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Yale 62

Vocal Music at Yale Today

By John H. Stewart

Everywhere around the country, choral groups are finding ways to continue and communicate. Here’s some of what’s going on at Yale. The Glee Club (let me remind you that in our day there were four: Freshman Glee Club and Chorus, the Apollo which I had the great honor to conduct our senior year – a sort of JV, as well as the big kahuna) is doing great. They had a great intake and if you visit their website,  there’s information, video tracks, and news about a recent joint concert with Harvard and Princeton benefiting Equity and Justice in Arts Education. Upon the admission of women, Glee Club Director Fenno Heath went immediately to a co-ed group, expanding enormously the repertoire possibilities. There’s a very active and energized (and generous!) alumni organization which supports the group’s travels, as well as the purchase of music and other expenses, and the endowed professorship of the simply wonderful current director, Jeff Douma. The Alumni Glee Club, with ca. 200 or more members – our class strongly represented – has done some great foreign tours. For those of us connected to this great institution, it warms our hearts that the current president of the associates is Fenno Heath’s daughter, Sarah.

John as Tom Rakewell

In our day, the Whiffs were automatically in the Glee Club, too, but that began changing the very next year until they all deserted to go their own popular and profitable way, to the point where most members of the past 20 years take their senior year off to do Whiffs full-time. It’s taken them until two years ago to admit women, but only in the tenor range. There’s been a stronger connection with the Whims – joint concerts and even singing together, and there’s talk of forming a third group which would be mixed, i.e., women singing as sopranos and altos. Also loyal is the Whiff Alumni Association, doing all that they can do to help the Whiffs survive, not only in the time of Covid, but as an institution open to all, and hoping to guide the Whiffs into a closer connection to Yale. They also have another terrific website complete with photos and music at

The Yale Russian Chorus has undergone a renaissance, reuniting after a fifteen-year lacuna with alumni, and attracting a large component of Yale students, also including women. A year ago in Woolsey, there was an exciting 65th anniversary concert with the founder, Denis Mickiewicz, presiding. Recently, through the magic of Zoom, they put together their second online effort. It’s a gorgeous piece from the Georgian musical tradition. Here’s a link to it and also a link to the press release.

Many of the a capella groups from our days including The Duke’s Men (now known as The Dooks), The Baker’s Dozen, The Alley Cats, the SOBs and the Spizzwinks are going strong. Although they’re just as serious and disciplined as they were in our day, the rep has changed to mostly covers of various kinds of rock or pop material. Here’s a sample with music.

There are many many other a capella groups or just small groups. One of my favorites is the all-women Yale Slavic Chorus – lively and attractive rep very well done. But there are at least 16 and here’s a list.

Further, here is the unbelievably large list of the larger choral ensembles available to all Yale students. The list is under the ISM (Institute of Sacred Music) but includes School of Music and other groups. Yale Choral Ensembles.

On a personal note, I had no idea of any of this when I got to Yale in the fall of ’58. What an enormous, pleasant surprise to find that singing had social cachet. Pitching the Spizzwinks for two years did more to prepare me for my second career, directing the Washington University Concert Choir, than the subsequent, very valuable experience as three-year assistant director of the YGC or the Apollo. The first reward, and it was, was an TA-ship at Brown, assistant directing the four glee clubs while pursuing vocal and opera studies at the New England conservatory. But more important are the lifelong bonds of friendship formed through singing at Yale.

We invite your comments.

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