glee clubs, with asides on club-joining and barbershops

Still active on the Twitter feed, but having a hard time re-introducing myself to the world of blogging.  I am starting to think that the internet, with its 140-character limits, 60-second games, and instant 'friend'ship, has robbed me of my attention span. But since I keep writing books (have I mentioned that this is the year [August to August] of three book deadlines?), I must have some attention span left.  It just gets used up on the day job.  (And why do I call it my "day job" when it doesn't seem to let me get any work done till night?)

At any rate, my attention span held out for several tweets on a single topic tonight, and that's just cheating.  That's trying to make Twitter do what the blog does, and doing it a lot worse.  So, in true blogger spirit, I hereby embark on a long exposition on something I know almost nothing about.  I'm back!!

I'm disqualified from writing this one on at least three levels:  
  1. I have never seen the (AmE) TV show/(BrE) programme Glee.
  2. I have never voluntarily belonged to a choir.  ('Chorus' class in school was my living purgatory.)
  3. I have consistently found excuses to leave early when required to attend choir concerts.
  4. I hated that Journey song the first time (a)round, and I hate it even more now that it's re-released in a form that is mind-bendingly more over-earnest than the original.  
Oops, that was four.  I got a little carried away there.  I might very well like Glee —several people whose taste I respect are addicted to it— but I'm not a choral music person and I just can't afford a new television addiction at the moment (see paragraph one, parenthetical comment one).  But I assure you: I could never like it enough to get over my horror at the Journey cover.  Never ever.

At any rate, my interest was piqued by this Guardian article about Glee, which includes the line (emphasis added): 
The comedy-musical show charts the story of a group of teenagers in a US high school show choir, or glee club.
Not knowing a lot about the subtypes of choirs, I had to look these things up.  Wikipedia (best that I could do) said this about show choir:
A show choir (originally called 'swing choir') is a group of people who combine choral singing with dance movements, sometimes within the context of a specific idea or story.
Show choir traces its origins as an activity in the United States during the mid-1960s, though cultural historians have been unable to determine the date and location of the first "true" show choir group [...]. Two groups of touring performers, Up with People and The Young Americans, traveled extensively throughout the country in the 1960s, performing what could be called the show choir concept. When students and directors of the day saw these organizations, they would, in turn, start similar groups at their high schools.
So, show choir is original to AmE, but used in BrE now too.  But the definition of show choir didn't particularly sound like the glee clubs that I remember from my school and (AmE) college/(BrE) university days.  In particular, I don't remember them dancing.  So I looked up glee club.  The OED says:
glee-club, a society formed for the practice and performance of glees and part-songs
Wikipedia expands on this a bit:
A glee club is a musical group, historically of male voices but also of female or mixed voices, which traditionally specializes in the singing of short songs—glees—by trios or quartets.
And that's what I remember. The Wikipedia article goes on to say:
Although the term "glee club" is still used in some places, including the American TV series Glee, glee clubs have largely been replaced by the show choir in schools throughout the United States. Show choirs tend to be larger and more complex than the traditional glee club.
What I'm less clear on —and I'm sure you Gleeks out there can help me— is (a) whether it's ever called a show choir on Glee and (b) whether the meaning of glee club shifted pre-Glee to mean something more like a show choir.  (I suspect not--Glee is a really good title for television, so I would think it might be an opportunistic appropriation of the term.)  

The meaning of glee club has certainly shifted now in the UK at least, since schools (see the Guardian article) are leaping on the Glee bandwagon and re-naming their choirs glee clubs (or is that Glee clubs?). What's interesting (to word-nerdy dual citizen me, at least) is that although the Guardian felt the need to explain the term glee club to its UK readership, it is an originally BrE term. Here's Wikipedia again:
The first named Glee Club was founded in Harrow School, in London, England, in 1787.[1] Glee clubs were very popular in the UK from then until the mid 1850s but by then they were gradually being superseded by choral societies. By the mid-20th century, proper glee clubs were no longer common. However, the term remained (and remains) in use, primarily for choirs found in Japanese and North American colleges and universities, despite the fact that most American glee clubs are choruses in the standard sense and no longer perform glees.
The term didn't entirely die out in the UK, but the only recent pre-Glee uses of it that I can find are figurative uses or plays on the term (referring to the emotion glee, rather than the song type).  For example, the headline of a 2001 Simon Hoggart column, "Two-party disharmony with the Tory glee club", describes this group of Conservative Members of Parliament:
John Redwood rocked gently with happiness. Eric Forth's tie, a modest effort of only six or seven colours, seemed to wink at us as he too rolled about in pleasure. And Ann Widdecombe does a wonderful fake laughter turn. She throws back her head, waves her arms in the air, and opens her mouth as wide as you do at the dentist, in order to imply that she might otherwise implode with the sheer effort of keeping all that hilarity inside.
Now it's back in UK consciousness, but with a different meaning again.

