Harmony Club was founded as a music study group for women. But what about the men?
Although men were not admitted to membership for over 60 years, Club meetings occasionally included men as performers or speakers. The earliest Club activity involving men was perhaps the annual concert of Oct 12, 1926, sponsored by the VFW and performed in “the high school auditorium.” Harmony Club was assisted by tenor Robert Truesdell and bass Paul Sprout (a founder of the Binghamton Oratorio Society ca. 1932).
The first man to be a guest performer at a regular Club meeting was high school orchestra conductor Donald Wilber, who played bassoon at the meeting of Oct 3, 1928. Men were guests 3 times the following year, the most notable being the October 1929 meeting at which Norwich-born singer, composer, and lecturer John Prindle Scott was guest speaker. Scott, who wrote over 70 art songs and sacred anthems, maintained a summer home in McDonough.
In 1952 and 1953 the Harmony Club collaborated with the Oratorio Society, directed by Fritz Wallenberg, to give the first performance in Binghamton of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. In February 1954 the subject of Harmony Club’s meeting was a costumed play written by 2 Club members. All the characters in the fictional story at the Vienna home of Johann Strauss, including Johann and Eduard Strauss and Johannes Brahms, were played by women. Pianist Fritz Wallenberg and trumpeter Bruce Benson, however, performed in a 6-piece orchestra.
In October 1987, Harmony Club amended its Constitution to remove the wording limiting membership to women. But the issue of admitting men to membership remained controversial. In May 1992 the Board of Directors, noting that the Constitution no longer barred men, unanimously approved opening membership to men, with the subject to be discussed at a general meeting of the membership. But the membership declined to act on the question, postponing a vote till Fall.
In November 1992, with some changes in Board membership, an objection was raised to admitting men to membership, although it was suggested men could be invited to perform as guests “and see how it goes for another year,” with the membership being polled as to their opinions. At the general meeting that month, “much discussion ensued and men will be encouraged to come to meetings.”
Finally in November 1993, the Board voted – by secret ballot! – to admit men to membership. It wasn’t until 1994, however, that the first man was listed in the membership - baritone Robert Dopf. The second man to join the Club was Raymond Besemer, in 2001. Today men comprise approximately 10% of the membership.