High Jinks, old and new, back on campus

Friday, February 6, 2009

An unlikely group of a cappella singers – decades older than the average Brown student – gathered in Wilson Hall last night.

Five alums returned to campus to help usher in a new generation of one of Brown’s oldest performance groups. After years of looking on wistfully at class reunions as former Jabberwocks joined their group’s current members in song, they would finally get their chance. The students auditioning in front of them would be part of the revival of Brown’s second-oldest all-male a cappella group – the High Jinks.

Patrick Gonon ’79, joined the eight-person group in 1976, its second year of existence. For Gonon and other High Jinks members, the group became an essential part of their college experiences and even their careers.

And though it fell apart in the early 1990s after several members graduated in the same year, it lived on in Gonon and his friends, who saw salvation in their children.

“I always imagined the progeny of the original group would pick up the banner,” said Dean Ziff ’81, whose twin sons were accepted to Brown early decision this fall. “They’ve heard a lot about it over the years.”

Years of listening to grown men tell college stories about their musical exploits left a strong impression on Daniel Gonon ’12. During last Thanksgiving break, Daniel began contacting High Jinks alums and exploring the possibility of restarting the group.

The alums he contacted were incredibly supportive. “They love the group so much they would do anything to have it revived again,” Daniel said.

Sean Altman ’84, one of three High Jinks members who went on to start the professional singing group Rockapella, told him to think about the types of voices he wanted to include in the group and to start planning for auditions. Other alums offered to fund the group and support it in any way they could, Daniel said.

“It’s nice to see the group is coming back to campus, because we had a lot of fun,” said Rob Krausz ’79, who drove up from New York to join four other former High Jinks members – Altman, Ziff, Gonon and Charlie Evett ’84, another Rockapella member – at the Thursday night callbacks.”These are the friendships you make forever.”

Krausz works as a TV writer and producer, but music remains an essential part of his life. He wrote a musical that was performed off-Broadway in 2001 and continues to get together and sing with former High Jinks members, although they no longer don their signature bow ties.

“It’s almost like a musical fraternity,” he said. “You don’t forget this stuff.”

For Altman, the High Jinks were the beginning of his career. For several years he sang with Rockapella, an a cappella group that regularly performed on “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?” and recorded the show’s theme song. He still sports his complimentary jacket from the children’s TV show.

“I was really sad that the group went out of existence,” said Altman, who continues to sing professionally and regularly returns to Brown for class reunions. “It’s just poetic that it’s a son of one of the original High Jinks (who is reviving the group).”

Though demand for a cappella groups continues to outstrip the number of slots, not everyone will be happy about the High Jinks revival, said Alex Bachorik ’10, the a cappella czar and leader of Intergalactic, the governing body that arranges concerts and organizes member selection. Intergalactic will vote next week to decide whether to admit the High Jinks, Daniel said.

“The boys’ groups in particular will have to make room,” she said. “There’s a very good-natured competition for members.”

Over 15 students auditioned for the High Jinks, though the group is seeking only five new members, Daniel said.

Joe Bobvoskie ’10 said he doesn’t like a cappella groups and previously was not interested in joining one. But Daniel, who sings with him in the Brown Chorus, piqued his interest with talk of reviving a group whose music centered on barbershop tunes and strong voices.

“I had never heard of the High Jinks before,” Bobvoskie said. “It’s a part of the school, it’s just a forgotten part.”