both groups.

The exclusive female singing group always had a connection with the Men’s Glee Club during the first decade of the twentieth century. As a matter of fact, it was spawned from the need of the girls to do “what the guys were doing” — singing together. The Girls’ Glee Club continued to function even when the men rested in 1919. They too had their share of transitions and experimentations. By 1940, the Baylor Bards and Rhapsody in White had become a strong team, fully representing the school of music throughout the United States. Dr. Herbert Colvin, now professor emeritus and organist extraordinaire, served as accompanist for Mrs. Barkema on two separate occasions.

Mrs. Barkema led the group on extensive tours all during her tenure as director — for twenty five years. She even took the groups to minister on mission trips to Mexico. The last of such an excursion was in 1961, one year before male singing on campus became dormant.

1962 was a sad year. Mrs. Barkema conducted the Baylor Bards and Rhapsody in White for the last time. She also retired at that time. Unfortunately, both groups went into remission, and nothing was heard of exclusive, continued men’s singing until 1979.

 

Towards A New Future

“And guide us as we onward go…”

Dr. Robert Young, founder of the Chamber Singers remembers when he sent out the call for male singers in 1979. “Lucky” is the word he used to describe the fact that he got sixteen men who were superbly balanced. It is not strange to think that Dr. Young’s phenomenal expertise had a tremendous deal to do with the “natural” balance of this new group. In the fall of that year, he had the group sing as carolers in the foyer of Waco Hall as patrons were leaving the hall after the yearly Christmas Concert. These renditions were a treat, and they stunned the attendees as they all wondered about the origin of these marvelously sounding guys. One could have only imagined what they sounded like with the acoustics that the foyer of Waco Hall has to offer.

Dr. Young started the second chain of the Club’s history. He did not understand that he was joining the ranks of several eminent musicians who existed before him who led the Men’s Glee Club. Just as the other conductors before, he passed on the leadership to other able person. His immediate successor was Professor John Johnson in 1981.

 

Postlude

“That Good, Old Baylor Line!!!”

Today, the former Men’s Glee Club is now the Baylor University Men’s Choir. Recital Hall II in Waco Hall comes alive to the voices of the more than one hundred members of the choir every Tuesday and Thursday. Men’s Choir is more than a class — it is a family, still providing for the social and musical needs of its member. Building on the heritage of the past, the Choir is better able to provide a useful balm for the University that is hurting from recent events.

The music of the club is widely appreciated. In many ways, several aspects of the Choir today mirror different periods of its past. From dance tunes from Aaron Copland to 16th Century Chants, from Organ to guitar, from serious to comical, from social to worship — the heritage of the Men’s Choir continues to be shaped, and in return transform the lives of those it serves. It remains loyal to God and Baylor — lighting the ways of time. At least, now the history is known, those who come after will build on what we have found — the journey has only begun.

 

Special thanks to Musheer Kamau for his research and efforts compiling this historical account of the Baylor University Men’s Choir.