The cold sweat started on Sunday night. The sweat of fear. The stars glimmered over the Davenport courtyard. A cozy glow filtered from the windows of the dining hall. I want to live here forever, I thought. Just not with class. And then the anxiety: where do we go after this?
If you’ve read a column by a senior, you know that almost none of us are qualified for future employment. If you’ve read a column by me, you’ll know that I’m uniquely underqualified, which leaves me wishing I had done more at Yale — for example, started a business, or made a friend who’d started a business or wanted to.
But on the list of things I do not wish I’d done, one stands proudly above the rest: a cappella.
I’m sorry I’ve offended all 27 of you who love a cappella. No matter. By the time your faithful “shoe” starts choo-choo-choodling the opening bars of “Midnight Train to Georgia,” all will be right with the world again. A cappella is, put simply, a dangerous narcotic. It’s pleasant for those doing it and unsettling for others to watch. And for those of you who have really good voices: shame on you. Why, then, devote them to the kind of obnoxious, emotionless, traditional repertoire that — after a few drinks — always seems to devolve into the Mory’s song.
It’s self-importance that makes the world go ’round.
I wasn’t always like this. Bitter and stressed? Well, that too, but I didn’t always hate a cappella. I was a pre-frosh prepster with the best of you. I remember a happy post-high-school August of listening to clips from the Alley Cats Web site and thinking, “People listen to white boys sing like this and think they’re good? I’m in heaven!”
Because I, too, am an amateur songster like the rest. Come by Davenport entryway J on a Tuesday morning and you’ll find me showering to Bonnie Raitt’s “Real Man.” Except Bonnie isn’t there, just real man me.
I can’t remember why I didn’t rush a cappella. I think it was because you had to memorize something — and that sounded like a commitment. But I clearly remember consoling my rueful friend Nora on tap night ’02 after her failed rush effort. She chain-smoked, and I assured her that God had granted her the chance to have a social life. “Phew,” she would exclaim years later, knocking back a cocktail during our plentiful free time. “You were so right!”
The tables had turned. Nora’s anti-song celebration became my own. I cut short my warbling journey through “Norwegian Wood,” decided that as bright as the lights were “On Broadway,” things might be better if Johnny never “Came Marching Home.” I’d breathed my last Kumbaya.
But no matter how we try to avoid it, a cappella comes into our lives. In my case, a cappella came onto my life, in the form of an Alley Cat named Matt. Where a cappella is concerned, gay dating is never safe.
“So what do you do?” asked Matt.
“Not much,” I said. “Theater, I guess.”
“I do a cappella,” said Matt, “but I’m not that into it.”
This would prove a blatant lie, but one Matt clung to like the high note in a tenor solo. A year later, when he sat me down to listen to his first Whiff recording, I’d had enough. Nothing makes you hate a cappella more than your boyfriend arranging “Toxic” for a quartet.
I didn’t get into it, didn’t get it, didn’t like it, but was I wrong? Was I the Scrooge in this year-round carol?
But there’s something about a cappella I liked, and its name is Shades.
See, the thing that makes Shades different from other a cappella groups … it has a lot of black people. And black people sing better than us. And by “us,” I mean white kids, Asian kids, Latino kids, Pacific Islander kids and those sad black kids who can’t sing. (“OMG. Your hair is so special, can I touch it? You’re in Shades, right?”) Don’t get me wrong, it’s not only the blackness of Shades that makes them good. David Carpman ’06 is in Shades, and he’s good too. But where Jamice Oxley ’06 can belt out India.Arie’s “Brown Skin” and send me to a magical place I’ve never been before, the rest of a cappella pales in comparison.
One thing cements Shades’ spot at the top of my personal roster: I could never have gotten in. And that’s why the rest of a cappella exists, at schools all over the nation, leaning with open arms toward suburban high school glee clubs. Let’s face it: isn’t a cappella a place where preppy white kids (me) with a milquetoast jazz/pop repertoire (mine) can sing and get away with it? That’s what I liked about it in the first place.
So here I am, searching through the corporate career listings for a magazine crazy enough to hire me. It’s a sad time. I have no Whiffenpoof world tour to defer the inevitable. I see straight into the gaping void of life. But it’s okay. I have some MP3s I found on your iTunes. Aren’t you embarrassed that everyone in your network knows you lull yourself to sleep with the Duke’s Men’s rendition of “Danny Boy?”
I’d never do that. Sometimes.