Last fall, the Harvard Glee Club welcomed Nathan Reiff as its new Resident Conductor, assisting Director of Choral Activities Dr. Andrew Clark with rehearsing and conducting the Glee Club. Currently a DMA candidate at Yale where he worked with the Yale Glee Club and Yale Camerata, he also holds a M.M. in choral conducting from the University of Michigan and a B.A. in Music with distinction from Yale, where he performed as a member and served as Music Director of the Whiffenpoofs.

After a year working with the Glee Club and learning about the group’s particular set of traditions, Reiff delivered a heartfelt speech at the 2018 Harvard Glee Club banquet reflecting on his experiences. Click HERE to see a copy of his speech.

As the Glee Club prepares to welcome a new group of members into its ranks, we asked Reiff to reflect on the past year and to look forward to the next. Here are some of his responses.

Harvard Glee Club Foundation: What lessons did you learn last year that will shape how you approach the upcoming year? In particular, what did you learn about the Glee Club that surprised you?

Nathan Reiff: Last year, each experience was new. At this point, I have more of a sense of the full season’s trajectory, which helps put everything in context and perspective. I can focus on bigger questions rather than simply logistics. I look forward to spending more time thinking about the year’s musical scope, the way HGC shares its messages and work with the world, and how the group can best make use of its time on tour. 

In terms of unexpected things I learned, one of the most wonderful and surprising was to see how engaged the singers are with each other and with the music. One example comes to mind: as we prepared for our performance of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex with Emmanuel Music last winter, we invited Professor Naomi Weiss from Harvard’s Classics Department to speak with the group about the text and the tradition behind it. I was blown away by the number of questions and level of conversations that ensued.

HGCF: In your banquet speech, you note the tension between tradition and openness in many groups like the Glee Club. Can you elaborate?

NR: Another way to frame this would be the tension between inclusivity and exclusivity. Nearly every musical ensemble has its inside jokes, prior reference points that are regularly revisited, and so on. This is a wonderful thing, and I believe is part of the extra musical glue that holds members together. Yet these “insider” elements can also leave people who aren’t “in the know” feeling like outsiders, regardless of intention.

With the Glee Club, the richness of the “insider” experience is immense. When I started working with the group, I wondered how that experience might feel to someone new to the ensemble. Throughout the year, I learned a whole host of traditions, and I’m sure there are more to come. At no point, however, did I feel these traditions were exclusionary. The group was deliberately open and welcoming to those new to the experience. But that wasn’t just based on my own experiences. When a student choir we worked with on tour in St. Paul asked why the group made specific noises at seemingly random times, members happily explained the significance of the traditions behind the noises to them. It was a small gesture, but one that speaks to a much deeper desire to share what makes HGC special. Having a rich tradition is not at odds with inclusion, as the Glee Club demonstrates.

HGCF: What do you see as areas where the Glee Club has the greatest potential for development?

NR: I hope the Glee Club can continue to develop its strong core sound while also exploring new shades of color and detail. With a new mix of singers, I’m sure the fall will bring unforeseen opportunities and challenges, so I’m looking forward to diving in.

HGCF: In your banquet speech, you noted how "Even now, there's no way I can claim to know all or even a lot of those intangible elements that make HGC HGC." Based on what you’ve experienced so far, what parts of the HGC experience do you think are integral and indispensable or most salient?

NR: For me, the central feature of HGC is the music--everything from the day-to-day of rehearsals to performances on campus and farther afield, to special projects, recordings, the sense of community and growth that singing together fosters, and so on. I would guess that there are as many different indispensable parts of the Glee Club experience as there are singers in the group. Maybe that, in and of itself, is a critical and defining feature of HGC: it is an ensemble that can be equally a home for people looking for musical, social, leadership, and travel opportunities in any combination.

Click on the image below to read the text of Nathan Reiff’s banquet speech.


Posted on September 5, 2018