BY KATHY KNIGHT
ACCENT EDITOR, AND
An audience that came to the Niswonger Performing Arts Center in the rain on Friday night expecting to hear a "good concert" featuring a young Greenevillian soon realized instead that they were attending one of the most memorable evenings of entertainment yet seen at the center.
"Outstanding!" "Fabulous!" "Incredible!" "Enthusiastic!" "An event!" "An experience!" -- these were just a few of the descriptions heard from audience members as they streamed out of the NPAC following the concert of the Purdue Varsity Glee Club.
Sam Miller, of Greeneville, a member of the audience, said afterward, "It was the best concert I've ever attended here."
A near-capacity crowd of some 950 people of all ages had packed the large auditorium to see Greenevillian Patrick Brown, a Purdue senior, perform with the famed ensemble from Purdue University, of West Lafayette, Ind.
The audience included a large number of local choral students and Purdue alumni, some of whom had flown to East Tennessee for the performance or driven from long distances.
From the comments and the several standing ovations given the group during the performance, it seemed as though audience expectations were far exceeded by the two unbroken hours of music, fun, and even a powerful on-stage tribute by Brown to his mother, Jane Brown, of Greeneville.
She and her husband, Bill, had spearheaded the drive to bring the internationally-known glee club to Greeneville as it made its way south for performances in Florida during Purdue's spring break.
The Browns were assisted in the task of bringing the group to Greeneville by Purdue alumnus Scott M. Niswonger, and his wife, Nikki, along with other sponsors.
Following the concert, a beaming Niswonger said, "It was great! I am emotionally drained, and so proud of this fine group of young men.
"I knew it would be good because I have seen them before, but being right here in our town -- it was just incredible!"
Bill Brown, followed by Scott Niswonger, welcomed the audience and introduced the glee club in brief remarks.
HOW THE SHOW HAPPENED
"We are so proud to have NPAC in our community," said Bill Brown afterwards, adding, "and, of course, we are proud of our son and what we consider a fabulous group."
Jane Brown explained that it is a "tradition of the Glee Club to go to the hometown of each member sometime during their four years of being in the group."
Last May, when she was welcoming Lance Connolly, glee club scheduling and event coordinator, to his new position, she mentioned that she was hoping they would get to come to Greeneville since Patrick is a senior.
Once the date was set over the summer, she explained, "We really wanted to plan an itinerary that would showcase our part of Tennessee and particularly Greeneville -- giving the guys a sense of flavor of the town, from the historic sites to the Southern hospitality.
"I think only two of them had ever been to Tennessee."
All of the more than 45 members of the all-male glee club were housed by Greeneville families during their two evenings in Greeneville, mostly by the Browns' personal friends, fellow members of Asbury United Methodist Church, and fellow members of the Tuesday Book Club.
The glee club members were treated on Friday to a lunch of Southern-style home cooking at Asbury Church, where the Browns are members. (More details about the luncheon will appear in the March 24th issue of ACCENT.)
As the group stood in the sanctuary of Asbury, the young men raised their voices to sing "Peace Like A River" in such a moving way that Scott Niswonger referred to it after the concert as a "God moment."
Niswonger also mentioned another "God moment" that occurred later on Friday.
The glee club had been taken to the top of Monument Hill in the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery, where they unexpectedly joined in a song of Irish blessing that was so powerful it brought tears to the eyes of Lizzie Watts, superintendent of the Andrew Johnson National Historic site, she said Friday evening.
The glee club members also toured other parts of the National Historic Site, the Nathanael Greene Museum, the City Garage Car Museum, and the General Morgan Inn.
Bursting into unexpected song appears to be a trademark of the group, which continued to sing sporadically in the lobby and balcony of NPAC following the official concert.
At the NPAC itself that evening, the glee club's 49 highly-trained young men startled and delighted the audience from the outset of the performance with a surprise entrance, unexpectedly streaming down the aisles of the large auditorium singing "Ambassadors of Song" and running to their places on the risers on the NPAC stage.
Glee club protocol has long been that the members perform clean-shaven, with close-cropped hair and dressed in formal attire.
Several, including Patrick Brown, wore gold-and-black stripes -- Purdue colors -- across the front of their dress shirts, signifying that they are PurduSires: the junior and senior leaders of the group, who are selected by the members themselves.
Throughout the evening, the eyes of the 49 were always trained on director William E. Griffel.
When a few young men left their places on the risers to descend to the front of the stage to perform specialty numbers, the remaining glee club members remained almost as still as statues.
At the piano was the group's assistant director and pianist, Ted Arthur.
Greenevillian Patrick Brown, who sings bass in the glee club ensemble, also played the drums for several numbers.
Other musical instruments were used in a limited way throughout the two hours the group performed its varied selection of musical numbers.
Once on the stage, the group performed a number of traditional choral numbers, in customary glee club style with close harmony and distinct enunciation of each word, beginnng with several familiar gospel songs including "Amazing Grace."
Before long, though, the glee club broke out into popular music of various eras and into various small groups of glee club members representing a wide variety of American music from the 1950s, the 1960s, the 1970s, and the 1980s.
The performance continued for two hours, without intermission, and the audience became more and more energized and appreciative as the evening progressed.
TRIBUTE TO JANE BROWN
The highlight of the evening for many in the audience came during the segment by "Ba-Na-Na," four black-leather-coated members of the glee club who had changed into jeans and white T-shirts.
Patrick Brown performed with this group that features music (and dance moves) made popular by Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bobby Darin, and the Drifters in songs of the 1950s and 1960s.
