Malcolm McKinney: Doshisha University Glee Club

One of the downsides of taking a semester abroad in Japan is that I would miss preforming one of my favorite major works, Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D Minor with the Glee Club at my home institution at the end of April. However, when I became acquainted with Doshisha’s campus, I was excited to find out that Doshisha has a Glee Club as well, which I did not hesitate to join. In my previous blog post, I explained just how unbelievably similar my Glee Club is to Doshisha’s, from the inside jokes, all the way to the songs that we sing. Unfortunately, once Doshisha students were let out for spring vacation, the rehearsals were very difficult if not impossible to attend due to the fact that they were either scheduled during Japanese language classes or took place at Doshisha’s main campus an hour away from KCJS campus. Each week I couldn’t attend rehearsals, I became a bit more anxious about whether or not I would be able to fulfill the KCJS CIP commitment.

Toward the end of Doshisha’s spring break, I invited one of the Glee Club’s managers, who introduced himself to me as “Onee-san,” for lunch near Shijo. It was not until recently that one of the other members of the Glee Club told me that the manager was stuck with unfortunate nickname, because he makes a drastic transformation into an onee-san at nomihodai with members of the Glee Club. And as he said the word onee-san, he limped his left wrist for comedic effect, which made his explanation all the more clear. After discussing over a soba lunch about how the Glee Club was doing recently and how he was preparing for shu-katsu, or job-hunting, he pulled out a volume entitled “Doshisha’s Favorite Songs.” As I flipped through the book of sheet music, I came across the song “Ride the Chariot,” a song that the Doshisha Glee Club sang for the audience during a reception after the farewell concert I attended in February. Interestingly enough, at Cornell, we also share the same custom; among other songs, we also sing, “Ride the Chariot” for our audience members, who decide to stick around after our concert. Flipping not much further, my jaw dropped in disbelief when I came across the next song in his book.

It was Franz Beibl’s Ave Maria; a magnificent piece that is so inextricably linked to the history of Cornell’s Glee Club, to the extent that the song itself has become distinctly Cornellian in the hearts of all Cornell Glee Club members past and present.In short, the Ave Maria would have most likely have been lost in obscurity if Biebl had not entrusted it to director Thomas A. Sokol during the Glee Club’s tour in Germany in the 1970’s. Once the Glee Club returned and introduced the song back to the United States, it became instantly popular. As I was still in awe as to how could this song could have possibly traveled all the way to Japan, Onee-san told me that the Doshisha Glee Club preformed Ave Maria several years ago, though it had been before any of the current members were in the club. After talking further about Ave Maria, I asked Onee-san if I could practice with the Glee Club once more, even if it would mean that it would be an inconvenience for me. After asking around, he invited me to the practices that the Glee Club holds for its shinnyu-sei, incoming freshmen that are potential members for the club.

The week before classes began for the Doshisha students, a club fair was held, which made the campus quite bustling with activity. I stopped by the Glee Club booth, where I was greeted with a warm welcome. Not too much later, a recent alumnus from the Glee Club also came by to say hello. Noticing me as the one who likes Biebl’s Ave Maria, he expressed relief that I was able to understand Japanese, since it would be very difficult for me to participate in rehearsals if I had not. Even though he said these praises, it had been difficult to follow the more abstract breathing and vocal techniques in rehearsal. Moreover, being that the Glee Club is composed of all men, during my time in the club, I had quite some difficulty deciphering the words that were spoken to me. Male speech in Japanese is characteristically rapid, seasoned with contractions and slang words, and peppered with Kansai-ben, the dialect of Japanese that is spoken in and around the Kyoto region, which is not taught in the classroom. Contrary to his praises, even his continuing remarks were a bit difficult for me to follow. From what I could piece together, Doshisha’s Glee Club recently had an excellent relationship with the Yale University’s Glee Club, a fact that is clear when one notices that Doshisha’s College Song has been adopted from Yale’s. However, for whatever reason, the Glee Clubs have not been in contact since their last joint concert in the 2000s. Quite ambitiously, he mentioned that it would be fantastic if Doshisha’s Glee Club were to establish a connection with Cornell’s Glee Club, with me as a bridge between the two worlds. Though coordinating such an collaboration would be an undertaking too lofty to imagine, I can not help but wonder how incredible the experience would be if we were to perform together in concert.

3 thoughts on “Malcolm McKinney: Doshisha University Glee Club

  1. It sounds like your project was quite enlightening. I don`t know anything about the history of glee clubs in Japan, but I guess that much like American Football, they are centered around the models of groups at American colleges. I have a tough time imagining Doshisha men singing college glee material, but I suppose a Japanese person would be just as surprised to see Americans with an interest in J-pop.

    • I actually went to Doshisha’s American Football practice a few days ago, and I was surprised how simular it was to our football practices at Cornell. One of the players explained to me that the coach went to go study abroad (i.e go to Iowa) in order to pick up offensive and defensive stategies and injury prevention techniques. Apparently, many of the high schools in Japan that have American football programs don’t have the finances to do this kind of “research” in America, so their practices are reminecent of those when American football first came to Japan around the 1940’s. (Fun fact)

      Doshisha in essence is a very American University, having been founded on Christian values. And as such, it is not hard to imagine that American clubs were brought about because Doshisha’s initial American influence and Japanese love for American things.

      Although I think it would have been a worthwhile experience to do something distinctively Japanese, it was as you said, an enlightening experience to say the least. The world is actually pretty small after all.

  2. A relationship between Cornell’s Glee Club and Cornell’s sounds way too cool to be true. I’m counting on you to make this happen! If I recall correctly Cornell’s founding was a fairly secular affair but I don’t think that will put anybody off. Out of curiosity, why did the guy you met refer to himself as ‘big sister’? Was his name actually Onee?