Corin Katzke ’22 submitted his song “Chart a Course” to the Fenno Heath Award competition on Oct. 16, hoping it might be deemed the newest Yale song. Though it is far darker and more contemplative than many traditional Yale songs, it won.
A few days before the submission deadline, Katzke decided to enter the competition when he found himself with a free weekend and an email inviting him to participate from Jeffrey Douma, director of the Yale Glee Club and professor of choral conducting at the Yale School of Music.
Professor Douma selected Katzke’s song in a blind judging process. Katzke then worked with Douma to perfect the song, adjusting the voicing occasionally. After the Glee Club rehearsed the song a few times, it was finally performed at the Yale-Harvard Glee Club Concert on Nov. 22.
The Fenno Heath Award was established in 2005 in honor of former Glee Club conductor, renowned composer and creator of many Yale songs, Fenno Heath. It is awarded each year, along with a $500 cash reward and the premiering of the piece by the Yale Glee Club.
The melody of “Chart a Course,” Katzke said, bounced around in his head for a while before he decided to enter the competition, and the lyrics were inspired by the “more troubling aspects of Yale.” Both Douma and Katzke said the vast majority of Yale songs are composed in major keys, but Katzke’s is written in E minor.
Most Yale songs — well-known examples include “Bright College Years,” “Eli Yale,” “Bulldog” and “Boola Boola” — elucidate upon the wonders of the college experience: the camaraderie one finds at Yale and the happiness one experiences during their undergraduate years. Rather than reducing Yale to “the shortest, gladdest years of life,” Katzke said that his song reflects on the tremendous pressures placed on Yale students, and the sense of entrapment accompanying these pressures.
“Everything you do, especially at this place of privilege that is an Ivy League university, is an ethical burden,” Katzke said. “You have this ethical burden while at the same time not knowing all the consequences of your actions.”
In the tradition of many Yale songs, the first stanza of “Chart a Course” opens by addressing the sense of relief Yale students feel upon beginning college.
“Unfurl your white sails; the storm’s far behind us now,” the lyrics begin. The second verse continues this theme, but in the third, the song darkens. Suddenly, “rope binds both hand and wheel,” and there’s “a mask of doubt o’er [their] eyes,” suggesting the uncertainty of the future. Katzke describes this section of the piece as driven by feelings of existential angst — “a choose-your-own-adventure book that you can’t put down.”
Douma said he selected the song because he was “first struck by the haunting but beautiful melody that opens the piece, and was also impressed by both the subtle harmonic writing and the heartfelt sentiment.” He thinks Katzke’s choice to compose in a minor key is “one of the reasons his piece works as well as it does.”
Douma said he can imagine other choirs, particularly in school settings, also performing “Chart a Course” because it addresses universal aspects of human experience. The Yale Glee Club will continue to perform the piece this season, and it will be published in the group’s next collection of Yale songs.
Like most Yale songs, ”Chart a Course” is written in a 4/4 time signature.
Annie Radillo | firstname.lastname@example.org