As a cultural side note, I was thinking about the fact that I've known several adults in England and South Africa who belong to non-church choirs.  In the US, I  was never aware of non-church, non-school choirs, with the exception of gay choirs (and I never lived in a city big enough to sport one of those).  I've also been known to opine that clubs are more popular in  England than the US.  (In a small city in Texas, I had to travel 90 miles to get to a Scrabble club. In England, I moved to a not-large city that had two.) And I'm not alone in that--commentators on Englishness like Jeremy Paxman and Kate Fox have noted this tendency, since there seems to be a clash between Englishpeople's "obsession with privacy and [their] 'clubbability" (Fox, Watching the English). Kate Fox has this to say about English club-joining:
If you do not have a dog, you will need to find another kind of passport to social contact. Which brings me neatly to the second type of English approach to leisure [...] — sports, games, pubs, clubs and so on. All of these relate directly to our second main method of dealing with our social dis-ease: the 'ingenious use of props and facilitators' method. (Watching the English)
So, I was wondering whether there seem to be more choirs here because choral music is more popular here (it definitely is in South Africa and Wales) or because there's a greater tendency to join organi{s/z}ed groups. And then it hit me.  It's that non-church bit.  It's not that Americans don't join things.  They do. They join churches (and other religious groups, but mainly churches), and with that comes all sorts of activities, clubs, and committees.  UKers are less likely to  organi{s/z}e their hobbies and social needs around a church, because they're less likely to go to church, and it's generally more socially acceptable not to go to church in the UK.  (This site has church attendance at 44% in US and 27% in UK. According to this site, 53% of Americans consider religion to be very important in their lives, versus 16% of Britons.)  It may be that gay men's choirs became so strong in the US because of a need for joinable singing groups among people who were less likely to turn to the community church to fulfil(l) that need.  The rest of the US population might dip into church to satisfy their need to sing, but in the UK there are plenty of other outlets.  (In fact, my old reflexologist belonged to a non-religious Gospel choir--they just like the style of singing, not the religious message.)

Come to think of it, I do know Americans who belong to non-religious community singing groups, but these are (orig. AmE) barbershop quartets.*  Am I wrong about community choir-joining?  Should barbershop quartets count as choirs, when the things I'm thinking of in the UK have far more singers?  Let me have it in the comments...

*OED notes that barber(-)shop as a name for a haircutting establishment is not originally AmE, but is "chiefly North American" nowadays.  I'm not quite sure whether there's a replacement in the UK--Better Half just talks about going to the barber's and we both marvel all the time that yet another hair-cutting place is taking over yet another place that used to be a nice shop.  Do other people in Brighton get their hair cut every two weeks? Do people travel for miles for a Brighton haircut?  How can the population possibly support this many hair stylists?


  1. Hurrah! I don't do Twitter; good to see you. So to speak.

    Well I'll admit I did watch pretty much every episode of Glee, initially under great duress, but presently of my wn accord. I will have it noted that I do cringe during all the hyperAmerican 'Follow your heart/dreams/projectile vomit' bilge, but the drama and the funny are palatable and quite a lot of the numers are pretty good (though I have to agree with you on Journey and anything equally earnest/insipid.)

    Until this prograame I, and I suspect many of my fellow countrywomen, had heard the term 'Glee club' only in dated American novels, a la Judy Blume and Paula Danziger and as there was no explanation for what such a thing might be, I just envisaged lots of American schoolgirls getting togethr and being excessively happy about everything, like they do on telly.

    The term 'Show choir' I was familiar with. Having heard it from The Young Americans who still tour the UK (as much of the rest of the world) doing schools workshops. My school had one, but we didn't really have a name for it, we were just members of Festival Choir and Youth Choir (we also had a Pop Choir, though they never performed) and the co-ordinated ones also did song-and-dance numbers. Some of which were highly produced with props and whatnot, but all competetive choristry was strictly static and smartly uniformed.

