As COVID-19 reshapes nearly every interpersonal activity on college campuses, Yale’s two world-renowned senior a cappella groups, the Whiffenpoofs and Whim ’n Rhythm, are trying to develop plans for the year.
The Whiffenpoofs, a group that this year will be celebrating its 111th anniversary, typically performs well over 200 concerts a year. The group famously spends a year touring the world and visiting members’ hometowns. Tavi Wolfwood ’22, the group’s business manager, said COVID-19 threw their “plans into chaos.” But even with public health concerns and travel restrictions, the group hopes to create music and perform as safely and frequently as circumstances allow.
“During the first semester, we’re focusing on producing digital music, recording our album, and reimagining staple Whiff events, such as Monday nights at Mory’s, to take place online,” Wolfwood said. He added that the Whiffenpoofs are exploring options for a mostly virtual semester, but the group is hopeful for the possibilities of local touring and an outdoor concert series in 2021.
Members of the Whiffenpoofs take a yearlong leave of absence to tour. This year, that has stayed the same — a few singers dropped the ensemble after touring plans changed, but none of the group’s remaining members are enrolled in courses at Yale.
Members of Whim ‘n Rhythm, an all-female senior a cappella group, also said COVID-19 forced them to adjust their plans.
“COVID definitely impacted the second half of our year a lot,” said Joanna Wu ’20, Whim ‘n Rhythm’s outgoing business manager. “For the health and safety of our group and the public we decided as a group to cancel our spring tour in March originally planned for California, as well as our annual on campus Jam in April, and our post graduation world tour.”
Like the Whiffenpoofs, Whim ‘n Rhythm tours around the U.S. and world. Unlike the Whiffenpoofs, Whim ‘n Rhythm members do not take leaves of absence, but rehearse during the school year. The group tours during breaks and after graduation.
Catherine Cerise ’22, an incoming soprano in the a cappella group, said she is disappointed that the pandemic has made it more difficult to get to know the other members. Without rehearsals and practices, the tight-knit cohort has fewer opportunities to connect. Cerise said that even if a vaccine is available before the group’s summer world tour, she worries that the experience will still be less than ideal.
Still, both groups have managed to produce new music during the pandemic. According to Wolfwood, the Whiffs are recording an album and pursuing various virtual music projects.
The Whiffenpoofs also released a virtual-concert video on its Instagram and YouTube accounts of new members singing a rendition of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” a 1939 song written by Eric Maschwitz and Manning Sherwin.
According to Wu, Whim ‘n Rhythm was able to learn new arrangements, “sing old solos for each other; contribute to a huge virtual performance of our alumni song ‘Hammond’ with over 200 alums; and release a full length studio quality album on iTunes and Spotify, called ‘Phoenix.’”
Wolfwood is hopeful that, despite the circumstances, the group will make the most of its time.
“This certainly isn’t the Whiff year that any of us hoped for or expected, but we’re all trying to work together to make the best of a really tricky situation and make the year into something that can still be the life-changing Whiff experience that we all hoped for,” Wolfwood said.
The Whiffenpoofs were founded in 1909. Whim ‘n Rhythm was founded in 1981.