These infamously chipper singing groups are called glee because the melding of voices makes everyone happy, right? Actually, joy has little to do with it.
Why are they really called glee clubs?
Yes, one definition of glee is “open delight or pleasure,” e.g., The students ran out of the building on the last day of school with glee.
Glee derives from the Old English glēo, meaning “mirth, jesting, entertainment, music.” A gleeman was a name for a professional entertainer.
In the 17th century, this musical, mirthful glee lent itself as a name for a type of musical composition for three or more voices, specifically an unaccompanied part of such a song.
Historically, they included a countertenor and featured several short sections of contrasting character or mood. The songs were often about eating and drinking.
Seventeenth-century English musical bookseller, publisher, and composer John Playford is given early credit for using the term.
What exactly are glee clubs?
Glee clubs, which got their start in England, traditionally sing short songs. The famous London Glee Club started singing in 1783.
The Harvard Glee Club began in 1858. Nowadays, most American glee clubs no longer perform glees, in the strict musical sense of the word. They are choirs—though it’s hard to resist the smile that a word like glee brings to the face.