    The singing of 'glees' I suspect is well out of fashion, though I did notice many of the numbers on Glee are markedly more brief than anything my various choirs ever performed.

    Incidentally, on the show the characters refer to their club as "Glee club", but when they compete it is in (AmE?) Sectional/Regional "Show choir competitions"

    As to clubs- how else does one partake of any group activity with which one finds an affinity? Where else so you meet like-minded people with common interests? I woud expect most Brits to actively avoid anything organised by Christians, no matter how appealing the activity itself, so your theory seems a sound one. A Barbershop Quartet, being that it sustains only four members by its very nature is arguably neither chorus nor choir I'd argue, but a pastime between a small group friends. I can't imagine someone being in a Barbershop ensemble with people they didn't already know?

  2. There are plenty of community choruses to be found in the US if you look, they may just not be as publicized as in the UK? I don't know. But I've been in relatively small towns that had both community childrens and adult choirs, and certainly in the bigger cities.

    As for barbershop, you're close - and I love that you highlighted barbershop music, because although it's a very American artform, it's one that (compared to other musical genres) isn't very popular in the US.

    A barbershop quartet is, by definition, 4 people singing in the barbershop style, and usually is a male or female group, rarely mixed voices. But there are also barbershop choruses (again, male/female differentiated) that range from 15 - 200 members. Although most barbershoppers would be annoyed if you called them a choir, I would think it is the linguistic equivalent.

    The male version - the Barbershop Harmony Society, formerly known as SPEBSQSA - the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America - has about 30,000 men in it. The female version - Sweet Adelines International, has nearly 25,000 women singing in more than 1,200 registered quartets and 600 choruses.

    Oh, and by the way, there are British organizations for both men & women barbershoppers, too. The men have the British Association of Barbershop Singers - BABS, and the women are the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers - LABBS.

    Know that was just a random aside in the blog entry, but I happen to be a very devoted Adeline and got excited to see someone outside the barbershop world talking about it! :-)

  3. Confession, I love Glee. The show. But I think it's a really interesting point that in the US people are involved with church things and in the UK they are more in community things. I think that's only true outside of the big cities.

  4. I don't watch Glee. (I rarely watch TV.) I find the show's use of 'glee club' to mean a 'show choir' annoying and irritating. It's not. They are very different vocal performance groups, and I don't think the usage had begun to change before the show came out. (I think that many USAns had never heard of a 'glee club' outside of old books unless they happened to know somebody who sang in one.) Unfortunately, those who insist that they aren't the same thing are now considered pedants.

    Barbershop quartets (male and female) are yet another type of vocal performance. The harmonies are very different, as is the repertoire.

  5. i don't know what standard images are conjured by "glee club" in the high school setting. it might well be closer to what we see on Glee.

    i belonged to the university of michigan men's glee club, and it couldn't be more different from the show.

    in the us, college glee clubs are typically all-male and occasionally all-female choral groups. they're not usually show choirs, which is what i would call the group on the show.

    the repertoire is usually of all genres, motets, gregorian style pieces, baroque, modern, show-tunes, folk standards… a single concert might present verdi, guthrie, lloyd webber, foster, schuman, vittoria, and yes, maybe even journey. another big part of the repertoire is school songs. the presentation is pretty standard. choreography is often limited to telling the singers when to sway and when to snap their fingers and clap. the concerts and performances meet what you would expect of classical concert aesthetics.

    most of the glee clubs i've seen perform have 50-100 members. dress is often tuxedos.

    the show is pure camp. that kept me away for a while. but some of the humor was enough to draw me in. it's a guilty pleasure. my wife was shocked when she found out.

  6. I currently live in Boston, and my sister lives in New York, and we've both sung in community choirs outside of school. Boston in particular has a huge number of them (New York as well, but I'm talking proportionally here). There are plenty of adult-only, non-auditioned community choruses in the states. I think it's a culture thing; that is to say, if you're not looking for them, you're not going to notice that they're around. In my case, I actively look for them, and I find them everywhere.

    Also, show choirs sound unfamiliar to me. I've done singing and musical theatre since about reaching the age of speech, and I am not sure how many times I've ever heard the term. Less unfamiliar, although still not something I've encountered in my life (although that may be due to my various places of schooling) is "speech & debate" which seems to be something of a mix between a show choir as you define it here and a drama club. I saw a play about a speech & debate club and mostly they seemed to put on performances of various genres of theatre.

