Courtesy of Anelisa Fergus

Anelisa Fergus ’19 has worn red lipstick everyday since high school.

“It’s is my favorite accent color,” she explained. When asked what shade, she responded, “Just bright.”

Yet other aspects of Fergus’ personality outshine her lipstick. As the current musical director of Whim ‘n Rhythm –– Yale’s all-senior a cappella group founded as an all-female counterpart to the Whiffenpoofs –– her voice and musical abilities are lauded by peers and teachers alike.

Fergus has traveled an unconventional path to the prestigious position of musical director.  She had never sung a cappella before college, but grew up in what she described as a “casually musical family.” Her mother works for a chemical company in Philadelphia and her father works in bird preservation. Her parents’ careers moved the family from Fergus’s birthplace in Texas to Pennsylvania and then New Jersey, where Fergus attended North Hunterdon Regional High School.

Fergus began playing clarinet in fourth grade and continued with the instrument through high school. On weekends, she traveled to the Manhattan School of Music, where she trained and participated in an orchestra and clarinet ensemble. Meanwhile, she picked up the saxophone to join her middle and high school jazz bands.

“I was a total band geek,” Fergus joked.

When it came time to apply to colleges, Fergus almost decided to pursue clarinet further. She applied to music schools for clarinet performance in addition to Yale. But at Bulldog Days, Fergus fell in love with both Yale and a cappella. She attended an open rehearsal event and returned home determined to join an a cappella group at Yale.

“I started practicing my audition song in May,” Fergus said, smiling. The song was “Matchmaker” from “Fiddler on the Roof.” She laughed about the unusual choice.

“’Twas a time,” she said.

Her preparation paid off, and Fergus joined The New Blue as a first year. The group is Yale’s oldest all-female a cappella ensemble, founded in 1969. Fergus described herself as “heavily involved” in The New Blue, but she never served as the musical director.

Still, Sarah Householder ’18 –– last year’s Whim ‘n Rhythm musical director and previous The New Blue musical director –– encouraged Fergus to audition for musical director of Whim ‘n Rhythm. Fergus figured her experience in The New Blue and her musical training in high school would equip her for the challenge. She applied and was selected last spring.

“We lucked out,” said Gillian Bolt ’19, member and tour manager of Whim ‘n Rhythm. “She’s patient, thoughtful and generous with her time. She motivates the group to work hard and efficiently and she manages to bring a sense of humor to every late night rehearsal.”

Fergus acknowledged that the transition to musical director has been challenging. It’s “another level of commitment,” she explained. But she does not regret the decision at all.

“It’s the most amazing group of women,” she said. Fergus is looking forward to the group’s spring tour in Florida and summer tour around the world.

Fergus has also stayed involved in several nonmusical areas of campus life. Starting with the Dramat’s all-first-year production during her first year, Fergus has acted in nine campus performances, including “Much Ado About Nothing,” set to open in March in the Lighten Theater.

Despite her busy schedule, she finds time to attend The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often referred to as the Mormon Church, every Sunday. She also finds time to go to Feb Club — daily social events for seniors during the month of February — every day.

“I’m totally sober, but I’m there,” she said, before adding that she has been impressed by Yale students’ acceptance of all aspects her faith, including abstaining from alcohol consumption.

Fergus is also a researcher in a Yale School of Medicine neurology lab studying clinical epilepsy. A linguistics major on the pre-med track, she plans to continue her research at the School of Medicine after her graduation and the Whim ’n Rhythm world tour.

“I certainly hope to keep making music after graduation,” she says, but explained that she does not know what form her musical involvement will take.

Regardless, Fergus’s future is bright –– just like her lipstick.

Lindsay Daugherty |