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Front Page » July 9, 2013 » Emery County News » Huntington Glee club singing since 1919
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Huntington Glee club singing since 1919

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The Huntington Glee Club has been performing since 1919. They recently presented their patriotic program as part of the Huntington Heritage Days celebration.

Edward Geary of Huntington recently gave the history of the Glee Club at a Historical Society meeting.

After the Huntington Glee Club sang their first set of songs "Stouthearted Men," and "The Home Town" with Annette Cook as accompanist. Geary then began to narrate the program and relate the history of the Huntington Glee Club.

Geary said "It is my privilege to welcome you this evening to a celebration of the history of the Huntington Glee Club. The distinguished Utah Historian Charles S. Peterson once remarked that Emery County has been unusual among the state's hinterlands in the range and vitality of its community musical and theatrical activities. I discussed the early community dramatics with the Emery County Historical Society, several months ago. The historic musical activities are equally worthy of attention, beginning with the first years of settlement in Castle Valley, when Samuel Jewkes relocated a good portion of his Fountain Green choir to Orangeville, continuing with the Cleveland and Huntington chorus organized by Thomas Hardy that won the Scofield Eistheddfod competition in 1895, and going on to a "Grand Musical Festival" put on by the Emery LDS Stake M.I.A. In 1933, featuring a chorus of 200 voices. Among the more recent fruits of this long musical heritage, we should note that the current musical director and one of the organists of the best-known musical institution in Utah, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, are both Emery County natives.

Our focus this evening is on the oldest continuing musical organization in the County, the Huntington Men's Glee Club. The Glee Club traces its origins to the spring of 1919, when the music teacher at Huntington high school, Evart Johnson organized a male chorus that performed in school, church, and community functions. This original high school ensemble was soon enlarged by the addition of men from the community and took on the name of the Huntington Glee Club.

Please take a look at the photographs that are reproduced in tonight's program. The three photos on the outside cover show the members of the Glee Club at approximately 30-year intervals, in the 1920s, the 1950s, and the 1980s. The inside photo is a scene of Huntington Main Street a short time after the glee club was organized. You will see this street is not paved. Indeed, there were no paved roads anywhere in Emery County at that time. There was not even a coat of gravel, nothing but blue Castle Valley clay that turns into a quagmire when it rains. It looks as though the middle of the street has recently been smoothed by a drag, grader, such as was still in use when I was a boy to put the playing fields on the town square into shape each spring. The single power pole, visible in the photo indicates that the community had been electrified, but only recently. Many outlying homes throughout the county still depended upon kerosene lamps and gaslights for illumination. There is one automobile on the street and two horse-drawn wagons. This probably reflects fairly accurately the transportation modes of the period. If you look closely, you will see there was a hitching rail in front of every store, yet the automotive age has clearly arrived. There are two auto repair businesses in the photo, the Marshall brothers garage at the left margin of the photo, and Shorty Shaw's shop farther up the street.

This, then, is the world in which the Glee Club had its beginning. The songs with which we began the program also reflect this era. "Stouthearted Men," which has probably been sung more often than any other number over the years, came from a 1927 Broadway musical. "The Old Home Town" was composed in the very year, 1919, when the Glee Club was organized.

Our next song, "Those Pals of Ours," is also a nostalgic reflection of the period when the Glee Club began. Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo" captures the syncopated spirit of the Jazz Age and remains fixed in the affections of those who sang in the Glee Club in the 1950s and 60s. The second set of songs sung was "Those Pals of Ours" and "Mood Indigo".

Much of the credit for the Glee Club's survival for more than 90 years must go to a series of highly capable and very dedicated directors. When Evart Johnson moved away from Emery County in 1925, he handed the baton to Perry Wakefield, who had been one of the charter members. A few months later, Perry was called on an LDS mission to Kentucky, and Bert Thomas filled in as director for two years. Upon Perry's return, he resumed his responsibilities and continued for 38 years, which also included the 14 years he served as Bishop of the Huntington Ward.

Following Perry's accidental death in 1965, the leadership of the Glee Club passed to Errol Litster, who had been serving as associate director. Errol invited Bryce Wilson to conduct the ensemble on the occasions when Errol's voice was needed in the first tenor section, and the two men shared directing responsibilities until Errol's death in 1986. Since that time, for almost 25 years now, Bryce has been our director, ably assisted by Kendall Mortensen, who took over the reins during Bryce's mission to Russia.

The Glee Club has had its ups and downs over the decades of its history. Activity reached a low ebb during parts of the 1930s. During the war years of the early 1940s, the membership was depleted by the large portion of the Emery County population who were serving in the armed forces or who left the area to work in defense industries. At times, the Glee Club might have faded away altogether, if it had not been for the funerals. Even when they were not performing regularly, the members would respond when called upon to sing at a funeral. It would be impossible to estimate how many times they sang "Out of the Dusk to You." Even today there are well-worn copies of this song in some members' files.

The Postwar period brought a resurgence of interest. Civilian construction had almost ceased during the war, and the late 40s and early 50s were a period when modern chapels replaced numerous old Latter-Day Saints meeting houses. The "building program" in those days called for the local congregation to come up with half of the cost of a new building. The general Church funds would provide the balance. This meant that there was a flurry of "building fund" activities, including concerts by the Glee Club. The Glee Club performed, probably, in every community in Emery and Carbon counties and traveled as far a-field as Bountiful and West Valley to put on programs there. This very active period also introduced a new generation of Glee Club members as young men were brought into the organization.

Among the perennial old favorites in the Glee Club repertoire were the classic cowboy and western songs, including our next two numbers this evening, the traditional cowboy song " Home on the Range," and "Tumbling Tumbleweeds," written by Bob Nolan, of the sons of the pioneers in 1934.

You have probably guessed by now that we are fond of old songs, old rhythms and harmonies. However, we welcome new members, and are especially pleased when they are younger than the Glee Clubs age of 95. If you enjoy good fellowship and traditional male choral music, and if you have on hour free at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday evenings we invite you to join us. We still sing at funerals. We visit the Emery County Care and Rehabilitation Center, four times a year. We sing in church meetings by invitation. Our two major performances each year are a patriotic concert in July, in conjunction with the Huntington Heritage Days celebration and a Christmas concert where we join with a woman's chorus to present an event that is very enjoyable to prepare and we hope to attend.

We will conclude this evenings historical tour with a set of patriotic songs that the glee club has sung for many years: "Your Land is My Land" from 1927; Irving Berlin's "God Bless America," from 1939; and connecting the two, Bryce Wilson's own arrangement of a "Military Medley." The fourth and final set," said Geary.

Geary made notice of Van Gardner a disabled member of the Glee Club seated in the audience in a wheel chair.

Following the performance, refreshments were served.

Members of the choir are Bryce Wilson, Director, Annette Cook, Accompanist, Dan Cook, Chall Cook, Paul Cowley, John Eden, Lowell Gardner, Lyndon Gardner, Tom Holdaway, Val Jensen, Kendall Mortensen, Boyd Nielson, Clark Powell, Zachary Powell, Evan Stilson, Lond Wakefield and Dean Young. Not all members were in attendance due to other commitments.

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