When Ishai Eshkol ’02 was a freshman, he said he thought the Baker’s Dozen was a cooking group.
After hearing their Parents’ Weekend concert, he said he became obsessed with the all-male a cappella group and decided to rush singing groups at the beginning of his sophomore year.
Like hundreds of other prospective singers, Eshkol was not tapped, but he did not let that get in the way of his singing.
“I really felt like singing,” Eshkol said. “It’s not an opportunity missed if I can make it happen.”
Eshkol said he spread the word that he was looking to start a new men’s a cappella group — the Bluedogs.
Like other a cappella groups, the Bluedogs have had Parents’ Weekend concerts, spring jams and have even sung for University President Richard Levin. Eshkol said they love puns and titled one concert in Luce Hall “Bluedogs — On the Luce!”
At a concert last Saturday, the Bluedogs sang a variety of tunes including “Cecilia,” “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” and “Daddy is a Yale Man.”
The Bluedogs say they are a different kind of group.
“Primarily what makes us different is, because we’re new, we’re not confined to any traditions,” Bluedog Kevin Brower ’04 said. “We’re able to define what we want the group to be in terms of personality and repertoire. We’re starting to come to a group consensus of what we’re all about.”
But at the same time, the Bluedogs have been unsuccessfully trying to join the Singing Group Council, a coalition of a cappella business managers and chairmen that oversees Tap Night and organizes joint concerts. The Bluedogs have repeatedly applied to the council, but each time have been denied.
Members of the group think it is unfair that they cannot enjoy the benefits of council membership. But council members said there are already too many singing groups and the Bluedogs are too new.
Trying to join the council
Left out of the official tap process, Eshkol said the Bluedogs tapped three new members on Tap Night in September 2001 and asked friends from other singing groups to recommend talented singers who did not get tapped. After a second round of auditions, the Bluedogs were able to recruit five more members.
“If the Bluedogs were on the council, I would have rushed them,” Bluedog Michael Apuzzo ’05 said. “Because we weren’t on the council, I didn’t have the opportunity.”
Eshkol said the Bluedogs want to join the council in order to sing at the fall concerts in Woolsey Hall and Dwight Hall and attract freshmen to auditions.
“We’re not asking for permission to be a singing group,” Eshkol said. “We want exposure to the freshmen, and they see that as an obstacle to their interests.”
In an e-mail in March 2000, then-council chairwoman Angela Burton ’00 told Eshkol that because no groups had ever tried to join the council before, it would have to make up a process to admit new members.
“Even though you are recognized by the administration as an official group, your participation in council-regulated events is a separate process of approval,” Burton said in an e-mail provided by Eshkol. “I should tell you that there is no precedent for new groups joining the council. It is entirely up to the current members to set requirements, etc.”
Bluedogs Business Manager Alex McBurney ’03 said he thinks this process is unfair because no other organization at Yale must be peer-approved.
“The whole idea of undergraduate organizations being approved by other undergrads is absolutely preposterous,” McBurney said. “There is no equivalent body to the [council] in any other Yale activity, such as theater or club sports.”
Members of the Bluedogs have said that it may have been premature to try to join the council in 2000, but now they have proven themselves as a singing group. When they approached the 2001 council, they were told they had to perform, hold rehearsals, prove their integrity, and not fall apart, Eshkol said.
“We did all those things, but they didn’t pass it on to the council that replaced them,” Eshkol said. “We had to start our fight from scratch.”
Duke’s Men Business Manager Chirag Badlani ’03 agreed that changing council members every year can be a problem.
“The council turns over membership every year, no one who was on it last year is on it this year,” Badlani said. “I think that might actually be one of the issues of the Singing Group Council, and perhaps a flaw with it — information doesn’t transfer very well year to year.”
Eshkol said he sought help from Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg, who did not help them.
“I felt it was difficult enough to regulate what’s going on with the existing number of singing groups, so my impulse was negative,” Trachtenberg said. “I told him I would discuss [it with the council], and there was full discussion.”
Trachtenberg said that while some people thought the Bluedogs should be able to join, more people felt there were already too many singing groups.
Too many groups?
Council members said there were various reasons why the Bluedogs have not been admitted.
Singing Group Council chairman Jonathan Markowitz ’02 said many people complain about the length of the fall concerts, and adding another group would make them that much longer.
“Having a 14th group would just make rush that much more intense and longer and difficult for freshmen and groups alike,” Markowitz said. “I think the Bluedogs as they’re currently constituted are very similar to music already performed by the men’s groups on campus. — The men’s groups are the most competitive part of rush and, if anything, that is something to keep limited.”
Rob Sanchez ’04, a business manager of Out of the Blue, said many council members were unsure of the Bluedogs’ stability as a group.
“We would like to see continued growth before they enter the council,” Sanchez said. “I personally think that they don’t present a problem to the rest of us. It shouldn’t be our responsibility to keep them from doing what they want to do at Yale.”
Baker’s Dozen Business Manager David Mount ’03 said he has advised several of the Bluedogs about business strategy and he appreciates their energy and love of music. He said he thought that it was a weighty decision for the council to make at this point, but if the Bluedogs continue to perform, they will eventually be able to join the council.
“Before we let any group in, we need to have a definite stated outline for the criteria for joining the council,” Mount said. “I still don’t think they’ve necessarily clearly defined their identity and it will take some time. I don’t think that [the council is] ever too big to add more groups but we just need to make sure we’re all of the same caliber.”
An alternative route
Other singing groups, such as Tangled Up in Blue, the Yale Slavic Chorus and Magevet perform and recruit members without being part of the council.
Some groups that are not part of the council have chosen to abstain from the chaos of rush.
“I guess we just prefer to be our own entity,” said Miriam Stewart ’02, musical director of the Slavs. “Every year, we get enough amazing people in the Slavs. — But I think it’s kind of different because Slavs are a very specific, unique group, so people are not normally interested in being either in the Slavs or in three other groups they usually want what we offer.”
Beth Kalisch ’03, Magevet’s business manager, said in the past, it has been difficult for Magevet to recruit new members. She said the fact that Magevet is not part of the council often makes people think it is an inferior group.
“We definitely do have much more trouble recruiting people because we’re not on the council,” Kalisch said.
Though Kalisch said the council has invited Magevet to join in the past, they do not want to join. After nine years of recruiting, Kalisch said, they have a successful system for getting new members and like for the group to be more laid-back than other council groups.
Though the Bluedogs continue to pursue a position on the Singing Group Council, members vow that the group will exist with or without the Woolsey and Dwight concerts.
“No matter what the decision will be, the Bluedogs will always exist,” Apuzzo said. “We love to be around each other and love to make music.”