By MIKE CHAIKEN
On April 19, the sound of the human voice will get the feet tapping and will please the ears as the world-renowned Yale Whiffenpoofs take to the stage in the historic Memorial Boulevard School auditorium.
The Whiffs, as they are affectionately known, are returning to Connecticut after a tour around the nation. Their a capella sound has found favor on the pop charts as of late with shows like “Glee” and groups like Straight No Chaser earning the hearts and ears of listeners.
But the Whiffs are an organization with decades of experience… howeve they’re hardly old fogeys.
Ehrik Aldana, part of the Whiffenpoof contingent coming to Bristol, said, for him, “A cappella music is a lot of fun to perform live. The challenges of not having a safety net, like a backing track or instruments, makes singing with your friends and fellow singers especially rewarding. Working within the limits of just using the human voice also promotes a lot of musical creativity in both how you arrange and perform songs. Additionally, not requiring instruments means that a cappella singing is something that is totally accessible to virtually anyone – which is especially great for school music departments fighting budget cuts.”
Although a cappella music has become a current trend, Ehrik was asked in an email interview from the road, if the Whiffs like to change with the times or do they like to pay respect to the Whiff tradition.
Ehrik said that because the Whiffs are “an all-senior group that has a 100 percent turnover rate each year, each group of Whiffenpoofs has the opportunity to take the music of the group in any direction they want.”
For Ehrik’s contingent this year, he said, “We just finished recording an album that includes 11 new arrangements of songs we’ve never sung before. These include both classics like ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ and ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow,’ as well as more modern songs by One Direction and Selena Gomez.
To become a member of the ensemble, Ehrik explained it takes more than simply raising your hand and volunteering.
“The Whiffenpoofs are an all-senior group, meaning singers interested in joining the Whiffenpoofs audition in their junior year,” said Ehrik.
“The decision to join the Whiffenpoofs is definitely an interesting one, since a lot of Whiffenpoofs now take a leave of absence and complete their studies after their ‘Whiff Year’ — a practice group members have adopted to account for the group’s rigorous travel and performance schedule,” said Ehrik. “It’s definitely a sacrifice to watch your classmates graduate without you, but the opportunity the Whiffs provide in terms of travel, music, tradition, and brotherhood is a tough one to pass up.”
When looking for new members, Ehrik said, “The great thing about the Yale singing community is that you see a lot of members come from a variety of different musical backgrounds – musical theatre, R&B, opera, pop, bluegrass, jazz, etc. Because we have a repertoire that is incredibly diverse and ever-expanding, the Whiffenpoofs don’t have a particular style or singer that it looks for. Because we’re an all-senior group that has a 100 percent turnover rate each year, each Whiffenpoof can sound different from the last.”
However, said Ehrik, “An ideal member of the Whiffenpoof is someone who is both a compelling soloist and performer, as well as someone who can blend well with the overall sound of the group.”
The academic focus of the members also varies, explained Ehrik. “While we do have some members who are either music or theater studies majors at Yale and plan to pursue a career in music, the majority of us actually study a different subject and do singing primarily as an extracurricular activity.”
Ehrik added, “You don’t have to study a particular field to audition for the group. This year we have majors studying political science, archaeology, computer science, biology, and various other fields.”
When the Whiffs come to Bristol, Ehrik said, “The Whiffenpoof repertoire includes jazz standards, classic ballads, traditional Yale songs, as well as popular hits from just about every decade in the last century. Of course, we also still perform ‘The Whiffenpoof Song,’ the group’s signature ballad that was famously covered by Rudy Vallee, Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, Louis Armstrong, and many other artists.”
When the crowds file in to see the Whiffenpoofs, Ehrik said they “can expect an entertaining and timeless performance from a group that’s made its way around the world with a history of over 105 years of singing.”
“We’ll sing both new songs as well as classic Whiffenpoof standards — everything from modern pop to jazz,” said Ehrik. “We want our audiences to have as much fun as we do on stage.”
But, Ehrik added, “We don’t want to give away too much though; you’ll have to check us out to find out more.”
The Whiffenpoofs perform at the Memorial Boulevard School auditorium on Sunday, April 19 at 1 p.m. In addition, musical ensembles from Bristol Central, Bristol Eastern, and St. Paul Catholic high schools will perform at the event.
Tickets are $20. For tickets, go to www.ticketriver.com/event/14873 or visit the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce at 200 Main St.
By MIKE CHAIKEN