In 1909, five Yale men came together to form a group of gentlemen songsters, the Whiffenpoofs.
But 109 years later, the world’s oldest collegiate a cappella group is no longer an all-male show. In the early hours of Tuesday morning, Sofía Campoamor ’19 became the first female singer ever to be admitted to the Whiffenpoofs.
In an emphatic break with tradition, Yale’s senior-only singing groups Whiffenpoofs and Whim ’n Rhythm announced their decision to consider accepting singers of all gender in a joint Facebook post on Feb. 1. Also tucked into the announcement were pledges by both groups to collaborate more in music and further integrate their business operations.
After two weeks of auditions and deliberations, Whim and Whiff named the 28 members of their inaugural all-gender classes in a joint email to the News early Tuesday morning.
Campoamor, who sings Soprano in her current all-gender a cappella group, the Mixed Company, told the News that she is excited about the opportunity and grateful for the efforts of non-male singers who came before her.
“I hope that my joining the Whiffs will energize the conversation around senior a cappella,” Campoamor said. “I think it’s only the beginning – I don’t think we have finished creating an equitable and inclusive system for all senior a cappella singers.”
According to the Feb.1 Facebook post, both groups plan to retain their original vocal arrangements with the Whiffs remaining “TTBB” — or Tenor I and II, Baritone and Bass – and Whim “SSAA” — or Soprano I and II and Alto I and II. The decision to consider auditions from singers of all genders was intended to create an environment “more inclusive to members past, present and future,” especially those who identify as transgender, gender nonbinary and gender noncomforming, according to the post. The groups also plan to operate through a joint website with shared booking information
Whim Business Manager and former editor in chief of the Yale Daily News Magazine Gabriella Borter ’18 and Whiff Music Director, Kenyon Duncan ’19 told the News earlier this month that although the decision was made by consensus among the groups’ members, Whiff and Whim alumni were intimately involved in the preceding discussions with over 200 alumni responding to a survey last month.
Almost three decades have passed since the first group of female students auditioned for the Whiffenpoofs in 1987. Since then, the Whiffs voted repeatedly to retain their male-only policy, most recently in November 2016.
Campoamor told the News earlier this month that she would have auditioned for the Whiffs even if they had not decided to consider admitting non-male singers. She said at the time that she was confident her voice could fit in as a Tenor I in Whiff’s TTBB setting.
“Due to the age and status they have been afforded as an all-male group at Yale, the Whiffs have had access to a level of opportunity, resources and prestige that no other group — of any gender or voice-part configuration — would be able to replicate,” Campoamor said earlier this month.
The disparity in resources that exists between Whiff and Yale’s other singing groups is drastic. In fiscal year 2015, Whim brought in about a quarter of revenue that Whiff generated. The practice of taking a year off for a worldwide singing tour was reserved for Whiff members only in the past, but the Facebook announcement grants each individual class of Whim and Whiff the autonomy to decide on whether to stay enrolled.
Alumni of both groups have expressed support for last month’s announcement, but some cautioned that the Whiff’s vocal arrangement – what is intimately referred to as the “Whiff sound” – may be compromised if it opens up to voices of all genders.
Whim ‘n Rhythm was founded in 1981 and the Whiffenpoofs in 1909.
Adelaide Feibel | email@example.com