While Thomas Quarles ’47 sings with his own alumni Whiffenpoofs group every spring, this Saturday was different. Quarles, who knew two of the original five members of the all-male, senior a capella group, traveled to the Elm City from Amherst, Mass. to sing before a crowd of nearly 2,000 people.
“I’ll be 86 in May and I’m still singing 1st tenor, believe it or not,” he said.
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To commemorate 100 years of “song and merriment,” the 14 current Whiff members and three alumni groups, stood on the stage of Woolsey Hall to sing in “Century on a Spree: The Whiffenpoof Centennial.” The concert, which included new and classic Whiff tunes, also featured sketches, video and song from comedy hosts John Hodgman ’94 a correspondent for Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” and former Whiff Jonathan Coulton ’93, singer-songwriter and internet celebrity .
“I’ve waited 100 years for this moment,” quipped Bob Cohen ’75, a Whiffenpoof alumnus.
Cohen, who sat with another Whiff from his year, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel ’75, called the packed Woolsey Hall a “frenzy of excitement.”
Coulton opened the evening with one of his own songs, a non-a cappella internet hit called “The Future Soon,” followed by Hodgman who provided his “expertise” on the secrets of Whiffenpoof and Yale history — a history, he said, of “singing and assassination.”
After the opening, three alum a cappella Whiff groups took the stage, singing the songs of the first Whiffenpoofs, and then songs from the 1940’s through the 1970’s. Despite their age and physical ailments — some had graduated in the 40’s and one performer carried an oxygen tank — more than a dozen audience members interviewed were amazed by the quality of their singing.
“These guys continue to impress and inspire after all these years,” Cohen said.
Echoed Kathy Peng ’09: “It was great to see the old men still together in song. It was the most touching part.”
After the alums concluded, the current Whiffenpoofs mounted the stage singing a medley of a Czech marching song and a Swedish drinking song, followed by a 13 song performance.
Paying tribute to Fenno Heath ’50 MUS ’52, the 39-year director of the Yale Glee Club who passed away two months ago, the Whiffs sang a piece arranged by Heath. And at the end of the show, several former Whiffs in the audience broke their silence and joined in singing another of Heath’s songs for the encore.
Reflecting on the historical importance of the event, student Lucas Bermudez ’09 said the concert “filled one with a sense of time passing.”
Throughout the show, the Whiffs’ complimented their singing with a sense of humor. They dedicated the song “A Midnight Train to Georgia” to Vladimir Putin and included dance numbers that drew laughter from the crowd. Also, one Whiff sported a part-gorilla, part-man-in-a-cage costume.
The concert revealed the evolution of the Whiffs over the past century, but regardless of the group’s changes, Micah Hendler ’11 said, tthe “same sense of humor and love of singing” is present.
“That’s the reason why the Whiffs are still around,” he said.
At the end, a throng of Whiffs left their seats and filled the stage for the classic “Whiffenpoof Song” finale. As they completed the final notes, the crowd erupted in a standing ovation.
Still, two Whiffs interviewed noted that the joyous occasion was met with sadness over the recent closure of Mory’s, the birthplace of the Whiffenpoofs.
“The recent closing of Mory’s shocks us,” former Whiff member Adrian LeCesne ’08 said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how the group evolves.”
The Whiffs will continue to celebrate their 100th anniversary this year and, in the fall, hundreds of Whiff alums will return to Yale for what their Web site called the “greatest gathering of gentlemen songsters in history.”