The Virginia Glee Club toured the U.S.S.R. and Sweden in 1979 with the Mount Holyoke Glee Club, under the direction of Donald Loach and Cathy Melhorn. Held May 25 to June 8, 1979, the tour was the most significant event of the Glee Club 1978-1979 season.
Tour performances included:
Program courtesy of the collection of Donald Loach.
From Matthew Koch:
For the Soviet Union (it wasn't Russia at that time!) & Sweden tour of 1979, the Glee Club joined forces with the Women's Chorus from Mount Holyoke. We had a very close relationship with Holyoke in those days; our two groups fit well together and we genuinely enjoyed each others' company. We liked singing under Cathy Melhorn (Holyoke's director), and the Holyoke women enjoyed singing under Don Loach.
In Moscow we performed twice at Soviet youth clubs ("House of Friendship"), in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), we performed an outdoor concert at Petrodvorets (Peterhof), Peter the Great's palace on the Gulf of Finland. One of the Holyoke women was Swedish; her father was a member of Parliament. Through her family connections, we performed in Stockholm at an outdoor cultural museum/park called "Skansen." At each concert we followed the same formula: the women performed a few pieces, the men performed a few pieces, and then we joined together for SATB selections. Most of the program was American choral music, which the audiences would likely not have heard before.
When we left Leningrad by train for Helsinki (where we were to board a plane for Stockholm), we stopped on the Soviet side of the border for a short time, during which we were allowed to get off the train. When it was time to cross the border, we re-boarded the train, our guys did our head count, the women assured me they were all present and accounted for, and we then headed off into Finnish territory--only to soon hear the women crying out that one of their number had been left behind in the USSR. There was nothing we could do. At the Helsinki airport, I went to the SAS airline desk, explained that one of our group was back in the USSR, and asked them to honor her ticket to Stockholm when (if?) she made it to the Helsinki airport. In addition, the Swedish student from Holyoke called her father, so there was some helpful support from the Swedish Parliament as well. The lost Holyoke student caught up with us in Stockholm a day and a half later, none the worse for wear--and with a great story to tell.
During the Moscow performances, the Glee Club performed a couple of Russian folk songs, for which I was a soloist. One of the songs was a nonsense song; during the performance, the Soviet audience started laughing. The Holyoke women were very concerned, and feared that the audience had been laughing at me. I assured them that it was a good thing that the audience was laughing, as that meant that the audience understood what I was singing.
The dynamic of the 1979 tour was different from other Club tours in which I had participated. While I spoke Russian, had visited the USSR, and knew what I was getting into, for most of the participants the USSR appeared an alien (and seemingly hostile) environment. Although the people were very friendly, the Soviet Union itself, with anti-American propaganda at every turn, was not a warm and fuzzy place.
While tours (both foreign and domestic) were always a terrific bonding experience for the guys, the presence of 25 Holyoke women meant that there was considerable Club interest in bonding (both figuratively and literally) with the ladies. And while the Soviet tour did not provide the opportunity to sing in spectacular concert settings--such as the French tour of 1977, when we performed in cathedrals throughout northern France--we were able to serve as unofficial cultural ambassadors, and to show everyday Soviets (most of whom had never met an American) that Americans were not at all like the Soviet government would have them believe.
- Mount Holyoke College Choral Ensembles Alumnae. "Cathy Melhorn's Retirement Slideshow" (PPT). http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/music/ensemble/choral/audio/Cathy_at_Mount_Holyoke_slideshow_quality.ppt. Retrieved 2009-12-13.