The singing grad students

The Citations are one of two a cappella groups at the Graduate School. A cappella groups at Yale’s graduate and professional schools are generally more laid-back than their undergraduate counterparts.
The Citations are one of two a cappella groups at the Graduate School. A cappella groups at Yale’s graduate and professional schools are generally more laid-back than their undergraduate counterparts. Photo by Citations.

For those studying at Yale’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Sunday nights often bring long hours in labs or libraries. But a group of 17 students choose to end their weekends on a higher note.

They are the Citations, the older of the two a cappella groups for students at the Graduate School. Compared with undergraduate ensembles, such as the famous Whiffenpoofs, the Citations get little name recognition. They might sing at a local bar, but do not tour outside New Haven. Still, members said singing together provides a great “chance to escape” from the heavy course load of a Yale graduate student.

Graduate a cappella groups like the Citations give grad students a relaxed environment in which to continue singing.
Citations
Graduate a cappella groups like the Citations give grad students a relaxed environment in which to continue singing.

“[Citations members] take a cappella seriously, but we don’t take it too seriously,” Citation Deborah Doroshow GRD ’13 said. “We enjoy goofing off and we love random dance moves.”

Every Sunday night, the Citations gather in the School of Music’s Stoeckel Hall to rehearse. Membership in the ensemble entails a two-hour time commitment once a week, and the students said they prefer to keep the atmosphere “very casual”: They exchange stories about their lives, share home-baked desserts and sway to the beat of their own music.

James O’Leary GRD ’11, the Citations’s musical director, said that when he arrived at Yale he was struck by the size and vibrance of the undergraduate a cappella scene. He said the culture of singing at Yale is unique, from the antics of Tap Night — when groups compete for the freshmen they want — to the dedication of the students — who arrange their own songs and perform them across the nation and the world.

The Citations serves a very different purpose in the lives of its singers than an undergraduate group, he said.

O’Leary said members arrange their own songs, just as undergraduate groups do, but their repertoire is not as extensive as that of an ensemble such as The Duke’s Men or Something Extra, and songs are frequently recycled from year to year. The group does not tour, but performs at several popular venues in New Haven. Over the past several years, members say it has become tradition for the Citations to sing at the graduate school matriculation ceremony. They also perform at the graduate student bar GPSCY, the McDougal Center for Graduate Student Life, and at Mory’s, the New Haven restaurant which is the traditional home of the Whiffenpoofs.

The Citations are still fairly new ­— the troupe was formed in 2003, at which point it was the only a cappella ensemble in the graduate school. In 2005, a cohort of female members broke away to form the women’s group the Academia Nuts. Catherine Hofler GRD ’11, one of the Academia Nuts’ founders, said she started the group because the Citations did not have a place for all of the female graduate students interested in a cappella.

She added that the Academia Nuts’ purpose is the same as that of the Citations: It provides graduate students with a break from their work.

“It’s about a chance to get away and do something that you enjoy,” Hofler said. “I like music, [a cappella] is fun, and it’s great do this with a group of your friends.”

The Citations and Academia Nuts are not alone: Several Yale professional schools also have or once had a cappella groups, many of which jokingly incorporate members’ studies in their music.

Habeas Chorus, Yale Law School’s coed a cappella group, is known to remix popular songs with legal terminology. At the School of Forestry & Environmental Science, the Loggerrhythms rewrite the lyrics to pop songs to make them relevant to nature — at a recent concert, the group performed Cee Lo Green’s “F* You” with the lyrics “I see you drivin’ round town in your SUV …” The Divinity School is home to the Bible Belters and the Sacramental Whiners, while the medical school has its own a cappella group, the Ultra Sounds.

The atmosphere of the graduate school a cappella groups is in sharp contrast to the undergraduate a cappella scene, members said. While many of the undergraduate a cappella groups are highly selective and have rigorous rehearsal schedules, Citations members characterize their group and others in the graduate and professional schools as much more “laid-back” and “chill.”

Many Citations members participated in a cappella or musical theater during their undergraduate years, he said, and are glad to continue singing as graduate students, though they cannot put in as much time into as they may have in years past.

“The group adds a great balance for graduate students who have to TA and work in labs as well,” Doroshow said, adding that the Citations comprised students from all disciplines, and therefore function as a unique social network for graduate students who often spend their time with those in their own fields.

Chris Crick GRD ’07 ’09, a former Citations member now doing postdoctoral research at Harvard, said he has always been proud of the work the group does given the how little time its members can devote to singing. He added that the Citations’s efforts have helped boost the group’s “prestige and exposure” over the years. In its initial stages, the group relied on support from the McDougal Center, the Association of Yale Alumni, and Jon Butler, dean of the Graduate School at the time, Crick said.

The Citations may not fly to exotic locations to tour, but the group is an important component of its members lives in New Haven, they said.

“TAs have lives outside of section, too,” Doroshow said. “We all loved music, and didn’t want to stop.”

Correction: April 22, 2011

An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that the Yale School of Medicine’s co-ed a cappella group, the Ultrasounds, no longer exists. The organization is still an official student group and performs throughout the year. The article also reported that the Citations are self-sustaining; but the Citations still rely on support from the McDougal Center, the Association of Yale Alumni and Professor Jon Butler.

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