Last night, hundreds of students gathered on Old Campus to join one of Yale’s oldest traditions.
Yale’s a cappella rush process — a roughly two-week period of auditions, callbacks and rush meals for 13 of Yale’s registered undergraduate a cappella groups — formally ended at High Street Gate last night. After students gathered at 10 p.m. to hear performances from the senior groups of Whiffenpoofs and Whim ’n Rhythm, Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry signaled the official start of Tap Night through the ritual dropping of a broom. Once the gates to Old Campus were opened, Tap Night, one of Yale’s longest-running traditions, commenced as various singing groups went door-to-door to induct their newest members.
Students dressed in masks, capes and some wearing no shirts at all, sprinted through the crisscrossed paths of Old Campus to select their new members from the nearly 250 students who rushed a cappella this year. There was plenty of cheering outside of freshman dorms, high-fives and hugs exchanged, and of course, plenty of singing.
“A cappella itself is such a huge part of the Yale experience,” Singing Group Council co-chair Jeremy Zitomer ’16 said. “Because the community is so large, but also so tight, groups get excited as new members are inducted.”
At 9 p.m. last night, returning members of each of the groups gathered in William L. Harkness Hall for a “lock-in” in which they prepared for the night’s festivities.
After finalizing some remaining details and getting “riled up,” Zitomer said, groups headed over to Old Campus to select their newest members.
Though specific Tap Night activities differ amongst the groups, freshmen must all respond to a formal tap with yes, no or maybe. If the answer is affirmative, students are then invited to drink from the formal “tap cup” — a trophy filled with a nonalcoholic drink — before joining their new group to induct the next member.
SGC co-chair Margot Gerould ’15 said each group has its own set of traditions, which often include going to different locations across campus. She noted that some alumni even return to campus specifically to welcome and celebrate with the new freshmen.
Zitomer, a member of the Yale Alley Cats and the Whiffenpoofs, said the Alley Cats have a tradition of taking freshmen to the top of Saybrook Tower, where the group was first founded, to connect the new members to its history.
Groups are able to “pre-tap” their members, or formally extend invitations to new members a few days early and gauge their numbers in advance. Zitomer said the night inevitably includes surprises both for new and returning members.
Receiving a tap from some of Yale’s a cappella groups can be very competitive — though rush numbers dropped this year, with fewer students seeking a place than in recent previous years. Still, competition was fierce. Zach Johnson ’17, head rush manager for the Duke’s Men, said 77 students auditioned for his group’s six anticipated spots.
“There have been times where there are races to the rooms of freshmen,” Johnson said. “It’s unfortunate, but it comes down to whatever a cappella group gets there first.”
The a cappella rush period was shortened last year from one month to two weeks. Johnson, while in support of the shorter process, said this also gave potential members less time to meet with groups, which probably made them more reluctant to commit to a group in advance.
Gerould said the rush process this year went generally well, with most students following the rules. The role of the SGC is to work with the different groups to create a positive and fair atmosphere, she said, though their “policing” largely ends on Tap Night.
“It is really about the freshmen and what they want in their a cappella experience,” Gerould said.
Becca Young ’18, who was tapped by Redhot & Blue, said she enjoyed running with her new group from her dorm in Timothy Dwight College back to the excitement on Old Campus. She added that since this was the only group she rushed, she was excited to be inducted.
As a new tap for Mixed Company, Danny Keller ’18 said he was excited at the prospect of knowing he will get to spend the next three years as a part of this group. He added that the rush process as a whole helped him meet new people and make friends.
“It is very cool to have a large group of people show up at your door, chanting your name and singing as they force you to drink punch,” Keller added.
Not only freshmen were introduced to the world of Yale a cappella on tap night.
Deborah Leffell ’17 said she did not rush a cappella as a freshman since she was initially intimated, but said she was excited to be joining Something Extra this year and meeting the other new members.
Zitomer noted that while there can often be safety concerns on tap night, specifically with unsafe drinking, the SGC and the administration worked together to implement rules to ensure positive behavior.
The Whiffenpoofs and Whim ’n Rhythm hold separate auditions for juniors in the spring.