Infamous Yale University Whiffenpoofs impress campus with Supernovas

Nick Miller

Don’t let their name fool you—the Yale Whiffenpoofs mean business.  Named after a mythical dragonfish, the “Whiffs,” whose website claims they hold the title for world’s oldest-established collegiate a cappella group, demonstrated why they are worthy of national spotlight last Thursday during the group’s performance in Villanova’s St. Mary’s Chapel.

As the 14 senior Yale men encircled the stage sporting their tried-and-true collegiate black tees and denim, the opening chords begin.  The group stood together —tall and polished—upon the chapel alter and stared several stories above at the vaulted ceilings and water-stained traceries.  Hymn-like melodies flooded the cathedral like an old gospel choir.  The massive sounds from standout performer Jeremy Zitomer and his fellow bass section thickened each phrase with a full, sultry tone that moved the crowd to the edge of its pews.  

The opening tunes continued with the 2015-version of the Whiffs displaying a fine synchronization that belied their short tenure as members of the prestigious and highly-exclusive group.

Formed in 1909, the all-male singing group selects a new class of Yale seniors each year to continue its heritage of large-scale international success.  Domestically, the Whiffs of past generations have performed at venues like the White House, Carnegie Hall, and the Rose Bowl, and have made appearances on television shows such as “Jeopardy!,” “The Today Show,” “Saturday Night Live,” “60 Minutes,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Glee” and “The Sing-Off.”

Perhaps their best-known number, “The Whiffenpoof Song,” has been sung at the end of every concert for the past hundred years, and has even been recorded by Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, Louis Armstrong and many others, according to their website.  Notable Whiffenpoof alumni to perform the hallmark song include singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton and former US Senator Prescott Bush (father of President George H. W. Bush).

A nod to their legacy, the Whiffs’ repertoire on Thursday evening included a few classic tracks such as a soulful rendition of Gladys Knight and the Pips’ “Midnight Train to Georgia,” which awakened the several hundred concert attendees to snaps, claps, slides, and dances that provided a charming background commentary for the musical performance.

With a rejuvenated audience, the hosts of the night—Villanova’s co-ed a cappella group, the Supernovas—took back the stage with a ‘50s-inspired doo-wop tune that answered the Whiffs’ low-end with a strong bass section of its own.  Proving their own merit on stage, the ‘Nova students showcased some dynamic presence with solid solo performances by sophomore Andrew Stock and freshman Charlotte McLam, as well as impressive soprano work throughout its covers of OneRepublic’s “Counting Stars” and Clean Bandit’s “Rather Be.”

After the Supernovas finished its set list, the Whiffenpoofs reentered the spotlight in dramatic fashion.  In front of the chapel’s gold-speckled alter and picassoed stained glass, the penultimate song featured what may have been the best solo performance of the night as tenor Brandon Sherrod showed off his striking range of silky-smooth R&B tones.  

The audience swooned with Sherrod’s performance that showcased the charisma and acting talents of the group and delivered the largest applause of the night—a deserved standing ovation.

Once the crowd regained its seating, the finale started with a lush duet full of word-for-word harmonies reminiscent of James Taylor and Carole King.  The pace quickly escalated with a swell of instruments that could have passed for a full-blown orchestra before a handful of vocal cords.  As the music reached its crescendo and slowly faded to its end, the audience cheered once more for the delightful performance.

The Yale Whiffenpoofs proved that they are every bit deserving of their hype.  Thursday’s performance stretched beyond a display of musical talent into a much more entertaining form of art that was as tasteful as it was adventurous.  

But what really sold the spectators was the stage presence that the 14 young men displayed—the 2015 Whiffenpoofs commanded the audience’s attention and delivered big time with a cast so talented that they may have even had “The Office’s “Andy Bernard singing “Rit-dit-dit-di-doo!”