A Conversation with Dr. Glenny

Neal Chan

One Tuesday after school in May, I entered Dr. Glenny’s choir room. He was just finishing up demonstrating a music theory concept to a student, singing the notes while playing the piano. Afterwards, I had the opportunity to sit down with him and talk about his life and work. He was youthful and energetic, a vibrance probably kept up by the mysterious “blue juice” and workout regimen. That day, I noticed the half-empty gallon of liquid was actually yellowish-white. Resolving to ask about it later, I asked him about his exciting program with his choir this summer, bodybuilding and music, and discussed with him how he became a teacher, his unique past, and sexuality. Here is the transcript, edited for clarity.
NC: Tell me a little bit about the program that you were invited to this coming summer.
Dr. Glenny: I’m the organist/choirmaster at St. Peter in the Great Valley Episcopal Church in Malvern, and we have a very good choir. We’ve been to England four times before on residency. So what that means is that when the main, cathedral choir in various cathedrals throughout England go on summer break, they allow visiting choirs to come in and provide music for a week. And so you get hooked up with that, and sometimes the bigger cathedrals want audition materials and that kind of stuff. So we’ve been to Canterbury Cathedral, Durham Cathedral, Christ Church of Oxford, Chester Cathedral, and we went to St. Paul’s in London three years ago. And this time we did one Evensong at Westminster Abbey in 2015 and that was kind of our audition, and then they said “sure you can come back for a week”. We we’re going back the very first week of August to be the resident choir at Westminster Abbey for one week. It’ll be about nine services to sing that week, so it’ll be a busy schedule.
NC: That’s incredible. So obviously Westminster Abbey is an Anglican church.
Dr. Glenny: That’s right, and ours is an Episcopalian church.
NC: So are you yourself religious?
Dr. Glenny: Well I’ve always done church music since I was a teenager, so it’s been many years. I think I’d call myself more spiritual than religious. I do a lot of reflecting on how I interact in the world with people, that’s more spiritual than a specific religion. I also simply love church music itself and the tradition of Anglican and Episcopalian music.
NC: So this summer you will be at Westminster Abbey in England. What does your typical summer look like?
Dr. Glenny: Some traveling; usually I’ll go to Cape Cod. This summer two of my college roommates and I are going to Nova Scotia for a week to check it out. And then there will be a lot of prep for when we leave. I’ll be around for the choir rehearsals, and then I’ll be staying in Europe for a week after that.
NC: Outside of teaching, what are some other interests take up your time?
Dr. Glenny: Oh, bodybuilding! Everybody knows that.
NC: I think students sometimes wonder, How did you get into bodybuilding?
Dr. Glenny: Well, when I was much younger, like your age, I was an overweight adolescent, and it wasn’t until my early twenties, when my mindset changed and I realized, “I’ve got to get healthy”. What scared me was that my blood pressure was higher than it should be for a twenty-two year old. So… what I just thought, “I think I’ll start running”. And I kind of was able to walk/run a half mile. That got me into losing weight and becoming more fit. And then it wasn’t until graduate school that I started to do machines. Then somewhere in the 90s I realized I really wanted to know how to lift free-weights, and I hired a personal trainer. And then I got hooked, and someone asked me if I wanted to do a competition, and this was some time in 2005. And I did it, and afterwards I thought, “Oh, this is pretty fun”. One thing leads to another, and now I’ve been doing bodybuilding for thirteen years.
NC: That’s a great story. It seems like people seem to struggle to stay on that diet or maintain the lifting regimen. What is the approach that you have, and are you motivated by the joy of bodybuilding itself?
Dr. Glenny: I do enjoy it, yeah. As you age, exercise really is the fountain of youth, and it keeps me young, keeps me moving. I like doing it, I’m committed to it. That’s really my mindset: if I commit to something I really am committed to it.
NC: And that mindset is related to the perfectionist mentality of bodybuilding, of always being determined to becoming just a little bit better.
Dr. Glenny: Yes, exactly, those Type A people who are even kind of obsessive compulsive, where everything has to be exactly right. You need to have a lot of control, like over what you eat, and how and when you eat it. It’s a higher form of discipline than most people are used to.
NC: Do you find that you have the same kind of mentality towards music?
Dr. Glenny: Exactly. I think back at pieces I play—I’m an organist, that’s how I was trained—thirty years ago. I specifically think back on J.S. Bach, and every time I come back to a piece I always ask “what can I hear differently about it”, there’s so much to be heard, and “what can I do differently to make it musical, what can I add to what I’ve always done. So you play a piece for all these years, and continually refine it. I like that, but there is no end to it. It’s that perfectionist refinement of music. Recently I’ve been going back to what I play, and I think about what I can do to make it sound better, what kind of sound do I have that I want to make come out of the instrument.
NC: So I also notice that you have, um, [gestures towards the liquid.]
Dr. Glenny: My juice! Yes. It’s not blue today, but it is branching amino acids, which help for protein synthesis.
NC: Ah okay. I know some people wonder what it is.