    So, there's that. Also, I think of glee clubs as very much a transplanted british thing; they do still seem to be, at least in schools, primarily male, although that is changing - high schools are much more likely to have coed glee clubs, I believe.

    So those are my fifteen or so cents from my pretty extensive experience in the choral world up to my youngish age.

  7. Despite the program's title, the musical groups are pretty consistently called "show choirs" (or just "glee") and not "glee clubs" on the show. We had glee clubs in my Southern California junior high and high school, but as far as I know they were not involved in competitions. And they stuck to singing: no choreography. I belonged to my temple's glee club, which performed show tunes and Hebrew liturgy--an odd mix, to be sure! I'd never heard the term "show choir" until I started watching Glee, but I haven't paid attention to high-school clubs in many years. They may be a fairly recent development.

  8. I'll have to agree with people who say you're wrong that there aren't many non church or school choirs in the US (though I have no way of judging that against UK numbers). My hometown (pop 40,000) had both a youth and adult community choir, additionally there was the intensely competitive (school adjacent) regional and all state choruses for different age groups. A quick google search shows that there are at least 28 community choirs in my immediate area and there are a couple that I know of that aren't listed. Granted some of these are religiously affiliated though they aren't connected to specific church or synagogue (ie The Jewish Community Chorus of Greater Chicagoland). I'm sure everyone will be pleased to know there apparently is a Chicago Bar Association Chorus.

    Though my high school had four or five chorus groups any given year (regular, honors, womens, mens, and madrigal singers), we did not have a show choir at all. That was something I only heard about when I moved to the midwest where it's much more popular. Basically all my friends here participated in high school show choir, none of them ever called it anything but show choir.

    I did get the distinct impression (just from Guardian articles and the god awful documentary Gleeful: The Real Show Choirs of America not from any actual experience) that the UK doesn't have the same level of participation in school choruses because they can't take it as class like you can in (many? most?) high schools in the US. My own school did offer it as an elective or could be taken during lunch. If you took the class there was a grade, but lunch chorus was pass/fail. That was strictly the main chorus though, the four other choruses were extracurricular activities.

  9. I watch "Glee" and I've always thought that their group is called a "glee club" as a way to emphasize their dorky-ness and outsider-ness. Coming from the Midwest US, I can say that show choir as an art form is HUGE here, and it seems intentional that "Glee" is set in the Midwest. (My high school only had 200 kids, and even we had a show choir!) They are set up as being too small and pathetic to be a real show choir, so they are called a "glee club" instead, as a little bit of derision.

  10. I steadfastly ignored Glee until Neil Patrick Harris's guest spot (love him), and he rocked it. Long story short, Housemate and I have become reluctant Gleeks and will be going back to the start of the (BrE) series/(AmE) season via DVD to catch up. It was the dang musical numbers; they sucked us in.

    Interesting observations about US/UK re: club-joining. I was in several clubs, etc. in school (more on that in a bit), but when I told Housemate (a high school teacher) about this post, she observed: "School is increasingly seen as a means to an end. Kids are no longer encouraged to be social. It's a machine for manufacturing diplomas. Anything other than Reading/Writing/'Rithmetic is seen as a drain of public funds and a waste of time. It's also why there's been a meteoric rise in trade schools." (Many clubs, choirs, etc. no longer exist.)

    When I was in high school, I was a member of the "Forensics team". As lorraine said, it was a "speech & debate" team/club. The school also had a straight Debate Team, but in Forensics you could specialize in any number of speech styles: Playacting (short play scene with two or more people, including staging but no props), Dramatic reading (like Playacting, but without moving around), Debate, 4-minute speech (my category - a 4-minute, factual, non-persuasive speech), Radio, etc... (As an aside, I did also do stints in Band and Choir - I think it was called the Women's Chorus or maybe Girls' Chorus?)

    Back to Americans and clubs: while we (adults) don't really "do" clubs - outside of school, the best way I know these days to meet IRL (non-virtual) non-church groups that share your interest in Subject X is through the website I think the site might have presence in the UK, too...

  11. One more comment (sorry!).

    Brenda said, "Coming from the Midwest US, I can say that show choir as an art form is HUGE here."

    Really?! I grew up in Wisconsin (aged 7-17), and I'd never heard of show choirs before Glee - my high school didn't have one, that I'm aware, though we did have several choirs and a couple bands.

