Far above the busy humming of the bustling Reunion 2019, more than 300 Cornell Glee Club voices – spanning eight decades of Cornell history – stood on the Bailey Hall stage June 7 and sang the iconic, seven-part “Ave Maria” by Franz Biebl.
The Glee Club – Cornell’s oldest student organization, celebrating 150 years this year – honored the late Thomas A. Sokol, professor emeritus of music, who died April 28. It was Sokol who brought the arrangement to the U.S. from Europe nearly a half-century ago.
In January 1970, the Glee Club recorded a program for the Frankfurt Radio Network while on a two-week, nine-city tour in West Germany. When the recording session ended, Franz Biebl, the radio network’s music director, introduced himself to Sokol and handed him sheet music of his own compositions. Among the works was an effusive, poignant “Ave Maria,” which was performed in the United States for the first time by the club later that year.
There were so many singers for the June 7 performance, the Bailey Hall stage wasn’t big enough; the club’s alumni poured out onto the mezzanine wings. Michael Slon ’92, an associate professor of music at the University of Virginia, served as a guest conductor for this special rendition.
Earlier in the afternoon, the Glee Club sang the piece in the sanctuary of Sage Chapel as part of a Reunion memorial service for Sokol.
– Blaine Friedlander