During the Ba-Na-Nas' performance, Brown left the stage briefly and returned with his mother as he -- and then the group -- performed one of her favorite songs, "My Girl."
Patrick also presented his mother with one of his two glee club lavalieres, a chain and emblem of the group's mascot, Purdue Pete, and expressed his deep appreciation and love for her and his father, adding a hug and a kiss.
Jane Brown said the presentation came as a surprise and was "very emotional."
"The only reason I didn't cry," she said later, was that "I knew if I ever started, I wouldn't stop."
'SLOW BOAT TO CHINA'
Among the other groups who broke out of the pack and performed specialty numbers were "The Boiler Boys," recreating music of the 1960s. (Purdue athletic teams are known as "The Boilermakers.")
The Voiceovers is an a cappella sextet that features vocal percussion, producing sound effects it is difficult to believe are in the human voice capability.
The glee club sub-group "Clever Lads" performed a crooner medley "reminiscent of the Hi-Los and the Four Freshmen," according to the group's Web site.
A relatively new sub-group called "The Flashbacks" performed music of the 1970s.
The most dramatic instance of audience participation during the concert came when one glee club member stepped to the microphone to sing "Slow Boat to China."
Without warning, the full glee club behind him on stage broke from the risers and ran off the stage into the audience, with each member kneeling at the foot of a different stunned but pleased woman in the audience, looking deeply into her eyes and serenading her with "Slow Boat to China."
Later in the concert, long after the religious numbers that began the performance, another, lighter "churchy" song was performed by the group: singer Ray Stevens' famous "The Mississippi Squirrel Revival."
EVEN 'ROCKY TOP'
Director Griffel informed the audience it was time to get serious. He discussed his very serious operatic background with some of the foremost opera companies in the country.
But more humor was coming.
The glee club members straightened their posture, assumed haughty expressions, clasped their hands in front of their chests and proceeded to sing "Lambscapes," a spoof-classical version of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" sung first in Latin, then in English.
Griffel also related that wherever the glee club performs, it always does a few numbers associated with the area where the show is taking place.
The club followed his introduction with "The Tennessee Waltz" before Patrick Brown soloed on "Rocky Top" before being joined by the entire group, much to the pleasure of the audience.
The concert appeared to conclude with "Tribute to World Peace." Following a standing ovation, the group finished with the traditional alma mater, "Hail Purdue."
Glee club members were joined in song by Purdue graduates who stood and proudly joined in the tribute.
Near the end of the performance, Griffel called Bill and Jane Brown and Scott and Nikki Niswonger on stage, and both he and Patrick Brown expressed deep appreciation to them and to all others in the community who had made the visit to Greeneville possible.
Brown presented framed pictures of the glee club to both couples.
PATRICK'S FORMER CONTACTS
The glee club's 7:30 p.m. performance was preceded by several well-received songs performed by the Fifth-Grade Chorus of Tusculum View Elementary School, directed by Cindy Sams.
Patrick Brown first learned to love music at Tusculum View under the tutelage of Mrs. Sams, his father said in brief comments between the performances.
Toward the end of the performance, members of the Greeneville High School Advanced Chorus took the stage alongside members of the glee club and joined the club in a rousing rendition of "Battle Hymn of the Republic."
Brown, a 2006 GHS graduate, is a former member of the award-winning GHS group, directed by Kathy May.
In the audience was Marilyn duBrisk, Arts Outreach at Tusculum College, who directed Patrick in numerous plays and instructed him as a member of her GLAWPIGT (Great Literature, Alive, Well and Playing in Greeneville, Tennessee) group.
She said afterward that she considered the concert "fabulous."
"The dynamics were superb. It was delightful to see Patrick and the whole group. We're all so proud of Patrick.
"And the accompanist was out of this world. I would have loved to have given him a separate encore."
Nikki Niswonger and NPAC Advisory Board President Allison Weems worked together to provide a reception immediately following the concert.
Mrs. Niswonger said, "I am so proud of this community for embracing the group - from individuals and families inviting them into their homes for overnight on Thursday, to members of Asbury United Methodist Church feeding them lunch on Friday, to so many people attending the concert tonight.
"I'm so pleased. I couldn't be prouder of the community or the glee club members. These young men are something else - but our community is something else also!"
Darrell Bryan, executive director of NPAC, said, "Everyone seemed to enjoy the concert very much.
"I was pleased so many students were in the audience because it helps show that NPAC is helping to grow the appreciation of arts in the community.
"The Tusculum View Elementary School Fifth Grade Chorus and the GHS Advanced Chorus performing helped showcase the good music programs that we have locally."
Jane and Bill Brown also voiced strong appreciation of the hospitality shown the glee club.
"We really appreciate the generosity of the community," Jane Brown said. "It took people pitching in to help make it all work."
Added Bill Brown, "It has been a great week. I was very impressed with the variety of music the glee club offered and the classy showmanship and enthusiasm they displayed in their show."
Later, Patrick Brown took a moment from his schedule in Florida to find a computer to e-mail his own comment on the glee club's visit to Greeneville.
"I was very proud to show off my hometown to the men of the Purdue Glee Club," he wrote.
"They really enjoyed seeing many of the special historic places unique to our community.
"I am very thankful for the whole town coming together to make this show a reality."
And William Griffel, the glee club's director, told a Sun reporter after the concert, "This has been one of, if not the best, experiences our men have ever had.
"The Southern hospitality here has been incredible! The sound in this venue is fabulous! The audience response was outstanding!
"Be assured that these men will carry memories from this place for a long time to come."
Photographs and commentary on the group's Greeneville experience is available online at http://pmojo.com/centerstage. The group's performances of a variety of songs are on youtube.com.