The Pomona College Glee Club (since 1982)

The Jon Bailey Years (1982–98)

Leaving his position as Director of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music with a desire to teach undergraduate students, Jon Bailey arrived at Pomona in the fall of 1982.[1] While he inherited a strong program, Bailey believed it needed some changes. Most notably, following the desires of the students, he combined the Men’s and Women’s Glee Club into a single ensemble, the Pomona College Glee Club. Bailey also set out to expand the group’s repertoire to include more modern contemporary selections. Finally, he retired three college songs, “The Picture,” “Loyalty,” and “Chivalry,” from the Glee Club’s repertoire. Bailey, who did not come from a tradition of college songs, felt that there was too much of an emphasis on them.[2] However, the ensemble continued to sing “Torchbearers,” “Hail, Pomona, Hail!” “Over the Years,” and “Primavera.”

Other changes that came about after Bailey’s first year included making the Glee Club a credit-bearing ensemble to match the Pomona College Choir’s academic status, which it had been since 1928. In addition, he moved the Glee Club from the fall semester to the spring, and adjusted the tour schedule, moving it first to spring break in 1984, and then, four years later, to the days immediately following Commencement.[3] Because the Glee Club was now part of the College’s curriculum rather than extracurricular activities, Bailey organized the tours himself, with help from the Glee Club presidents, the Music Department’s academic coordinator, Jan Goertz, and the Alumni Office.

Entering the 1990s, Bailey made another significant change by removing the Blue and White Quartet from the ensemble. Much like the college songs, Bailey did not think that the quartet fit well with the Glee Club programmatically anymore. In the fall of 1990, the Blue and White Quartet became two separate student-run a cappella groups: the Men’s and the Women’s Blue and White.

For Bailey, highlights from his time at Pomona include preparing the Choir and Glee Club for a performance (with the Pomona College Orchestra) in celebration of the College’s centennial in Spring 1988, which was conducted by distinguished alumnus and then-director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, Robert Shaw ’38. Later, in Bailey’s second decade at Pomona, the conductor remembers fondly the Glee Club performance of Thomas Tallis’ 40-part motet, “Spem in alium” while surrounding the audience at their annual concert.

In 1998, Bailey wanted a major change in life and concluded his sixteen-year tenure conducting the ensembles at Pomona. He stayed on at the College for over ten more years, however, teaching a variety of classroom courses including a first-year ID1 seminar and a course on American musical theater.

The Donna M. Di Grazia Years (1998–present)

Professor Donna M. Di Grazia arrived from Davidson College in North Carolina (where she had been the director of choral activities since 1994) and was the first woman to lead both the Choir and Glee Club. She had the difficult task of following a director who was beloved by his students, but she quickly moved to put her own mark on Pomona’s choral program. Under her direction, the ensembles have impacted audiences across the United States and internationally through their strong and moving performances.

Since Pomona left Pacific Southwest Intercollegiate Choral Association (PSICA) in 1969, the Glee Club had had few exchange opportunities with other collegiate choirs in Southern California. Jon Bailey had explored rejoining PSICA in the early 1990s, but nothing came of it. When Professor Di Grazia learned about the annual festival in 2003, however she moved to have Pomona reinstated. She believed that it was important for students to have an opportunity to perform early in the spring semester (the festival currently is usually held in late February or early March), as well as to hear other ensembles from across the region. Additionally, she wanted other schools to recognize the work being done at a small college way out east in Claremont. The Glee Club has participated in the festival every year since 2004 and has hosted the festival twice: first in 2012 and again in 2020.

In addition to reestablishing a relationship with PSICA, Di Grazia also wanted to change some structural aspects of the Glee Club’s annual tour. Over time, she succeeded in substantially improving the financial situation, primarily through the acquisition of new funds from the College, from continued substantial support from the Music Department, and from generous gifts from parents of current Glee Club singers and from alumni. (She was also aided in tour planning by the addition of a new Music Department staff member, Elizabeth Champion, who, like Jan Goertz before her, is indispensable.) The improved financial health of the program not only made it more realistic for every member of the ensemble to travel regardless of economic circumstances, it also allowed the Glee Club to expand their tour destinations to include more frequent visits to the East Coast. Equally significant, these funds made it possible to establish international travel (as of 2006) as part of the singers’ educational experience, thus expanding their community outreach. As a result, the Glee Club has performed in a number of the great architectural spaces in the United States and abroad, most notably in the Thomaskirche in Leipzig—J.S. Bach’s home church for twenty years—St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Berliner Dom, the Washington National Cathedral, the Basilica in St. Louis, Memorial Church at Stanford University, and Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. In 2020, they were to have traveled to southern and central Spain, where they would have experienced the rich historical mix of Muslim, Jewish, and Spanish cultures. Their plans were put on hold due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which prohibited air travel and required the students to leave campus in mid-March.

As with the Pomona College Choir, Di Grazia has maintained high expectations for the Glee Club, providing the most advanced musical experience possible. She has broadened the ensemble’s repertoire considerably in the direction of early music, carefully blending works from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with those from the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries in programs that juxtapose diverse stylistic approaches. (See full repertoire since 1998.) She has continued the tradition of the Glee Club singing at many principal college-wide events, including Commencement (where early on she insisted that the ensemble sing something more than a college song to better reflect their academic work) and the inauguration of Pomona’s tenth president, G. Gabrielle Starr. Additionally, the ensemble has branched out in new directions under her leadership, the most notable of which is their frequent performances at senior retirement communities, including when the group is on tour.

[1] Information for this page comes from The Metate of Pomona College, vols. 90–98 (1983–91); interviews with Jon Bailey (1 November 2019), Graydon Beeks (2017–20 passim), Donna M. Di Grazia (4 March 2020) and various alumni; extant programs of the Pomona College Glee Club; and other materials in the Music Department archives. [back]

[2] Jon Bailey, in conversation with Matthew Cook, Claremont, CA, November 1, 2019. [back]

[3] Extant tour programs are located in the Music Department Office, Thatcher Music Building, Claremont, CA. [back]