Since 1955 there has been a new power in the Universe - its humble beginnings fashioned by the hand of the great Dr. Walter Collins, who believed that it was possible to build a vocal octet using merriment and juvenile behavior to produce divine harmony. Sinceriously, named for a prestigious U of M drinking society of the 1900s, this crack squad of super crooners has been bringing mirth and music to all mankind - from the Pizza House to the White House, South University to South America . Armed only with their eight golden pipes and a marked propensity towards verve and vivacity, they ride through time, laughing, singing, drinking. Wherever there is injustice, they'll be there. Wherever there is sadness, they'll be there. Wherever there is pizza and beer money, you can bet they'll be there - seeking only to spread their sweet melodies unto the four corners of the earth and preserve the cherished and time-honored tradition of... The Friars .
But how did this group know as the "Great Eight" come to be? You see, friends, the idea of the Friars goes back long before 1955. Once upon a time, in the early 1900's, the University of Michigan was dedicated to revealing great truths in the fields of art and science, utilizing academic excellence and good ole' fashioned hard work. But in such an atmosphere as this, one must contemplate just how one could get through the long cold Midwest winters without freezing their - ugh - mugs off. To combat the occasional stress brought about by the top public University in the USA, a group of guys from the Michigan Men's Glee and Mandolin Club formed a society dedicated to putting the Glee Club's three pillars: Tradition, Camaraderie, and Musical Excellence, to good use at the local bars. Singing, eating and drinking, this group soon began to flourish within the club, and a new tradition was born. As with any close-knit society, the guys wanted to have cool robes in which to dress. Borrowing a few pages from history, the group started donning vestments of monastic friars as depicted in plays, storybooks, and paintings of yore. After a while, it seems that the old slogan, "You are what you wear" (yeah, you know you've heard that maxim before) just stuck. And so was the name, "The Friars."
Meanwhile, the Glee Club continued to represent new levels of musical excellence - touring the world and spreading song throughout the University and the world. Ditching the mandolins, the choir of over a hundred young men began to flourish and gain extreme notoriety as a men's choir in the music community. The Tradition, Camaraderie, and Musical Excellence of the Club only improved, and the young men continued to take the values of fraternity to new heights. As time passed, the small group known as the Friars transformed into a much larger Glee Club tradition, and the small group and its name were washed away into history.
But other small groups were very alive and present in the club - this time in the form of vocal quartets. In 1914, a small group called the Varsity Quartette entertained people for a few numbers at Glee Club Concerts until 1928. In 1925, a few guys developed another group into the Midnight Sons (because they often went and serenaded the local sorority ladies after the lights were out). They enjoyed great success and also performed small vignettes at the Glee Club's concerts. In the late 1940's another successful quartet was developed. Called "The Novelaires," this group would also win the hearts of audiences in and outside of the Glee Club. A fourth group, the Key Changers, tried to develop in 1949-1950, but - aside from a brief revival in 1963 - they were short lived.
Then reigning conductor of the Glee Club, Philip Duey, marshaled the young men of the Glee Club to great successes all over the world. During the mid-1950's, Duey was able to lead the Glee Club to many prestigious gigs - including singing in front of the Queen of the Netherlands and on the Ed Sullivan Show. But even Duey could not control the powerful event to happen next. While Duey was on sabbatical in 1955, the Glee Club brought in a young man by the name of Dr, Walter Collins, a Yale-man, to lead the club in his absence. During this time, the men of the Midnight Sons decided to double their number and revive the name of the old Drinking Club...that's right, the Friars. While at Yale, Dr. Collins had done quite a bit of small group singing himself as a member of the Whiffenpoofs - Yale's most prestigious a cappella group and one of the oldest groups of its kind in the country. Thanks to his experience as a Whiff, Collins was able to get this new group on its feet by giving them some of his old music. And so, on November 12th, 1955, the Friars performed their very first concert (a joint concert with the University of Michigan and University of Indiana Men's Glee Clubs). The group instantly won the hearts of their audience...a tradition those eight men work diligently to continue to this day.
When Duey returned in the Fall of 1956, he was amazed at the great change that occurred in his absence. As the Friars gained more and more stride, the Novelaires began to drift into the shadows. Fearing it may be the end of the Novelaires, Duey tried his best to keep the group alive. Unfortunately, there was no stopping the Friars. Not long after the Friars had started, the Novelaires ceased to exist. The days of an abundance of small groups within the Men's Glee Club were over, and the Friars were the sole group to live on. Yes, there have been other groups that have arisen between 1955 and the present, but their lives have been short. This creation of the late Dr. Walter Collins is now celebrating its 64th year in existence. Through an ever changing world, the Friars have proven that they are here to stay.
Since 1955, the Friars have gone on to do many great things and take the ideals of a cappella to new and exciting heights. Not long after it began, the octet began experimenting with humor in their shows. Adding a few light hearted antics here and there in their songs quickly boosted the popularity of the group - especially among the student population. As the youth appreciation of choral music began to give way to the newer and hipper styles of radio and Rock 'n' Roll, the live a cappella scene began to fall into the realm of the "slightly-less-popular," as we in the biz like to put it.
Realizing that their new masterpiece might be short lived, the Friars took action. Heavily tailoring the amount of barbershop music in their repertoire, the Friars began taking what they heard on the radio, and making a cappella arrangements of the hits. Singing the works of the Platters, the Big Bopper, and Buddy Holly, the Friars quickly regained their foothold in the hearts of the students on campus. Now all of the hits of the radio could be heard a cappella style in a concert with eight goofy guys singing and dancing on the local stage.
Continuing this tradition into the Rock era of the 1960's, the Friars continued to see their fan base grow. Branching out into the Ann Arbor community, singing a set of tunes in local parks and the occasional national anthem for Big House football games, the Friars saw their notoriety soar.
In 1961, three of the old Friars (Fredrick Farran, Edward Farran and P. Scott Herrick) and Scott’s brother Tom Herrick decided to start a vocal quartet called the Arbors after they graduated. Here is a brief write up from the Chicago based "singerspotlight.com" January 2001 edition web page:
"Acknowledged among their peers as one of the finest vocal groups in existence, The Arbors have maintained a 40 year involvement in the entertainment industry. Two sets of brothers -- Tom and Scott Herrick from East Lansing, MI and Ed and Fred Farran from Grand Rapids, MI -- met at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (hence their name came), and found they all loved harmony singing in the manner of The Four Freshmen and The Hi-Los. Their original sense was "let's see where this will take us." And the Arbor's exquisite harmonies lead to records, television, radio, commercials, concerts and club dates. In short-they've done it all. The Arbors were honored several years ago as charter members in the Vocal Group Hall of Fame Museum, and have been inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame."
Sadly, the group has since ended its run upon the recent death of Ed Farran in 2005.
AND NOW, DUE TO CIRCUMSTANCES BEYOND MY CONTROL...
From then on, the Friars continued their wild ride through time, singing and dancing and trying to make the ladies smile. They've produced nearly twenty CD's (only some of our songs), and have maintained an audience of over one thousand people, not to mention a consistent appreciation and following by a number even higher than that. There are many traditions that have come and gone throughout the sixty-four years that the Friars have been in existence, but perhaps the most popular is the line they are introduced to each time they sing: "And now, due to circumstances beyond my control, I present to you, THE FRIARS!"
Thanks for reading about us. We hope to see you real soon.
We mean it. Honest engine.