Berkeley: Cultural Programs
Cultural Programs and Activities
By the mid-1960s, the Berkeley campus had become
a major center of Bay Area cultural activity.
Earliest Cultural Activities
In the earliest years of the University's
history, there is recorded a "romantic Italian drama in three acts
entitled Marco Spada" presented by the University Dramatic
Association on May 20, 1870. Along with other early dramatic groups,
this one was short-lived. Two student organizations, the Durant
Rhetorical Society, a carry-over from the College of California,
and the Neolaean Literary Society, organized in 1871, met at private
homes for literary or musical evenings. President Gilman initiated
Friday afternoon University assemblies at which faculty members
or visitors spoke. After his resignation, these programs became
During the 1880s public transportation to the
campus improved and a town began to grow up adjacent to the University.
Private citizens began to take interest in campus cultural affairs.
An art collection and a gallery in which to display it was acquired
by the University in 1881 as a gift from Henry D. Bacon of Oakland.
The Berkeley Choral Society, a town and gown group organized in
1885, supplied volunteer directors for a student orchestra and the
University-sponsored Cultural Events
In 1891, three faculty members, William Carey
Jones, William D. Armes, and George M. Richardson, sponsored the
Berkeley Athenaeum "to furnish the best possible public entertainment
in letters, music and art to the University and to the people of
Berkeley, by drawing to the University the best talent coming to
the State." In 1892, Louis Dupont Syle, a serious student of the
theater, joined the English department faculty. Under his direction,
students produced full-length plays and presented them in rented
halls and theaters of Oakland and Berkeley.
Mrs. Phoebe A. Hearst, who became a Regent in
1897, established the Minetti String Quartet in residence on the
campus and opened her Berkeley home for concerts and art lectures
to which faculty members and students were freely invited.
The Greek Theater
The gift of the Greek Theatre by William
Randolph Hearst in 1903 gave formal impetus to the presentation
of music and drama on the campus. A Musical and Dramatic Committee
headed by Armes brought Sarah Bernhardt, Margaret Anglin, Maude
Adams, Luisa Tetrazzini, Ruth St. Denis, other famous artists, and
nationally recognized orchestras and concert bands to the Greek
Theatre stage. After a Department of Music was established in 1905,
its chairman, J. Fred Wolle, formed and directed a University of
California Symphony Orchestra composed of local professional musicians.
In 1906, the English Club, at the suggestion of Charles Mills Gayley,
produced the first of an annual series of Shakespearean plays in
the Greek Theatre. Sunday Half-Hours of Music given by talented
amateurs were presented at the theatre free of charge from March
Cultural Activity Develops
Armes died in 1918 and was succeeded by Samuel
J. Hume. Hume's title was director of the Greek Theatre, but he
managed all forms of campus cultural affairs. He also developed
student dramatic talent through the organization of the Wheeler
Hall Players, who gave indoor performances of modern plays. Art
exhibits from out of state appeared more frequently on campus through
Hume's efforts in the Western Association of Art Directors. Paul
Steindorff, San Francisco orchestra leader, was appointed University
Choragus and directed orchestral and choral groups composed of students,
faculty members, and interested Berkeleyans.
Hume resigned in 1923 and a new policy for campus
cultural affairs was established. The management of professional
attractions was made the responsibility of a Committee on Music
and Drama with Professor William Popper as chairman. Responsibility
for student productions was delegated to the Associated Students.
This policy was followed until 1941 when the Department of Dramatic
Art was established and the student-sponsored Little Theater which
had flourished under the direction of Irving Pichel and, later,
Edwin Duerr, was transferred to its jurisdiction and became the
Popper retired in 1945 and Baldwin Woods, director
of University of California Extension, was made chairman of the
Committee on Music and Drama (later Committee on Drama, Lectures
and Music). The lecture department of the University Extension assumed
responsibility for the business management of the committee's work.
As funds became available in postwar years, the scope of the committee's
work was widened.
In 1955, Donald Coney, the University librarian,
became chairman of the committee. In 1960, the committee's budget
was transferred from University of California Extension to the campus.