Dr. Glenny:  It tastes like blue raspberry, by the way.
[The case of the mysterious blue juice was solved. However, as I myself am about to embark on a journey to find my own passion and profession, I was still curious about Dr. Glenny’s own journey to become a teacher at Radnor.]
NC: How did you end up teaching at Radnor?
Dr. Glenny: I grew up in Massachusetts and went to school in Boston. Then I went to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. When I finished there in the fall of 1988, I thought I’d be in a big episcopal church somewhere. I took this big catholic job in the midwest on the South Side of Chicago. There I met my partner, who I was with for a long time actually. After we moved to Detroit, he got a job in the Philadelphia area, and that’s what brought us here. It actually was very interesting day. It was 2001—were you born in 2001?
NC: I was one.
Dr. Glenny: So we were moving to the Philly area, to Havertown where we bought a house on September 10th, the day before 9/11. On September 11th all our stuff arrived from Detroit. They were unpacking all the stuff from the truck, and once the tiny TV came off the truck we plugged it in to watch TV while putting stuff away. We saw it all happen then.
NC: That must have been surreal.
Dr. Glenny: It was surreal. It was a very sunny warm day, 85 degrees. And it was absolutely quiet. It was so quiet. I remember looking up at the blue sky and thinking, “I wonder if this is how it was going to end.”
NC: So personally, 9/11 also marked a change in your life, moving across the country.
Dr. Glenny: Exactly, a change of 600 miles from Detroit to Philadelphia and a change in how America works. It was a crazy time, yeah.
NC: You also mentioned how you got your doctorate at Eastman. Where did your decision to teach occur?
Dr. Glenny: Radnor. I landed here in 2001. My partner had a job, I didn’t have a job. I had to reinvent myself. I worked as a personal trainer at a gym, I did piano lessons, and I eventually worked as an accompanist at Radnor for Meistersingers. That was around 2001 or 2002. I never thought I’d be a teacher. Ever. When I was twenty-two in college it would’ve been the last thing. But back then, in 2001, I thought, “These are really good kids”, and “This is really good. I like this.” And I started teaching at Garnet Valley as the choral music teacher for three years. I applied for the job at Radnor, and twelve years later I’m here. Never regretted it, it’s been one of the best things. I love the music kids. I love teaching the music theory class. It attracts really smart kids. It’s just a joy.
NC: Something a little less known about you is your sexuality. Are you involved at all with the LGBT community?
Dr. Glenny: I was when I came to Philadelphia I was director of Philadelphia Voices of Pride, so I got into the community that way. Recently not as much, as I don’t have a lot of time. I think I need to do that more in my community.
You know, when I first started teaching, fifteen years ago, I never would have had this discussion with a student because it wasn’t safe. I perceived it as not being a safe thing to do. And I think that has colored or influenced how I react to those words in a classroom setting. It always made me think that I had to be careful. And then in the last couple years I realized, “I don’t have to be careful. I am who I am. People don’t go around saying, “I’m heterosexual”, so I don’t go around saying, “I’m gay.” It’s part of who I am. I’d rather people know me for who I am rather than, “Oh he’s the gay teacher.”
Now I think it’s important for students who might be struggling with their sexuality to know that there’s a gay teacher. Not that I go out into the hallway and say, “Hey I’m the gay teacher if you want to talk.” No, people are going to know, and I’m sure the whole school knows. [laughing]
NC: How different was it coming out when you were young?
Dr. Glenny: It was much harder to come out back then. I think it wasn’t until 1973 that the American Association of Psychiatrists took homosexuality off the list of mental illnesses. I was fourteen. So I didn’t come out until my twenties, though I always knew I was different. Even when I was a little boy, I just knew I wouldn’t be married and have kids. I just knew that, and I didn’t know why. But I think being able to come out and be who you are is much easier now. Kids have to give it time and come to accept who you are.
NC: It seems like during your lifetime the whole gay rights movement changed the landscape.
Dr. Glenny: Oh, for sure. During the 80s there was such a stigma with HIV; gay men were dying left and right. I thought, “Do I want to associate myself with this.” It all seems preposterous now, but that was the reality then.
NC: Did all of this affect your outlook on life at all?
Dr. Glenny: Not at all. I didn’t let that affect what path I chose or anything.

At this time Dr. Glenny showed my a few pictures of his German Shepherd before I thanked him for the opportunity to interview him and for the thoughtful discussion that ended up transpiring.
Dr. Glenny’s description of the perfectionist attitude towards music reminded me of his approach to conducting the pit orchestra. I remember his attention to detail, instructing us to rehearse passages many times until we got them exactly right. It is difficult to focus on a very specific passage of one number in the grand scheme of the whole musical. I left Dr. Glenny’s room with a greater appreciation for this approach towards music and detail. It was refreshing and enlightening to have a casual conversation with a teacher outside of class and not pertaining to school—at times we students forget that there are stories and histories behind the teachers we see forty minutes a day.