  12. I've not noticed any particular dearth of clubs and organizations in the US.

    Besides the community service groups like volunteer firemen, the Elks, Shriners, Rotarians, Eagles, and the like (which I've never frequented), I've seen groups for quilters, scrap-bookers, pool players, science-fiction fans, model railroaders, historical recreationists, and a host of other special interests. (And I've been a member of several of these organizations.)

    In addition, most towns have organized leagues for (some subset of) softball (slow and fast pitch), baseball, basketball, volleyball, hockey, bowling, football****, soccer, rugby, lacrosse, ....

    I can't speak to how common community singing groups are in the US. That said, I've sung barbershop, I've been invited to a regular filk* group, and I've sung in filk circles at SF conventions. And I know that some large non-vocal music groups (pipe and drum corps, for instance) are pretty easy to find.

    (Conventions are a topic all their own, and probably not appropriate to discuss here.)

    I wonder whether your experience might be simply a result of not associating with joiners*** (AmE?), even if you incline that way yourself.

    * Filk (SFFE**) is difficult to define; the Wikipedia article seems reasonable at a glance.

    ** Science Fiction Fandom English. 8-)

    *** Those who join groups, not those who join wood.

    **** Yes, I know. 8-)

  13. There's a scene in Zadie Smith's "On Beauty" where the professor from (Old) England at a New England university has difficulty restraining a fit of laughter when the university Glee Club takes to the stage at a function, as he finds the concept inherently ridiculous.

  14. The UK has barbershop! I'm in a Ladies group through Sweet Adelines International. Ironically, it took moving to the UK for me to join an American organization!

    When I was in HS in the US (1993-1997), we had glee club, and glee club was just another name for one of the choirs we had. Glee club at our school was more informal than some of the other choirs.

  15. Over the years (ante Glee), I have seen very occasional references to glee clubs in BrE journalism, but have never known what the term meant. I wouldn't be surprised to see the term in a PG Wodehouse novel. I have never encountered one in the UK.

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  17. It's not so much that there aren't a lot of US choirs, but that if I try to think of people I know who belong to choirs, in the US they're all churchy and in the UK they're all not, and the 'not' type was new to me. I think NFAH's point about urban/not-so-urban is a good one. The largest place I've ever lived in the US is had about 200,000 people. I'm sure that in NYC or Boston one can find anything.

    @Doug Sundseth's comment about joining is interesting, because I didn't even think of things like the Elks club or Chambers of Commerce in what I was thinking of--and I think I'm right not to, since they're a different social phenomenon than, say, clubs of (BrE) trainspotters or Scrabble players. My dad and brothers all belong to Elks, Lions, Kiwanis, and/or CofCommerce. In the case of Elks, it's a place to go for a drink--it serves the purpose of the pub, not the club, really. In the latter cases they are mostly business networking opportunities(in the Lions and Kiwanis cases--as with the Elks, with some charity work thrown in). A lot of the other things that my family do as 'joiners' (and, boy, are they) are community and charity work--for the hospital, the library, the volunteer fire and ambulance services, the Red Cross. (And British people do these types of things too, though not necessarily the same types--since the social welfare/health/etc. structures are different.) IF you belong to those kinds of things, you go to meetings, but that's just not the same as seeking out other people to do social things with, like play games. (AmE) Community theatre/(BrE) amateur dramatics and book groups/clubs (whatever they're called) are probably the most equivalent across the two countries, in that you find them everywhere (big city to small town) and the same types of people are joining.

    To some extent in the UK, clubs are what people who don't hang out in pubs do. When a friend here got divorced, he sought out a clock restoration club, and found one. There really are clubs for everything, and they meet in person, even if it's for a rather solitary pursuit.

    Thanks for all the insights from different types of choirs!

  18. Re. traditional UK glee clubs, doing part-singing and so on, there's a thriving one at the University of York (which I consistently regret not joining as a student there):

    LJ: Nineveh_uk

  19. "Glee club" to me conjures up a group of US male university students, circa 1900s-1920s, singing the Whiffenpoof Song. It doesn't at all suggest a high school chorus group.

    My sister was in the local Up With People group in the '60s (and I can still remember most of the songs), but I never heard the term "show choir" before today.

    In my (midwest US) school district, singing songs was the major part of music lessons in primary school. At entry to junior high school (age 12), if you wanted to join the school chorus, you had to try out for it and be accepted on merit. Otherwise you were shunted to basic music theory and history, and never sang in school again.

