In 1957, two University of Pennsylvania students, Meryl Moss and Edie Herman, decided that the campus needed an outlet for female singers. The two therefore co-founded the Pennsyngers, an all-female chorus. In that first year, the women successfully directed themselves. The next year, Bruce Montgomery, then head of Student Performing Arts, hired Ernest Ganz as their director. A number of other directors followed over the next thirteen years.
Then, in 1970, the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra premiered Bruce Montgomery’s “Herodotus Fragments”, written for orchestra and two choruses. The Pennsyngers performed, along with the Penn Glee Club. Thus began Monty’s relationship with the ‘syngers. In 1971, he took over as their director and made the group a co-ed ensemble. That year, they became the Penn Singers.
In 1972, the Penn Singers performed a two act show: the first act contained the Buxtehude Missa Brevis, Schubert’s Mass in G, and five pieces from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar. The second act was Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial By Jury. The performance sold out before it opened.
After completing a show that ran the gamut of musical genres, the Singers had to decide which they would like to make their own; by unanimous vote, they selected light opera. The next year, the Penn Singers performed a fully-staged Pirates of Penzance in the Zellerbach Theatre, starting a trend of successful light opera productions. A modernized, innovative version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience was enormously well-received, and helped the Penn Singers to gain respect on campus. The Singers have performed a Gilbert and Sullivan light opera every year since 1972 (except 1996 and 2006). The rest, as they say, is history!