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Yale’s Whiffenpoofs bring classic a cappella sound to Newman Center

Though they’ve been around longer than all of them, Yale University’s Whiffenpoofs don’t sound much like the beat-boxing, current-hit-performing a cappella groups that are all the rage on college campuses these days.

It’s a point that was driven home when the Whiffs appeared on the second season of NBC’s a cappella competition “The Sing-Off” in December — and were sent packing in the second episode.

“It was a challenge, especially for us, just because what we do is a little bit misfit for what the show is trying to capitalize on,” says bass Stephen Feigenbaum, referring to the group’s classic choral sound. “The most important thing we can possibly do is have the word ‘Yale’ in our name and wear white gloves and tails. All that is about creating a more old-fashioned image, and it’s really fun to do that.”

Widely acknowledged as the first college a cappella group, the Whiffenpoofs were founded in 1909 at a bar in Newhaven, Conn., called Mory’s. More than a century later, the all-senior group is one of the most in-demand a cappella choirs in the world, performing around the country during the school year and around the world during the summer.

“We have a song called ‘The Whiffenpoof Song’ that has become pretty famous. It talks about us being these goofy kids going [to Mory’s] every Monday night to sing for free alcohol and free dinner,” Feigenbaum says. “It started out as a bunch of guys in the Yale glee club and they formed this little subset of the group just to sing these songs for fun, and somehow it got really well known in America after a few decades.”

Each summer, the choir’s current members select the new crop of inductees, many of whom perform in other campus a cappella groups prior to their senior year. The 2010–11 incarnation of the famous choir — featuring 14 senior Yale men — performs Jan. 29 at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts. The lineup is the same one that appeared on “The Sing-Off.”

“The Whiffenpoof Song” is still in the group’s repertoire, along with jazz standards (“Too Darn Hot”), pop classics (the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love”), R&B hits (“Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”) and traditional tunes (“When the Saints Go Marchin’ In”) — all arranged by group members past and present.

But familiar songs are just part of the fun when it comes to seeing the Whiffenpoofs. The other pleasure is the familiar sound of voices singing in harmony, the trademark of hitmakers from the Beatles to the Beach Boys to the Bee Gees.

“Voices are the No. 1 thing,” Feigenbaum says. “Most musical instruments are in some way trying to emulate the sound of the human voice, but the human voice is the thing we’re really hardwired to love above all.”

The Whiffenpoofs perform at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 29 in DU’s Gates Concert Hall, 2344 E. Iliff Ave. DU a cappella group the Idiosingracies opens the show. Tickets are $15, general admission; visit


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