At the same time, its name was again changed to Committee for Arts
and Lectures. The programs of the committee were enriched by an
allocation of funds from the Garret McEnerney bequest to support
From the beginning, the development of cultural
programs on the campus was hampered by the lack of adequate halls,
theaters, and galleries. The situation was partly relieved by the
remodeling of the "old power house" art gallery and the completion
of the Alfred Hertz Memorial Hall of Music in 1958. The next year,
Kroeber Hall with its Worth Ryder Art Gallery and Lowie Museum (anthropology)
exhibit space further relieved the problem. Performance of the drama
and the dance remained confined, however, to the restrictions of
the lecture platform in Wheeler Auditorium.
Construction began in 1966 on a new auditorium-theater
building that accommodates a small multiform theater seating 500
to 600 persons, and a large auditorium seating 2,000 persons. The
Regents also authorized construction of a University Art Museum
to include both an art museum and the Hans Hofmann Art Gallery.
Committee for Arts and Lectures
Cooperation between the Associated Students
and the Committee for Arts and Lectures was maintained continuously.
The committee assumed responsibility for management of large scale
affairs such as an annual Folk Music Festival until they became
well established. It also joined forces with the Associated Students
to organize a University night at the San Francisco Spring Opera.
The committee also handled ticket and business
matters for the Departments of Dramatic Art and Music, for All-University
Concert series, and for the Intercampus Art Exchanges.
In 1963, the committee sponsored 381 events attended
by 215,630 people. University events handled by the committee were
attended by 45,361 people yearly.
A symphony orchestra has been on the Berkeley
campus since the founding of the music department in 1906. By the
mid-1960s, the orchestra presented four pairs of concerts on the
campus each year, with a repertoire ranging from Bach through Schoenberg
to contemporary music. At one pair of concerts each spring, the
winner of a student contest was presented as soloist.
The University Chorus
The University Chorus, also begun in 1906,
was organized in in 1936 by the noted composer, Randall Thompson.
In 1951, Edward Lawton, who succeeded Thompson as conductor, formed
the Repertory Chorus, a smaller, more specialized group that explored
unusual and early music. The Collegium Musicum, a small group of
singers and players founded in 1960, presented many concerts and
had one performance of songs by Monteverdi and Frescobaldi recorded
by Cambridge Records.
Since 1953, the music department sponsored
a series of weekly noon concerts on campus. For the most part, the
performances were by student soloists and groups initiated by the
The University of California Marching Band
was formed in 1891 to perform for military drills and University
ceremonies. Early in its history it became associated with official
events and celebrations of the state of California. Finally, in
1923, the marching band was formed as an activity of the ASUC and
began performing at football games and other University events.
The system of self-government within the band was developing at
In 1926, when the ASUC took over the financial
sponsorship of the band for the first time, the band underwent an
extensive reorganization with the advent of its first formal constitution.
By the mid-1960s, the band was comprised of 120 members with 20
reserves and was the only university band in the country that maintained
a residence hall for its members, Tellefsen Hall, purchased by the
band alumni in 1960. The band performed at such events as the San
Francisco Mid-Winter Fair of 1894, the dedication of the State Capitol
in 1909, the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, the Golden Gate Exposition
of 1939, and the 1958 Brussels World's Fair.
The Straw Hat Band
The Straw Hat Band was an informal organization
within the marching band formed after World War II. This band took
over activities of the marching band at the close of football season
each year, following athletic teams (mainly basketball, though the
band also appeared at track meets, crew races, baseball games, and
rugby matches) to perform at many of their road games. During football
season the band appeared at the traditional Friday noon rallies
prior to the games. At first, members wore a variety of hats, but
at the state fair in Sacramento in 1950, they purchased a quantity
of straw hats and wore them ever since.
The University of California Men's Glee Club, founded in the 1890s, was a major concert, musical entertainment and spirit unit on campus and on tours around the state for about 100 years. Except for a brief period in the 1930s it operated as a student activity under the ASUC not in the Music Department. At some point in the late 1930s, the Glee Club was linked or partnered with the women's choral group, the Treble Clef Society that had been founded in the 19th century as the Ladies Mandolin Society.
