Can you sing? Then a cappella groups want you

At some universities, Greek rush dominates the first month of school. At Yale, a rush of a much different type dominates the opening weeks of the fall semester.

On Tap Night 2000, freshmen rushees waited in anticipation to learn the future of their a cappella careers, as the upperclassmen who would decide their fates waited outside the High Street gate in full costume.

For the event, groups donned distinctive garb with war paint and logo T-shirts being the most popular choices. Their costumes represented the diversity and personality of the different groups — members of the Society of Orpheus and Bacchus wore ivy Corinthian halos and took their attire a step further, with one member wearing a gold toga. Members of Something Extra, known for its mainstream pop tunes, even went so far as to add red streaks to their hair.

Swiftly, the groups’ members swarmed into Old Campus dorm rooms to tap and serenade their new members.

All of this hoopla culminated with the initiation of new members into the world of a cappella, an age-old tradition of singing without instruments.

Singing groups have a large and traditional presence on the Yale campus. From the moment of their arrival on Old Campus, freshmen will be approached with an onslaught of inquiries from singing group members seeking new talent and asking, “Can you sing?” time and again.

With an undergraduate population of about 5,200, Yale has 15 official a cappella groups. Of the 13 groups freshmen can rush, five are all male, three are all female, and five are coed groups. There is no limit on how many groups a hopeful can rush.

The famed Whiffenpoofs and Whim ‘n Rhythm are senior-only a cappella groups, with their own tap night in the spring.

Performing with an a cappella group is a major time commitment, with members devoting much of their free time and holidays to practicing, performing and touring. Devoting your breaks can pay a big return because many groups travel to perform in places as varied as Hawaii, Los Angeles, Scandinavia and Jamaica.

Many groups also have entertained major public figures and celebrities, ranging from royalty to actors to political leaders. In 1996, for example, the Duke’s Men performed for Bill and Hillary Clinton, both LAW ’73, at the White House christmas party.

A cappella rush kicks off with the Woolsey Hall Jam held following the Freshman Bazaar. The jam provides an important introduction to each group’s singing style. A week later, students schedule auditions with groups they might like to join.

Over the next few weeks, rushees speed frantically through auditions, callbacks, singing desserts and rush meals.

Singing desserts provide rushees with the opportunity to hear a group perform a full concert. Afterwards, the dessert provides time for socializing.

Rush meals are taken in the dining halls with three or fewer group members. An interested rushee is guaranteed at least one rush meal with each group he rushes, and the meals provide time for the rushee to ask questions and become better acquainted with the group, and vice versa.

On Tap Night, however, the tables are turned — rushees must choose between the groups that tap them.

About 60 to 80 students auditioned for spots in 13 of Yale’s 15 a cappella groups in 2000. The number of freshmen accepted depends on the turnover of the previous year.

Although long and understandably stressful at times, some rushees said the process is a great way to meet people.

“It was really great to get to know all the people through rush and walk through campus and see familiar faces,” said Emily Barton ’04, a member of Red Hot and Blue.

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