Contrary to popular belief, Yale a cappella groups are not cults.
We do not engage in ritualistic sacrifice, we do not promote worship at the altar of false idols — and we only have orgies on tour. The month of September, however, seems to possess a bewitching effect upon these otherwise normal, socially well-adjusted singers. As a former rush manager and four-year member of the co-ed a cappella group Mixed Company, I have seen it all. And, like the percolation that occurs after drinking the fifth cup of jungle juice in the SAE backyard, I can feel it brewing.
Rush is here. Like it or not, what seems like one-third of the student undergraduate population is already singing in unwanted places, lollygagging around Old Campus and generally wreaking havoc on the psyches of hundreds of bewildered freshmen — none of whom have actually even auditioned yet. This behavior, of course, is all in the name of attracting the class of 2011’s most talented vocalists into one of Yale’s 14 undergraduate a cappella groups.
If 14 seems like an excessive number of a cappella groups to have on one college campus, that’s because it is. I’m not even including the pansy vocal groups who use instruments. We actually have that many people who think they can sing.
Along with these numbers comes competition, and when you add in the this-is-Yale factor, there’s no way recruits will get away with just a “normal” one-day audition, like they do everywhere else. Our a cappella rush process lasts an entire month and includes marathon all-group concerts, actual auditions, dozens of individual rush meals with group members, singing desserts for each a cappella group (read: chocolate courtship), callbacks and foul play.
That’s right, I said it, foul play. Throughout the years, the rush atmosphere has been perverted into one of scheming, social manipulation and slander. All groups (except the rebellious Jews of Magevet) reside under the jurisdiction of the Singing Group Council, which consists of three supposedly unbiased members of the Whiffenpoofs and Whim ‘n Rhythm. But over the years, I’ve discovered that the SGC’s rules are obeyed almost as much as Connecticut’s underage drinking laws.
Groups relish finding ways to override the Man and seduce rushees into joining. Some examples of minor, commonplace infractions include IMing rushees, asking a favorite freshman to have nine or 10 meals during the month of rush (the maximum is six meals) or hosting a welcome-to-campus party for freshmen at the Baker’s Dozen house and thereby blatantly ignoring the no-alcohol-as-recruitment-tool rule.
That’s cool, but the madness does not end there. Stalking of the talented ones has become necessary for a group’s survival (look for rush shirts hanging out on Old Campus — they’re upperclassmen, and they can’t all be annexed), “just-in-the-neighborhood” visits to dorm rooms are pretty much status quo, and late-night rendez-vous on the New Haven Green with a repertoire book and promises of 72 virgins are only the beginning of the chaos that is rush.
And that’s only the stuff I know about. Half the problem with the process is the snowballing paranoia that builds between the groups. What rules are the other groups breaking? Hasn’t that senior been hooking up with that tenor since last year’s Bulldog Days? Did the Spizzwinks(?!@%*?) already hold their own secret tap night? (Yes, probably.) Friends are often pitted against each other — I’m tempted to remove all Duke’s Men from my phone for the coming month, since anything I say can and will be used against my group.
“Everyone say hi to Derek tomorrow,” they’ll warn each other, “I hear he’s first on MixedCo’s tap tree.” Soon poor Derek will be inundated with CDs, phone calls from rush managers and people climbing through his windows at odd hours.
For those suites with members belonging to different groups, I recommend building a large wall.
While I don’t belong to a particularly hostile group, I have heard stories. Apparently The Alley Cats deserve their catty name, and black and blue is The New Blue after an encounter with Something Extra.
Proof Of the Pudding, sick of wearing smelly rush shirts day after day (a note to all a cappella community members: FEBREZE!), recently applied “Proof” tattoos, which they lovingly refer to as their “Dark Mark.”
Mixed Company, of course, only consists of perfect human beings who abide by all rules and are far and away the best singers on campus.
This past Tuesday, the a cappella community took a step in the right direction — an all-group party at the Whiffenpoofs’ space with no freshmen allowed. In the spirit of fun and debauchery, the SGC asked each group to supply a tap punch drink of their choice. While I couldn’t quite bring myself to try anything provided by the Society of Orpheus and Bacchus (one senior member recently garnered fame for putting his balls in his Whiff initiation punch), I was touched by the friendly faces and general feelings of good will while on the brink of this time of war. Maybe this rush we’ll actually treat each other and the unsuspecting freshmen like human beings, and everyone can calm down a little.
We’ll stop hacking into e-mail accounts, end the all-expense paid trips to Fiji, and we’ll willingly share information about which rushees we’re interested in so each group can enjoy a fair and balanced blend of talents and compatible personalities. Everyone will end up in the group to which they’re supposed to belong, and all the a cappella groups will sing in perfect harmony.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go wait outside the D.S. lecture hall because … I enjoy standing.
Jessica Poter doesn’t want to bias you in favor of her group, but she does hear that the singers in Mixed Co. are especially normal during rush season.