    At age 13 I had a year of "speech and drama" class, which included acting and public speaking, but not debate. Whether that school district continued "speech and drama" in later years I don't know, because the family moved that year to a place where nothing remotely like that was offered.

  20. Robbie said "Glee club" to me conjures up a group of US male university students, circa 1900s-1920s, singing the Whiffenpoof Song. It doesn't at all suggest a high school chorus group.

    Well, when I was in High School in upstate NYS in the late 1960s, I was in a male high school chorus group. And, BTW, we sang the Whiffenpoof Song, among other songs.

    There are university glee clubs, vocal groups for males and for females, though generally (in my experience) not mixed. And yes, non-religious community choirs in the US as well.

    I watch Glee. I like Glee. (And Neil Patrick Harris was great!) The "show choir" aspect of the show is not what I thought of as a "glee club". But things change, so I wasn't feeling fussy about the nomenclature.

  21. I've just read this blog for the first time and found the intense debate over the definition of "show choir" and its geographic prevalence fascinating.

    At my Phoenix, Arizona suburban high school, Show Choir was the fun choir for everyone who liked to sing, but didn't want to sing old stodgy songs. Actually, an old-style choir didn't even exist anymore. There was a lot of overlap with kids who were also in drama/theater and in band. (We didn't have an orchestra program.)
    The artistic highlight of the year was the spring musical.

    I was in a church kids' choir growing up, but see almost no link whatsoever to the fact that kids (not me) joined high school show choir. I think Americans just like to sing. Maybe it's as foreign a phenomenon to Brits as the game soccer/football seems to be to many Americans?

    I'm really intrigued by the hostility towards Journey and other songs about dreams, ambition, and finding oneself. Just last night, I attended a children's musical review on Steven Schwartz, and realized that most of the songs were on that very topic. Why don't Brits enjoy this?

  22. @Melissa. Welcome to the blog and thanks for your comments, but note: it's not a Brit who's not enjoying Journey, it's an American, me. And I haven't claimed that the British don't like to sing--to the contrary, I've said that I know a lot more Englishpeople who belong to choirs than Americans!

  23. I was never much of a joiner until I moved out of London. Now I'm a member of our tiny village's (pop 60) choir. My interest in music is fairly minimal (although I enjoy singing) but it's proved the only way to get to know people in the absence of a local pub.

    Our choir (just) predates glee but was inspired by the BBC Choir programme, so that might be another factor in the popularity of community non-church choirs.

  24. Thanks for clearing up a load of misapprehensions on my part, Lynne. I'd heard of glee clubs but just had this vague idea of people singing together informally as opposed to the serious business of a choir or chorus which would rehearse and perform.

    Either way glee clubs weren't something I thought about much and I obviously didn't make the connection with the only episode of Glee that I've seen, since I thought it was about a cheerleading group.

  25. Glee Club (with the capital C) for me (BrE) brings up the Liberal Democrat Conference event: is a rather thin summary.

    I suspect that it is that glee club that drove the occasional references in political writing in the UK that your other commentors notice.

  26. To me, until I read about the TV programme "Glee club" would have suggested an early 19th century men's singing and drinking club, as described by Dickens et al.

    I live in Derby, a smallish English city, which supports numerous choirs including two large ones specialising in the oratorio repertoire. (My own, Derby Bach Choir, sang almost no secular music under our previous conductor, but we now give occasional secular concerts by way of a change.) I don't have time to sing with more than one, but I know many people who also belong to church-affiliated choirs - it certainly isn't a turn-off here in Derby!


  27. Actually Lynnguist I disparaged Journey and dreams/ambition/finding oneself too. If I ever watch Glee with friends the 'Just follow your heart and be true to yourself' bits are where we flick channels or make a cup of tea to negate the nausea.

    Melissa: Some Brits do go in for that sort of attitude, but most of us grow out of it by the end of school because... well real life happens. I may be under a misapprehension, but I think it's fair to say the Brits are far more cynical/ less demonstratively gushing as a nation.

    I can't believe in the US you can go to choir and it counts as school. (I mean I can, but it's still ard to rationalie.) In the UK any club/ group type thinh had to be extra-curricular and outside school hours. Like PE (physical education) was compulsory, but if you wanted to join a sports team, or the athletics squad etc you had to go at lunch or after school. Team sports were the only time when it was acceptabe to separate the boys and girls too, everything else was (AmE) 'co-ed'.

