January 16th, 2013 | University

Times reporter moonlights as Whiffenpoof

A New York Times reporter tells the inside tale of what it's like to be a Whiffenpoof.
A New York Times reporter tells the inside tale of what it's like to be a Whiffenpoof. Photo by Whiffenpoofs.

Henry Alford, New York Times reporter – and now, honorary Whiffenpoof?

In an article published in The New York Times on Jan. 13, Alford writes about his brief experience singing with the Whiffenpoofs and participating in a movement he calls “fakeappella.” Eager, he writes, to “know what it feels like to sing ‘Too Darn Hot’ directly into a diner’s eardrum,” Alford  asked the Whiff’s business manager Max Henke ’14 whether he could audition and perform with the group. Ever generous, the Whiffs said yes.

Perhaps the storied a cappella group was feeling generous. By his own admittance, Alford’s voice has the “net effect of a mild laxative.” One wobbly rendition of “Shall I Wasting” later, though, and the Poofs seemed pleased as punch to pass Alford the punch, served up in a 15-inch-tall chalice that was emptied and then screwed onto the head of their newest inductee. Henry “N.C.A.A. Fin” Alford, they called him, in keeping with their creative nicknaming tradition.

Alford, assigned “The Whiffenpoof Song” and a Czech-Swedish song mash-up, practiced diligently in his New York office. To his credit, three rehearsals and one desperate retreat to a parking lot doubling as a childhood hideout proved sufficient preparation for Alford before he suited up with the singers at Mory’s. He sang the opener in true “fakeappella” style, loudly pronouncing the parts he knew best and prudently staying quiet during the others. During the breaks, he partook in their food and drink – many drinks — paid for by Mory’s customers. And, at the end, he joined arms with the Poofs and belted out “The Whiffenpoof Song” in what he scientifically termed a “bro-fest.”

For Alford, the experience was bittersweet.

“I felt a weird surge of protectiveness and sympathy for [the Whiffenpoofs],” he writes. “Out in the real world … the drinks people buy you are laced with expectation, not praise.”

That is all the more reason for the a cappella crooners to enjoy their bright college years while they still can. Before you know it, they’re gone in one simple poof.