Welcome to the UC Monks


EVENTS

Christmas Parties in 2023

The UC Monks welcome the public to enjoy our 3 Christmas Parties at the UC Faculty club on the Berkeley campus. Enjoy Food, Drink and Songs including Christmas carols, holiday tunes and a Hallelujah Chorus sing-a-long.

Dates:

  • Wednesday, December 6, 2023
  • Thursday, December 7, 2023
  • Friday, December 8, 2023

OUR STORY

Monks in 2009
Monks in 2009

The Faculty Club Monks

The link between The UC Berkeley Faculty Club and its annual Christmas dinners is as old as the Club itself.  In December of 1902, shortly after the Club’s opening in September of that year, members gathered together to celebrate the season.  The celebrations have continued annually ever since.  The date of the establishment of the men’s chorus, however, is less certain.  Perhaps former Monks’ Scribe, Dave Judd, negotiated that murky past best;

The obvious pleasure of singing together quickly gave rise to an informal chorus of members.  Professor Bob Cockrell, a former president of the Club and the oldest in service among the Monks of today [1992], has gathered archival information dating from 1903 showing that over the next forty years the brotherhood was known as “The Monks”, “The Choristers”, ‘the Good Monks”, and “The Chorus of Monks.”[i]

Similarly shrouded in the past is the association of the holiday parties with the English tradition of a Boar’s Head Feast.

What is less murky is that, for over a hundred years, the Faculty Club’s holiday parties have gathered a very distinguished group of musicians!  The Monks have at times been led by Randall Thompson, Ed Lawton, Philip Brett, Wilson Powell and David Boyden.  The last-mentioned, according to Dave Judd

. . . is the “father” of the Monks as they are today.  A highly trained musical scholar and author, and a long-time chairman of the Music Department, Boyden took the Monks and their music to his heart; he selected, arranged, or composed most of the repertoire of the 1950’s and 1960’s, some of which we still sing today.”[ii]

Our “Prior Prior” as of 2023 is Milton Williams, who heroically led the group from 1970 until 2017.  Trained at the Eastman School of Music, and having performed from San Francisco to New York City to the Vatican, Milt, too, made the Monks his own.  As Boyden did before him, Milt selected and arranged much of our current repertoire.

Our current Prior is the distinguished Joseph Hébert – a renowned cellist, choral director, educator, and pastoral music minister who performs in the San Francisco area and has toured in Japan, Africa, and Europe as well as throughout the United States. He has shared the concert stage and recording studio with hundreds of artists from the classical and popular music worlds including: Carlos Santana, Stevie Wonder, Placido Domingo, Ray Charles, Jesse Norman, and Marilyn Horne among many others. Joseph is also a voting member of the Grammy Recording Academy. Mr. Hébert is the Assistant Principal Cello of the Oakland East Bay Symphony in California. He also performed with the Skywalker Symphony on numerous film and video recording sessions including the Grammy-nominated CD compilation entitled “John Williams Conducts, John Williams the Star Wars Trilogy / Skywalker Symphony.” He has been described by the Oakland Tribune as “one of the most eloquently expressive cellists in the (San Francisco) Bay area.”

Conductors and singers, as good as they might be, are often made even better with the addition of instrumentalists.  The Monks are no exception.  Former accompanists have included Frank Newman of the Law School, Professor of Music Andrew Imbrie (who also composed the Monks’ “Faculty Hymn”), and Janet Williams.  In the 1950’s Dave Judd began playing his trumpet to accompany “The Boar’s Head Carol” as the head was processed through the Great Hall.  One trumpet soon developed into a brass quartet made up of monkish members.  For the last twenty years, the Monks have been accompanied by a professional brass ensemble, which also provides pre-feast entertainment.

The Monks themselves represent the entire campus community.  Made up of close to fifty singers, the brotherhood brings together faculty, staff, administrators, alumni, and community members.   Some members have been singing for decades; every year others join us for the first time.  As Dave Judd observed of our traditions:

The Monks rehearse at the club for two hours on four or five nights each year, leading up to the Christmas dinners.  We do not perform elsewhere (except infrequently at memorial services for members[iii]).  Our organization is anarchistic by design and desire; necessary functions (scribe, librarian, flügelmann) are performed by volunteers.  New members, who must meet our unstated and unknowable requirements, are recruited only to maintain our ranks, which have never had a surfeit of tenors.[iv]

What began in 1902 as an informal carol-sing at the first Faculty Club Christmas Party has become a major production!  Now stretching over three nights in early December, the Holiday Parties are the jewels in the Faculty Club’s events crown.  Reservations to attend are absolutely necessary, and the events frequently sell out quickly. 


[i] Dave Judd, “For those who want to know about the Monks Chorus”, (Berkeley:  The Faculty Club, 1992), 1.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] A further exception was made in September of 2001 when a dozen monks gathered on the steps of Sproul Hall at a campus vigil following the terrorist attacks of 9/11.  The piece selected for the occasion:  “Dona nobis pacem.”

[iv] Ibid., 2.