    It's interestng that glee clubs are a long ago British export, the seem like such an American thing to me.

  28. Above comment was from Solo btw. OpenID managed to obscure my identity in a bid at ironic social commentary. Probably.

  29. Regarding your last (non footnote) para - do I interpret you right as looking for the BrE term for a barbershop? Barbers are generally men-only establishments (of the sort where they charge more for 'long hair'). Hairdressers would be the female/unisex equivalent.

  30. "As to clubs- how else does one partake of any group activity with which one finds an affinity? Where else so you meet like-minded people with common interests?"

    The thing many cases...we don't.
    We generally hang around with our established group of friends, and if we are lucky, they have most of the same interests as we do. Other than that, if your friends don't like Scrabble, you don't play.
    The exceptions to this are team sports and, as Lynne indicated, theatre. But that is purely because you need more than two or three people to be involved.

    Something related to this, that the clubs would probably help with, is the often difficult task of making new friends as an adult. (Just google "How do I make new friends as an adult?" for a slew of articles) Is this not a phenomenon in the UK? More widespread clubs would help.

    Now if course, there are tons of people in tons of clubs/groups out there...the internet is helping a lot though, and I would bet that the numbers have grown...but it seems like there is a "club culture" as Lynne is sort of describing it and we just don't generally have that here.

  31. One downside to clubs that may be more prevalent in the US is the desire to avoid the people that may be TOO into whatever you are interested in.

    I may like Renaissance history, but have no interest in interacting with the person that dresses in tights and says "Good Morrow" in general conversation.

    Or I might like Scrabble, but have no interest in being stuck playing with the guy who hand-caraved his own tiles and has discovered that in ancient hindi "Qzif" is a valid word and uses it for a triple word score.

    Usually if you are in a club, it has a much less casual feel or reputation.

  32. Weighing in from the left coast of the left continent here...When I attended Stanford University in the early '70s there were three "official" (i.e. school-sponsored, take them as courses for credit) vocal organizations: Choir (which sang only religious music and performed in the regular services in the university church), Chorus (which did 'serious' choral works, sometimes in conjunction with the San Francisco Symphony), and Glee Club (which did a mix of light classical -'pops' if you will - as well as popular and show tunes, the latter performed off the risers on an open stage with light coreography). All three were mixed male/female voices.

    In addition there was an all-male a capella group, the Stanford Mendicants, which was strictly extracurricular and which was founded to ape similar types of groups from the Ivy League such as the Yale Whiffenpoofs, which sound very much like the original sort of British glee clubs. Incidentally, a capella singing groups have blossomed since then. At Stanford today there are around 15 of them, including the (still all-male) Mendicants, all of which do pretty much the same kind of repertoire, a style which I would have called "do-wop" back in the day with solo or duo/trio singers backed by the rest of the group providing non-verbal musical and percussive sounds.

    And I can't leave without responding to the comments about the group Journey. I actually knew the band when they were first starting out in the San Francisco Bay Area, well enough to hang out with them backstage (my only close brush with rock and roll stardom!) and while I can appreciate the sentiments about the cheezy pop sound they eventually morphed into, in the early days, they were a really creative progressive rock band with top-flight musicians, esp. guitarist Neal Schon. Check out any of their first three albums before they acquired vocalist Steve Perry if you don't believe me. But note also that they didn't achieve commercial success until they changed their style into the Pop music that many of you so obviously detest.

    BTW, I've never seen the TV show Glee, but I don't watch much TV at all and almost never network shows. It sounds interesting, though.

  33. As an American (and one who can't carry a tune in a bucket), "glee club" brings to mind a traditional all-male university group; I immediately think of the Cornell University Glee Club singing their (AmE?) alma mater ("Far above Cayuga's waters..."); a YouTube search will yield examples.

    Glees, the songs, may be more popular in the UK than you think: "A British Tar Is a Soaring Soul" from H.M.S. Pinafore is listed as a glee in the score.

    My small university, when I attended it in the late '90s, had a chorus, a chamber singers group, and a few more informal a capella groups (which, depending on the group and what day it was, could have both men and women or one or the other).

    I could be off-base, but I get the impression that in the US, especially outside large cities, schools (and colleges and universities) and churches have much more of a "community center" function than they do in the UK. To be certain, in American football, college fandom is far more passionate than at the professional level, even for those who have never attended the college or have any connection to it.

