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300 Ambassadors of Song Celebrate Yale’s 300th

This column is about audacity, unfettered Eli audacity, and the responsibility incumbent upon us as Yale alumni to honor our 300-year history.

It started out as a how-I-spent-my-summer piece that described how my sense of “alma” had been renewed for “mater” Yale while I traipsed around Great Britain and Russia as an “ambassador of song” with 430 fellow Yale Glee Club alumni and groupies, ranging in age from 6 to 86.

I thought a lot about our school last year, not only as a participant in Yale’s Tercentennial celebrations both here and abroad, but also as part of the “mission” of the Yale Alumni Chorus, which was formed in 1998 with an inaugural concert tour to China. My mission—a word instilled in us by YAC visionary and executive producer Mark Dollhopf '77—entails sharing the passion of choral singing with Yale alumni across generations and relaying this joy and harmony across the world.

I looked back over the yearlong planning craziness, when those of us on Dollhopf’s organizing committee—the “kitchen cabinet”—confronted the challenges of moving 430 people of all ages and generations around various countries and cultures on a constantly changing itinerary subject to, say, the whims of a world-renowned conductor or an underpaid Russian bureaucrat. And I wondered, “What were we thinking?”

Only a bunch of overachieving Yalies who never properly learned the meaning of the word “no” would dare to pull off a concert tour of such scale. But more important, there’s something about Yale’s profound singing tradition that made this group actually believe the world would somehow be a better place if we did pull it off.

Traveling en masse in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Wales, and London, we certainly made an impression. We could hardly fail to as such a Goliath group singing in prominent public places and sporting identical white Panama hats with blue bands designed as part of the “haberdashery” of our tour. (Do other tour groups even have a haberdasher?) I loved it when we tested the acoustics in a St. Petersburg train station with Yale songs and yodels, a gesture that reached at least one young Russian couple standing nearby. They pantomimed their pleasure, and I sputtered out what I thought was “thank you” in their language. Their smiles widened, and I can only assume they were thoroughly amused—whether at our singing, our hats, or my Russian.

I also loved the grander gesture of our final Tercentennial Tour concert, held in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London with none other than the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. My breath escaped me as I watched the regal, rainbow-hued procession of academic flags, robes, and banners float down St. Paul’s massive nave aisle before the concert. Carrying a banner at the rear, I looked up misty-eyed to see a splendid chorus in elegant ebony gowns and white tie and tails spread out beneath the impressive dome.

When Elihu Yale gave a bunch of books to a struggling theological college in Connecticut 300 years ago, could he have envisioned such a spectacle?

Later, we rented out Britain’s equally venerable Royal Courts of Justice, swing-dancing, drinking, and blithely snapping photos where a security detail normally prevents anyone from even holding a camera. At the party, YAC director David Connell '91DMA, who has led the undergraduate Glee Club for nearly ten years, wryly remarked that only Yalies could host a celebration in two of London’s grandest institutions—St. Paul’s Cathedral and England’s supreme courts—and not recognize the audacity of it all.

We accept such privileges as part of being Yalies, but we also must accept the serious responsibility that comes with representing one of the world’s finest academic institutions. When we stopped by the Welsh gravesite of Elihu Yale, our contingent of clergy planned a service to honor Yale and Yalies. We welcomed top officials from Wrexham to join top officials from Yale, including Vice President Linda Koch Lorimer and Dean Richard Brodhead, at the church. According to local media, our visit helped heal an institutional rift between Yale College in Wales and Yale University in New Haven.


But more important, we came together to sing. We know the same songs, albeit overlaid on vastly different undergraduate memories (and somewhat different harmonies). We share the same Yale, and as the Yale Alumni Chorus, we carry the same quirky but worthy legacy of friendship, grace, and goodwill around the world.

That’s Eli audacity, but it’s also Eli responsibility, and I, along with my fellow alumni singers, take seriously our supremely rewarding mission.




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This article is provided by the Association of Yale Alumni.

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