How do you know when a pleasure is guilty? When you catch yourself concealing it with circumlocutions.
Last month I stayed in Seattle for an extra evening after running various big city errands. I told one friend I was “at a concert.” I told another I was “at a Yale thing.” And I told a third I was “at a fundraiser.” All true.
As I’ve already ostentatiously revealed, “my deepest, darkest secret” is a fascination with collegiate a cappella singing. So where was I? Attending a performance by the Whiffenpoofs.
Founded in 1909, and counting Cole Porter as an early alumnus, the Whiffenpoofs are the Ivy League’s oldest and best a capella singing group. For many decades, fourteen male singers in white tie and tails have been tapped from each Yale graduating class. They sing a classic repertoire of standards, updated each year with a few contemporary-ish songs and new arrangements.
Women were finally admitted to Yale College in 1968. For years, the university’s top female singing group has been “Whim n Rhythm.” Next year, after a lot of processing and debate, for the first time the Whiffenpoofs will be open to all Yalies in the Class of 2019, regardless of sex or gender identity. The two singing groups are consolidating business operations. The Whiffenpoofs will include tenors, baritones, and bases, while Whim n Rhythm will sing music for sopranos and altos.1
1The New York Times reports that after the conclusion of auditions, one woman will be singing Tenor 1 with the Whiffenpoofs of 2019. The lone male candidate for Whim n Rhythm dropped out before completing the audition process.
The world will not end. But the world may be different.
I found out the Whiffenpoofs were here on tour when I received a last-minute email from the Yale Club of Seattle. Apparently someone from the Law School gave them my address.
The Whiffs sang in the forty-first floor party space of a new condo tower near Amazon’s spherical headquarters. As twilight faded behind them, the view of the Space Needle, water, mountains, and city was spectacular. I sat at a table with a lawyer acquaintance who was a Whiffenpoof forty years ago. He hummed along with song after song, obviously glad to forget his impressive day job. When he and the other alumni were invited to came up and join in “The Whiffenpoof Song,” it was the highlight of his week, or maybe year.
The rest of the audience was very Yale Club, with the usual assortment of blue-haired alumni diehards. There also was a surprising number of families with children – here to expose them not to music, but rather to the intense Ivy League vibe. Just like when my friend Jamie (Yale '90, YLS '94) was expecting triplets, and painted the walls of the nursery Yale blue.
Other attendees were marginal Yale Club members. They're the ones who dutifully write their fundraising checks, but only come to events when they’re curious about the host's view or interior decorating. This evening was the consolation-prize venue; seats were already sold out for the next night’s gig at a waterfront mansion down the street from Bill Gates’ house.
I probably was the only person in the room just for the music. As a longtime Whiffophile, I can attest the Whiffenpoofs of 2018 are a particularly good vintage.
Walking from my car earlier that evening, I observed an elderly couple who looked like they belonged at a Yale Club gathering. The husband had patrician white hair, and the wife clutched him in a matronly way as they searched for the correct address.
Sure enough, they entered the same lavish condo lobby before me, and introduced themselves to the concierge. I overheard the husband’s first name – Winston, of course.
“We’re here for the party.”