As any university student in America can attest, a cappella groups are not always a welcome intrusion. Usually found under archways, belting out Elton John or Billy Joel covers, these collegiate groups can entertain and annoy in equal measure. With names such as Here Comes Treble, No Strings Attached, and Note-oriety, a cappella groups date back to the early 1900s, when a group of four young men at Yale began meeting at a bar for weekly impromptu concerts. The connection to the Ivy League, is not by the way, incidental. Harvard formed America’s first a capella group in 1858 (according to the Contemporary A Cappella Society the world’s oldest group is the Copenhagen University Choir), and five of the Ivy Leagues can lay claim to the most number of groups on an individual campus.
The idea of young men and women doo-be-doo-ing to their own voices sans musical accompaniment has always been a cause for some embarrassment in American popular culture (see the Jennifer Aniston-Vince Vaughn movie The Break-Up for reference), but that has done little to damper collegiate enthusiasm for the century-old tradition. Today, they occupy a hallowed position, quite literally, as they perform under ivy-decked archways and domed concert halls, some even with famous alumni such as singers John Legend, and Cole Porter, and actress Anna Hathaway.
And though, more a cause of embarrassment to those watching, the 1,200 groups across American campuses are proof perhaps that they are not nearly embarrassing enough. Yale University can lay claim to the most number at 18, including the world-famous Whiffenpoofs, the all-male fellowship that derived from the four young men who met at the local university tavern. Though they aren’t the oldest, they are likely the most famous, having made cameo appearances in The West Wing and Gilmore Girls, and performed at the White House as part of their yearly 200 concert line-up. Now composed of 14 senior men chosen from various on-campus groups, the Whiffenpoofs (the name was taken from a fictional fish in a Broadway musical at the time) will descend on Mumbai as part of their 17-week world tour. A cappella enthusiasts can catch their performance at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) on Wednesday, 9 July.
The Whiffenpoofs will perform at the Experimental Theatre, NCPA on 9 July at 6.30pm