Whiffenpoofs and Whim 'n Rhythm
In 1909, five Yale men came together to form a group of gentlemen songsters — the Whiffenpoofs.
Now, 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 admitted to the Whiffenpoofs.
In an emphatic break with tradition, Yale’s senior-only singing groups, the Whiffenpoofs and Whim ’n Rhythm announced on Feb. 1 in a joint Facebook post that they would consider accepting singers of all genders in their spring rush process. 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 early Tuesday morning. Every member of the Whim class of 2019 identifies as a woman, according to Whim Business Manager and former editor-in-chief of the Yale Daily News Magazine Gabriella Borter ’18. One male singer auditioned for Whim, she said, but he dropped out before the end of the process.
Campoamor, who sings Soprano in her current all-gender a cappella group, Mixed Company, and Alto II in the Battell Chapel Choir, told the News that she is excited about the opportunity and grateful for the efforts of nonmale 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 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 group decided to consider auditions from singers of all genders in order 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.
In the wake of that announcement, some questioned whether the Whiffs would actually accept nonmale members into their new tap class. Whiff Music Director Kenyon Duncan ’19 told the News in an interview that he was familiar with this sentiment, but said it did not influence the Whiffs’ decision to tap Campoamor.
“For me, this was not about following through on any promise except to look for the most talented and most qualified singers of 2019, and I feel like that’s what we did,” Duncan said.
Duncan said Campoamor’s rendition of “Manhattan” by Sara Bareilles during auditions communicated the song in a “beautifully nuanced way that left us wanting to hear more” and complemented Campoamor’s “fantastic musical mind.”
Whim business manager Borter said she is “ecstatic” for Campoamor.
“As a leader of Whim, I think it’s amazing that this option is open to her … I maintain that this opportunity should be available to everyone, just like the Whim opportunity is open to everyone,” Borter said. “I think that it’s great that she’s taken them up on that tap and will get to experience the group next year.”
Borter and Duncan told the News earlier this month that although the decision to open to singers of all genders was made by consensus among the groups’ members, Whiff and Whim alumni were intimately involved in preceding discussions, with over 200 alumni responding to a survey about the issue last month.
Almost three decades have passed since the first group of female students auditioned for the Whiffs in 1987. Since then, the Whiffs have voted repeatedly to retain their male-only policy, most recently in November 2016.
Melinda Stanford ’87, one of the first women to ever try out for the Whiffs in 1987, said the admission of Campoamor shattered a “misconception” among some Whiff alumni that the Feb. 1 decision was directed only toward nonbinary students, not women.
“The fact that it’s actually a woman who got in is thrilling for me,” Stanford said.
Stanford said the notion that the Whiffs should have a male sound deprives women of an opportunity to be Yale’s ambassadors.
“We’ve gone to Yale reunions, and they always drag out the Whiffs,” Stanford said. “I think it’s time for a change.”
David Code ’87, who was the first Whiffenpoof to vote in favor of going coed in 1987 and was the only one to do so that year, said he “cried like a baby” when he found out that the Whiffenpoofs had accepted a woman on Tuesday morning.
Code said he received tremendous backlash in response to his vote, with members of both the Whiffs and Whim publically shunning and humiliating him.
“This is a struggle that’s been going on for decades, and suddenly it’s successful,” Code said. “I always dreamed of this day, and I’m dying to meet Sofia. There’s an emotional part of me that thought this would never happen.”
Campoamor told the News earlier this month that she would have auditioned for the Whiffs even if they had not decided to consider admitting nonmale singers. She said at the time that she was confident her voice could fit in as a Tenor I in the Whiffs’ 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 at the time.
The disparity in resources between the Whiffs and Yale’s other singing groups is dramatic. In fiscal year 2015, Whim brought in about a quarter of the revenue that the Whiffs 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 Whiffs’ vocal arrangement — what is intimately referred to as the “Whiff sound” – may be compromised if it opens up to voices of all genders.
As for the taps for Whim ’n Rhythm Class of 2019, Borter said that the Class of 2018 is “extremely excited” about their “really diverse and unbelievably talented tap class this year,” as Whim drew from a deeper pool than there has been in recent memory. According to Duncan and Borter, when the two groups tap the new members of both Whiff and Whim after spring break, they hope to tap them together, which Duncan said will make it “apparent from the first night there is a partnership there and a bond there.”
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