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Arts & Culture

Yale Whiffenpoofs blend humor, history

Renowned a capella group brings songs, smiles, tradition to First Baptist Church

By
Contributing Writer
Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Yale Whiffenpoofs, the first collegiate a cappella group in America, began accepting singers of all genders last year. The Whiffs now consists of 13 male members and one female member.

“We are the Yale Whiffenpoofs,” tenor Hale Jaeger proclaimed Sunday, Sept. 4 to a crowd of over 100 people. “And we are so excited to be singing here — mostly because we are the first collegiate a cappella group in America, and this is the First Baptist Church in America.”

Clad in black tailcoats and white gloves, 11 members of Yale University’s most renowned vocal group performed an hour-long set that included Bohemian folk, Cole Porter (a Whiffenpoof alumnus), the Beatles and Michael Bublé.

Despite their sharp outfits and serious vocal skills, the Whiffs maintained a relaxed and playful demeanor throughout the show. Shared grins and goofy dance moves accompanied the snapping, clapping and occasional stomping that is customary of a cappella arrangements. The group’s semicircle formation and proximity to the audience gave the concert an intimate air despite the lofty ceiling and large crowd.

In between songs, the Whiffs connected with the audience through lighthearted banter and corny lines. At one point, Jaeger stepped forward to tell a joke: “A Yale student and Brown student were walking down the street, and the Yale student was much, much better.” He stopped abruptly and stepped back into the semicircle to laughter.

Following Whiffenpoof tradition, the performance concluded with an invitation for Whiffenpoof alumni to join the current members in singing “The Whiffenpoof Song.” One audience member and alum, William Barnum, was welcomed to the front, where he and the current Whiffs sang and swayed, their arms around each others’ shoulders. When asked if he attends Whiffenpoof shows often, Barnum said he goes whenever he can.

The Whiffenpoof rehearsal and tour schedule is intense. Alex DiMeglio, a Whiffenpoof and the group’s music director, said the group rehearses for several hours every day in addition to doing gigs most days. He explained, “The rehearsal schedule will ebb as we learn more repertoire and become more comfortable, but the gigs will ramp up.”

Because of their rigorous schedules, all current Whiffenpoof members are taking gap years, often between their third and fourth years at Yale. This practice of taking the Whiffenpoof year off began in the early 2000s and allows the Whiffs time to tour 30 countries and over 100 cities during their one-year stints in the group.

In 2018, the traditionally male Whiffenpoofs became a gender-inclusive group open to anyone with a tenor, bass or baritone vocal range, regardless of gender. The group now includes 13 male members and one female member. Similarly, the Jabberwocks, the University’s oldest and formerly all-male a cappella group, began to accept singers of all genders this year, as previously reported by The Herald.

An entirely student-run group, the Whiffenpoofs rely on group member and business manager Mark Gustaferro to plan their extensive tours. Gustaferro began planning the First Baptist Church in America concert in March by reaching out to Whiffenpoof affiliates in Providence. “The Whiffenpoofs are very fortunate to have been around for so long and to have 110 years’ worth of connections,” DiMeglio said.

Reagan Hunt ’23 attended Sunday’s Whiffenpoof show after learning about it during a church service earlier that morning. She was very impressed with the Whiffs, whom she had never heard before. “They have such beautiful voices and such amazing control of them,” Hunt said.

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