30 years of music and comradery
In late March of 2019, a sea of green blazers converged on Ohio University's Templeton Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium. The men wearing them, some of whom graduated two to three decades ago, some first-year students, smiled at each other in recognition. By six o'clock, they had taken their places inside the performance hall. A passerby, listening carefully, might have heard from within the hall the rising song of The Singing Men of Ohio (SMO).
The 2019 SMO Alumni Weekend, (aka SMOmecoming) concert marked the group’s 30th anniversary. Earlier in the month, the Singing Men had embarked on a seven-day performance tour that would take them through Pittsburgh, Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto, and then back to Athens by way of Bowling Green and Columbus. Director of Choral Activities and Assistant Professor of Conducting Bradley Naylor, who conducts The Singing Men of Ohio, worked with SMO Executive Board member Will Collins to plan the international tour. “The trip was excellent,” Naylor says with a smile, "despite singing during a blizzard in Montreal."
Naylor has conducted SMO since coming to OHIO in fall 2017. The line of prestigious conductors before him stretches back to Ira T. Zook Jr., a much-beloved professor and voice specialist who enjoyed a 27-year tenure within the School of Music He died in 2000. Yet the roots of SMO itself predate Zook: The University's first all-male glee club focused on music formed in 1906 and was active up to the late 1940s. Zook is credited with reviving the tradition in 1989.
For the members of SMO, the group is much more than a class, singing group, or glee club. Former SMO President Andrew Hiler, BFA '99, MA '11, believes that participation leads to lifelong bonds.
SMO tries to “create brotherhood, unity, and support,” he says. “Over the years I was involved, we really became a family: financially, emotionally, and professionally. We grew together."
Hiler also recognizes SMO for its positive influence on breaking a social norm.
"Let’s face it, in society it’s often discouraged for young males to express themselves emotionally,” he says. “One place you can do it freely--and you’re expected to do it--is through music. Music has the power to bridge gaps, break barriers in terms of language, and explore emotion.”
For the anniversary concert, the group welcomed Professor Katrina Zook, the daughter of the group’s founder and faculty member at University of Wyoming, as guest director. Attendees began arriving as early as Thursday night for the Saturday concert. The group attended rehearsals, a board meeting of the SMO Society of Alumni & Friends, a meet-and-greet with Dr. Zook, and a variety of other social events organized by student leaders.
Although the 31st anniversary SMOmecoming was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the group still enjoyed a successful year of performances. Highlights include a December guest appearance with Cantus, a Minneapolis-based vocal ensemble, and a partial SMO Spring Break Tour to Columbus, Cleveland, Chicago, Indianapolis, and Nashville. In late April the group released a YouTube video of a socially-distanced performance of “Brothers, Sing On!”, the 1883 Edvard Grieg composition often recognized as the “international anthem” of male choral music.
“The Singing Men of Ohio,” Naylor says, “is a beautiful demonstration of a vibrant community cultural life with a striving for academic and artistic excellence. We seek to combine fraternity and brotherhood, which is strong part of residential life, with a high academic and artistic bar. At our best, these intentions reinforce and support one another.”
As a former President, Hiler is proud to see the original SMO vision thrive.
“Every time I return to campus I am moved by the passion of the current members and feel nostalgic about my former time with SMO, ” Hiler says. “I couldn’t be happier to see the group continue to exceed all expectations set forth by the University and SMO alumni.”