Their modern paired identity as Glee Club-Treble Clef began during the war when both groups were conducted by Rochelle Paul Weiman, and then later, from 1946 to 1950, by Walter Nollner, later to become Glee Club director at Williams College and finally at Princeton University. His successor was Robert Commanday, from 1950 to 1963, subsequently to become the Music and Dance Critic of the San Francisco Chronicle.
During these 13 years of their highest activity, the groups of between 55 to 70 members each, annually gave joint concerts, fall and spring, two performances each. Together they sang some six major choral works with the San Francisco Symphony, operated an annual High School Singing Festival which brought 60 high school choirs to the campus one Saturday each fall, and maintained an active social program within the groups. Glee Club and often Treble Clef, gave performances off campuses in the area, and for major University functions such as the Christmas Meeting. Glee Club in particular was called on many times during the year to provide the music at Charter Day, the dedication of buildings and monuments, at large student events like freshman orientation and the Big Game Rally. Throughout their history, the two groups were administered by a corps of student managers, the managerial as well as the ASUC support being central to the tradition and strength of the groups.
From its inception in 1948 until the formation within Treble Clef of a small women's sextet, Jade, and of a Madrigal Group of 12 of singers from both groups 14 years later, the Glee Club Senior Men's Octet was the singular a cappella group on campus, always a part of the Glee Club. It was featured on the groups' concerts and pursued an active independent life singing around the Bay Area on invitation.
The Glee Club's most highly anticipated events were its annual tours of the state during the winter break, singing concert programs nightly and at high school assemblies during the day. A few of the tours took the Glee Club from one end of the state to the other, and one toured the men through six western states. In 1957, under the sponsorship of the Mainichi Newspapers, the UC Men's Glee Club became the first American college musical group to visit Japan after World War II, performing 22 concerts in 30 days to capacity audiences comprising many tens of thousands of Japanese citizens. On many of the concerts, male glee clubs from major Japanese universities participated as guests; fellowship among all the singing students was a major aspect of the tour project. At the opening concert in Tokyo, the Japanese royal family headed by the Crown Prince, the current Emperor, was in attendance and received Robert Commanday and the student managers.
The year 1962-63 was the most active. In addition to the fall and spring concerts, the Glee Club's January tour in the state, and the typical on-campus appearances, the groups gave performances on television, made recordings, and Treble Clef made a concert tour to Hawaii during the Easter recess. The women's a cappella group, Jade (a sextet), and the mixed Madrigal Group of 12, founded that year performed on the concerts as extra features, along with the Glee Club Octet. Finally, during the summer of 1963, the Glee Club made a European Concert Tour of 40 concerts in eight weeks in nine countries.
Following Robert Commanday's resignation in the summer of 1963, the groups were led by a succession of directors, James McKelvy, James Fankhauser and Elizabeth Davidson, Donald Aird, Milton Williams, Carol Young, Tony Pasqua and Mark Sumner. Following the great changes in campus life and culture that were launched with the Free Speech Movement in 1964 and the subsequent major adjustments in the university's requirements, curriculum and class schedules, it proved difficult to sustain the size and activity level of the Glee Club and Treble Clef, and the ASUC's choral activities took a different form.
Treble Clef Society
The Treble Clef Society, the women's choral
organization at Berkeley, was in existence after 1870 and performed
before audiences that have included the United Nations Delegation,
community concert associations, and the Armed Services, with programs
ranging from musical comedy selections to premiere performances
of contemporary choral works. The group made appearances at choral
clinics and at high schools and other colleges in order to stimulate
student interest in choral music. As with the Glee Club, all business
procedures, concerts, and public relations were handled by student
The Jade Ensemble was formed in 1963 by members
of the Treble Clef Society who took part in the tour of Hawaii.
Its purpose was to provide variety and contrast to the tour program
and its repertoire concentrated on songs in the modern or ballad
The Madrigal Singers
The Madrigal Singers, composed of from four
to 12 members of the Glee Club and the Treble Clef Society, performed
such works as the madrigals of Weelkes, Morley, Byrd, and Monteverdi,
popular in the 16th and 17th centuries. The group sang German, French,
Italian, and old English madrigals.