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Oh, When the Saints….
A brief look at the history of singing at St. Lawrence

In 2004-05, Laurentian Singer and Gospel Choir member Wendy Berner ’06, Hamburg, N.Y., undertook a University Fellowship project to contribute to the University’s sesquicentennial observances a substantial paper on the history of vocal music at St. Lawrence. The edited excerpt that follows is from the section on vocal organizations.
The Laurentian Singers have toured often throughout their history; in the 1960s, they sang at both the U.S. and Canadian seats of government.

The Dramatic Side of Vocal Music
By the end of the 19th century, the musical interests of the campus included dramatic productions in addition to group singing.  Professor W.B. Gunnison, Class of 1875, took it upon himself to form a musical society that in the spring of 1879 staged Gilbert & Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore.

Students teamed up with members of the Canton community to mount musicals in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  It was also common for the Mummers, the student thespian organization, to join with members of the music department to put on musical comedies during the first half of the 20th century.   The musical and dramatic performances put on by the Glee Clubs and the Mummers were annual social high points.
In 1947, the Mummers and the music department combined on The Pirates of Penzance.  A 34-member cast and 10-member orchestra gave performances in Watertown and Gouverneur.  Back in Canton, the show opened to a student audience of 1,200, and the second performance raised $350 for the Canton Hospital Association.
The Chapel Choir
In the 1880s, the University was comprised of the College of Letters and Science and the Theological School.  Each boasted its own chapel and choir.
 By the 1940s, the two schools had long since united, while the Chapel Choir was split into two separate ensembles in order to let those in the “senior” group further their musical accomplishments by preparing more advanced selections.  They became widely known throughout northern New York, toured annually, and broadcast programs over radio station WSLB in Ogdensburg. 

The popularity of small ensembles and the prevalence of talent on campus demanded that there be both varsity and JV “University Quartettes” by 1929.  The Varsity Quartet toured to high schools, appeared at special St. Lawrence events and recorded a phonograph record, a copy of which was given to every graduate.
  Bill Buschmann ’42 remembers that “just about everyone sang.” A member of the University Quartet, Buschmann remembers traveling with President Jencks and singing over local radio stations.  Greek houses had their own ensembles; Buschmann was also a member of the Beta Quartet.

The Laurentian Singers
When Warren Slocum ’48 returned from World War II in March of 1946, he was one of a group of students who “desired to sing something other than religious music,” he says.  Friday afternoons in Lee House, Music Professor Kenneth Munson directed the student ensemble that evolved into the Laurentian Singers. 

The Laurentian Singers became one of St. Lawrence University’s best ambassadors. They sang at Carnegie Hall in New York City and were the first choral group invited to sing in the Canadian Parliament.  They also performed at the White House, Chartres Cathedral in France and the Royal College of Music in London.  They gave coast-to-coast broadcasts over the ABC, CBS, and NBC radio networks and appeared on television. The group’s repertoire remains extensive, with performances in 2004-05 including works by Randall Thompson, Dvořák and Lauridsen. 

Succumbing to a trend of the times, these 1962 Saints posed on a vehicle. The editor will be grateful to anyone who can supply their names.

Men's and Women's A Cappella Singing
Some St. Lawrence men started an a cappella group in 1953; it came to be known as the Singing Saints. The “boys” once sang at Whiteface Ski Center in exchange for room, board, and lift tickets.  While performing at Sarah Lawrence College, they sang “Mood Indigo” with Duke Ellington in the audience.  
One Saint, Craig Thorn ’57, was dating his future wife, Edwina “Winnie” Pisani ’56.  In December 1953—with the “boys’” encouragement—she formed the Sinners as a female a cappella group.  The groups began to co-sponsor the annual Saints and Sinners Ball, during Homecoming, and would treat the dancers to songs at intermission.
Today, the Saints and Sinners remain student-directed ensembles that arrange much of their own music. They perform concerts and at special campus events and ceremonies.  Much to the delight of the rest of the student body, the Saints continue their tradition of impromptu dormitory and sorority serenades.

Early Music Ensembles
In the early 1950s, the Madrigal Singers appeared briefly. By the 1960s, St. Lawrence could boast an Early Music Ensemble, which specialized in learning the music and performing techniques of the music of the 13th to 17th centuries. By the late 1970s, the select group had toured to Boston, New York, San Francisco and Seattle and had performed on radio and television.

Today, two ensembles make up the Early Music Ensemble, which performs music from the medieval, Renaissance and Baroque eras.  The Players use period instruments from the University's Romer Collection—recorders, crumhorns, lute, viols, harpsichord—as well as modern instruments.  The Singers perform the great a cappella repertoire of these periods.

Other Groups
In 1970, Music Professor Robert Jones started the St. Lawrence University Community Chorus.  Open to all students, faculty and staff, as well as local residents, it performed larger choral works, accompanied by the Community Orchestra, such as Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Faure’s Requiem and Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music. The ensemble continues today as the University Chorus, open to the entire University and regional communities. 
The newest vocal music group on campus is the Gospel Choir. The choir sings as part of the Progressive Christian worship services in Gunnison Memorial Chapel, and on special occasions such as the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance. 

More highlights:

*In January 1878, the College Quartet had the distinction of attempting the first musical tour in St. Lawrence’s history, with DeKalb Junction as the destination.

*J. Kimball Gannon wrote the words to “Alma Mater” in the early 1920s. In 2004, his “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was number 7 among the 25 all-time most-performed holiday songs, according to ASCAP. 

*In the 1880s, Memorial Hall was the site of the Κappa Kappa Gamma national convention, and St. Lawrence’s Beta Chapter—already known, on account of its many original songs, as “the singing chapter”—was chosen to publish the first national Kappa Kappa Gamma Song Book.

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