Even now that the Whiffenpoofs has admitted its first-ever female singer, some Yale a cappella groups remain exclusively male. But for many years the all-male Yale Alley Cats have made an effort to perform with women as part of its annual Champagne Jamboree.
The Alley Cats performed their 74th annual Champagne Jamboree, popularly known as “Cham Jam,” to a packed crowd at Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall on Saturday night. The all-male group invited Mary Petzke ’18 to singe as a female guest soloist — a traditional Cham Jam gesture. Petzke was a member of Mixed Company, a mixed-gender a cappella group, for three years.
Petzke, an Alto II, performed Ke$ha’s “Praying,” a song understood to be about Ke$ha’s struggles with her abusive and possessive record producer Lukasz Sebastian Gottwald. Mohit Sani ’19, musical director of the Alley Cats, lauded Petzke’s performance and said it was wonderful to perform with a female vocalist.
“Mary was really good,” Sani said. “Because it was a song like ‘Praying,’ Mary and I definitely had a conversation about that song and what it meant in the context of what’s going on right now. I think it is a really special thing to highlight one of the female soloists.”
Petzke has long advocated for integration in a cappella. In 2017, she wrote an Op-Ed for the News in which she argued that the Whiffenpoofs should accept students of all genders. Petzke praised the Alley Cats for their outreach to female singers.
“They’ve been great,” Petzke said. “They’re very friendly. I feel like a little celebrity working with them.”
A majority of the arrangements were put together by current members of the group: Alley Cats Assistant Musical Director Shaun Radgowski ’20 arranged six pieces, and Sani arranged five. But some arrangements have been around since the group’s establishment, such as the traditional opening piece, “Sally in Our Alley.”
In a solo performance, Kaori West ’21 performed an a cappella rendition of the popular song “Havana.” Wild applause greeted most of the Alley Cats’ pieces, but West’s performance garnered a standing ovation from the majority of the crowd.
As master of ceremonies, Alley Cats President Jacob Clemente ’19 introduced each song and led various comedic skits throughout the show. In one of the skits, the members announced their “majors,” all of which were puns or jokes. Other antics included parent-alumnus musical chairs and performers serenading various audience members.
These skits demonstrated that the Alley Cats are keen on both entertainment and harmony. This was most evident during the piece arranged by first-year members. All members, shorn of their traditional black coats, danced while singing Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” in a performance that involved sensual pelvic thrusting. One member even began to twerk toward the end of the song.
Elizabeth Leonard ’21 said this number, along with the comedic skits, animated the concert.
“The dancing was really good,” Leonard said. “It’s not just singing. It’s a performance as well.”
Although the Alley Cats were amusing on their own, the alumni who came to support the current generation of cats also captivated the audience.
Usually, it’s considered impolite throw a shoe at someone. However, at the Champagne Jamboree, getting hit by a shoe in the middle of the performance is a compliment, according to John Yi ’13, a former Alley Cat and current Yale admissions officer. With a massive group of alumni, Yi and the other former cats threw shoes, props, paper and just about anything they could get their hands on whenever they approved of a song. Some alumni were also directly involved in the concert, arranging pieces, introducing the cats at the start of the second act and even holding their own performance after the main concert.
“During my three years in the group as an undergraduate and now as an alum, it continues to be such an incredible group of people who share a common interest, but through that interest find this beautiful friendship,” Yi said. “All of us really enjoy remembering this piece of our undergraduate experience that made it so memorable.”
The Alley Cats were established in 1943, when they first sang together at the top of Saybrook Tower.
Nick Tabio | firstname.lastname@example.org