  34. that in ancient hindi "Qzif" is a valid word and uses it for a triple word score.
    There's no such thing as Ancient Hindi, and in Hindi 'q', 'z' and 'f' are only ever used in loan words.

  35. and Stephen Jones is just the kind of person I would not want to be in a Scrabble club with...;)

  36. In my 1970's high-school choir, the director would use "glee club" disparagingly when he felt we weren't taking the performance seriously, as in "Are we a going to be a choir or a glee club." Some where in there had come the idea that a glee club was a fun activity, akin to a "pep squad". A choir or chorus was a serious undertaking (which sometimes did non-serious music).

    I'm also surprised no-one has mentioned Sister Act in it's various versions for the contrast between choirs/choruses and show choirs.

  37. I had to look up "pep squad" but I still can't really get my head round the concept. I can't imagine such a thing existing in the UK.

  38. As an interesting (?) academic aside the number of choir memberships (presumably including glees) along with that of other non-church 'social clubs' has been declining in the USA since the 60s (according to Putnam, 2000). There has been some decline in the UK, but it's been limited to clubs in working class communities, whereas apparently it has been across the board in America.

    Perhaps this is why Lynne notices more joining in the UK?

  39. Oooh, I love academic asides. Thanks, Christopher!

  40. @Lynne I envy you in your city with two Scrabble clubs. My home town (pop. c. 100,000) has none, so I need to travel to a nearby small town for my Scrabble fix.

    @Anonymous: it's not being TOO into Scrabble to know obscure little words with rare letters. Mugging up on words like that is essential to being any good as a club player. It's part of learning the game, just as learning how to play a variety of openings from the White and Black sides is part of learning chess. Mind you, if you don't want to mug up on words, or you're content to remain what some chess players call a wood-pusher, fine. If you can find people who'll give you a game and you enjoy playing them, you don't have to join a club.

    I don't know of anyone trying to sneak his own tiles into a club game, though. The opponent might be suspicious. I know I would.

    @Brian "Alma mater" meaning a school or university song might be AmE, but it is certainly not BrE, in which "alma mater" means the school or university itself.

  41. Re: clubs in America, you should read Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam, who discusses the decline in membership and various implications of it throughout the country.

    I know a lot of people who sing in non-church choirs, but they belong to either sea chantey groups or folk music groups. If one were to name a uniquely American song of social singing, I think I'd have to nominate shape note singing, which appears to have transcended its religious origins.

  42. I woud expect most Brits to actively avoid anything organised by Christians, no matter how appealing the activity itself

    By "Christians", yes, but not by the Church [of England, that is] - there are plenty of atheists in church choirs; my atheist great aunt was for many years the organist at her village church, and I strongly suspect that many of the hordes of volunteers who maintain the fabric of our ecclesiastical architecture aren't actually big on the God business either. In fact, I'm not even that convinced that it's a requirement if you want to be a C of E bishop.

    Linguistically speaking, putting "Christian" in the name of any organisation is a strong pointer towards its being some kind of evangelical do, and Brits like being evangelised almost as much as they like being sold double glazing.

  43. Americans are singing up a damn storm. Admittedly there's more of everything in New York than in most places, but check the website (Vocal Area Network) and your head will spin with the choral opportunities in the city and neighboring areas. I myself sang twice this very afternoon, Renaissance music and shape-note (mentioned by fauxlore above). Both sets of music are religious, but not my religion; I just like to sing them -- and the groups I sing with are secular.

    And it may well be true that Americans don't have the same kind of clubs that English people do, and further may be true, in the "Bowling Alone" thesis, that Americans are spending less time in the kind of organized groups we used to have, and I'm sure it's true Americans are more connected to churches. But I think people are still getting together to do stuff, whether that's book groups, as you yourself mentioned above, or tennis buddies, or Thursday night knitting class at the yarn store, or gatherings through, as someone else mentioned, and I don't know why these shouldn't count, even if there isn't a clubhouse or a chairman.

  44. BrE (Scot, 60+). Before reading this post, I would have assumed that “glee club” and “barber shop trio/quartet” could be used interchangeably. You live and learn. In recent years, non-religious choirs have become extremely popular in the U.K., thanks to Gareth Malone, although I’m not sure if there’s much choreography involved. However, it does seem to be obligatory for every song to be at least partly rendered in the Mahalia Jackson gospel style. For me, worse than ”journey songs”, but only because the style has been overdone to the point of now being a choral cliche.


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)