Purdue Varsity Glee Club

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The Purdue Varsity Glee Club is the principal vocal group of Purdue University.


The glee club was founded in 1893 with 11 members, under the direction of Lafayette organist, Cyrus Dadswell. At the time, Purdue University was an agricultural and engineering school without a strong musical tradition.[1] In 1910, under the direction of E.J. Wotawa, the Glee Club composed the fight song “Hail Purdue”, originally titled "Purdue War Song".[1] During the 1920s and 1930s, directors Paul Smith and Albert Stewart led and expanded the organization.[2] Stewart was refused funding by the university president,[1] so some of the early funding for the Glee Club came from Indianapolis pharmaceutical magnate, Josiah K. Lilly Sr. Lacking regular rehearsal space, the organization was considered a campus orphan.[1] Lillian Stewart, wife of then comptroller R.B. Stewart, offered her living room as rehearsal space. However, as the Glee Club gathered more admirers, University President Edward C. Elliot yielded and formalized Stewart's position, hired a staff, and provided rehearsal space. The first official space for the Glee Club and the Purdue Musical Organization was in the “Music Penthouse”, the top floor of University Hall.[1]


Among the traditions of the club is the standard that all members keep their hair short and their faces clean-shaven,[2] although this isn't what defines the group. Excellence in character is also highly encouraged.[3] That is the Glee Club's greatest tradition, and it is the goal of every Glee Club member to further this tradition of excellence.[2] In addition to these general commitments, there are the following structural divisions:

The Purdusirs and Purdusires[edit]

The Purdusirs is a leadership group comprising outstanding juniors and seniors. Each of the 12 "sirs" chairs a committee.[2] The 10 committees are Advancement, Public Relations, Social, Properties, Rehearsal Room - Lounge & Transportation, Scholarship, Recruitment, Traditions, Merchandise, and World Wide Web. The other two sirs are the chairman of the Sirs and the manager, who have oversight over the entire club. As well as heading the committees, they are responsible for various procedural matters. The Sirs wear gold and black ribbons on their full dress uniform. The Purdusires is a parallel organization comprising outstanding administration, faculty and staff members.[2] This organization also has 12 members, individually assigned to each committee and acting as advisors and counselors to their respective Sirs and other Glee Club members. A Sire serves as someone with whom a Sir or other Glee Club member interacts through many varied activities, both formal and informal.

The Tradition of mingling[edit]

Men of the Glee Club spend a short time mingling with audience members after all full concerts and whenever appropriate.[2] This allows the singers to show their appreciation. Many members of Glee Club audiences are Purdue, Purdue Musical Organization or Glee Club alumni who are interested in hearing about new developments on campus.


White carnation boutonnières are traditionally worn by the Glee Club at full-dress concerts.[2] After a concert, each singer pins his carnation on the woman of his choice.[2]

The Medallion[edit]

The Varsity Glee Club's medallions worn by the Glee Club were originally furnished by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in gratitude for charity work done for the organization.[3] In 1990, the NMSS discontinued the production of these medallions, and they ceased to become a part of the full-dress uniform.[3] In the fall of 1991, the Glee Club acquired new medallions with the Purdue seal on the front and Glee Club Pete on the back, commemorating the group's upcoming centennial (1893–1993). The Purdue seal has two prominent features: the griffin, which symbolized strength in medieval heraldry, and the three-part shield, which represents the three stated aims of Purdue: education, research and service.

World travels[edit]

The Varsity Glee Club has traveled throughout the continental U.S. and abroad, including to China, the British Isles the South Pacific, and South Africa. The most recent of which being a European Tour in the Summer of 2013. As ambassadors, the Glee Club spreads the message of Purdue and the Purdue Musical Organization all over the world.

Purdue Christmas show[edit]

The Purdue Christmas show, which was begun in 1933, takes place in the Edward C. Elliott Hall of Music. The First Christmas Show was held in 1933 in Fowler Hall.

There are six presentations of the Christmas show, which is seen by more than 30,000 people live.[citation needed] The Christmas show is made up of performances by the Varsity Glee Club, the Purduettes, the Purdue Bell Choir, University Choir, Heart and Soul, Purdue Kids Choir and the All Campus and Community Chorale.

Construction on the sets for the Christmas show begins in the summer. It takes three months to build the set, two weeks to put it on stage and fine tune things, hundreds of gallons of paint, and nearly 1,000 yards of fabric to create the sets, props, floor drop, screens, and custom curtain.

Directors of the Purdue Varsity Glee Club[edit]

  • Cyrus Dadswell - 1893 - organist, first director of The Purdue Varsity Glee Club
  • The Men's Glee Club went through five directors in the first five years of existence.
  • E.J. Wotawa - 1910 - student, took over directing
  • Paul and Helen Smith - 1920 - 1927
  • Al Stewart - 1932-1974 - First full-time director, founded Purdue Musical organizations, acquired costumes, staff, and rehearsal space.
  • Bill Luhman - 1974-1982 - Purdue Bells started under his direction
  • William Allen - 1982-1989
  • Brian Breed - 1989-2007 - conducted many tours and spread the Purdue Varsity Glee Club's reputation
  • Gerritt J. Vandermeer - Jan 2008 - May 2008 (Interim) This Glee Club alumnus led the group on its international trip to South Africa.
  • William E. Griffel - June 2008–present


In 1989, director William E. Allen was indicted for embezzling PMO money for personal use, leading to his resignation. The New York Times states, "The former director of Purdue Musical Organizations, William E. Allen, faces sentencing in the (Tippecanoe) county court on July 10 for the theft of nearly $400,000 from the musical organizations' accounts between July 1984 and March 1989... Mr. Allen, who is 48 years old, pleaded guilty last month to four counts of theft. He faces a maximum of 16 years in prison and $40,000 in fines. He had been director since 1982 and a member of the Purdue staff since 1970. He resigned June 5 after having been confronted with a university audit... The audit showed that Mr. Allen had charged many personal expenses to several credit cards, including several ski trips to Colorado, tickets to Disney World, round-trip airline tickets for himself, his wife and their five children. The largest single expenditure was for a $1,995 fur coat for his wife. "[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e Bennett, Joseph L. Boilermaker Music Makers (Al Stewart and the Purdue Musical Organizations). West Lafayette: Purdue Research Foundation, 1986. (pg 57, 47-49)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Purdue Musical organizations. Purdue Varsity Glee Club: History. accessed 1 Feb. 2007.
  3. ^ a b c King, Brian. Personal Interview. Sir of Traditions. 1 Feb. 2007
  4. ^ Staff, "CAMPUS LIFE: Purdue; 2 Thefts in a Year Are Jarring Notes In Music Program," Style, The New York Times, July 2, 1989,, accessed April 7, 2010.

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