Courtesy of Zak Kayal

This year, no one waited for the broom to drop on a cappella Tap Night, no one raced around Old Campus and no one drank from the Tap Cup. First years were left wondering, “Is Yale really Yale without a cappella?”

A cappella rush was canceled this year, putting some of Yale’s most iconic first-year traditions on hold. The Yale Singing Group Council — the student body that oversees 14 of Yale’s underclassman a cappella groups — made the decision to cancel recruitment because of the pandemic. They arrived at the ruling in consultation with a cappella group representatives and the Yale College Dean’s Office.

“I’m the type of person who sings every chance I get,” said Kayla Sokunle ’24. “I sing to lift my spirits, so it was definitely disappointing to find out that rush wasn’t happening.”

SGC Co-Chair Zach Taylor ’22 said that an “overwhelming majority” of a cappella leaders agreed to postpone rush rather than replicate the first-year a cappella experience virtually. He noted that crucial aspects of the experience, such as touring and performing live, were not possible this year. Despite the hold on recruitment, existing group members are permitted to rehearse and perform virtually.

The SGC’s decision came as a surprise to many first-year students, particularly because other singing groups moved to digital formats. For instance, the Yale Glee Club is entirely virtual this year, from its audition process to current programming.

For Maya Khurana ’24, a new YGC member, virtual Glee Club is better than nothing. “Tap Night wasn’t what it would be normally, but it was still really exciting. I really think a cappella could’ve worked in a virtual format,” Khurana said.

Many first years enter college already familiar with — and eager to join —Yale’s a cappella scene. Before Joe Lee ’24 heard recruitment was cancelled, he had researched groups he wanted to rush, including Shades of Yale and Mixed Company of Yale. However, because rush was postponed, students who would have auditioned for a cappella joined other music communities instead. This year, the YGC’s membership jumped from around 80 to 98 singers.

Joining alternate music groups gave some first years the community they originally hoped to find in a cappella. Khurana initially expected to meet upperclassmen through a cappella rush, but now the Glee Club fills that role. “I feel like I’m making connections with the Yale community, not just the class of 2024,” she said.

Despite the SGC ban, students still rushed certain a cappella groups. Singing ensembles outside SGC’s purview were free to conduct virtual auditions. These a cappella groups include the Yale Russian Chorus, the Yale Slavic Chorus, Hangarak and Magevet.

Joy Yun ’24, a new member of the Korean/K-Pop group Hangarak, enjoys the group’s Zoom social hours but is nervous about virtual music-making.

“So much of a cappella is about singing beautiful music in a physical space together, adjusting to each other’s voices as you go,” she said. “It’s also strange to think that we’ll start to feel like a family over the course of the year, but then the seniors will graduate and I will have never met them in-person.”

Although some students have joined non-SGC groups, other first years said they will wait until fall 2021 to rush a cappella. In the meantime, first years can experience the a cappella community by watching online performances and attending virtual interest sessions. Yale College Arts is providing funds for groups to create music videos with VirtualChoir.net — a service that allows users to record, mix and master choir music digitally. The SGC is working to hold events for first years, similar to the Virtual Jam held in September.

“We want to welcome the first years to the a cappella community, but not in a way that feels like an early rush process,” Taylor said.

For students like Lee, Sokunle and Khurana, the rush postponement means extra time to prepare for auditions and find their footing at Yale. These first years are finding music in other places, such as Shen Curriculum voice lessons, suite jam sessions and karaoke nights. They remain hopeful. As Sokunle said, “There’s always next year.”

The SGC welcomes any event suggestions or questions about the a cappella community at sgc@yale.edu.


Nancy Walecki | nancy.walecki@yale.edu