St. Louisan returns home with the Whiffenpoofs of Yale | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louisan returns home with the Whiffenpoofs of Yale

Apr 27, 2015

Founded in 1909, the Whiffenpoofs of Yale University are the world’s oldest and best known collegiate a cappella ensemble.

They’ve performed at Carnegie Hall, at the White House, and on Saturday Night Live, and they’re performing in St. Louis this week.

Fourteen senior Yale men are selected each year to sing in the Whiffenpoofs. It’s highly competitive, not only for the prestige and tradition of the ensemble, but the travel opportunities.

Members of the Whiffenpoofs essentially put their senior year on hold to devote an entire year to touring around the world with the group, and during their domestic tour, they often visit the home town of each member.

Ian Miller, a tour manager of the Whiffenpoofs and a bass/baritone in the group, grew up in St. Louis and is a graduate of Clayton High School.  

Miller told “St. Louis on the Air” host Don Marsh Monday that a Whiffenpoof show is more than just songs. “People are often surprised and delighted to see that we do have fun, we tell jokes, we do skits sometimes, we enjoy ourselves,” he said.

The group is famous for the Whiffenpoof song, the origins of which trace back to 1907, and has been recorded by Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, and Louis Armstrong.

Expect more than just traditional songs at a Whiffenpoof concert, though. There’s something for everyone.

Miller said, “we have a bunch of traditional Yale songs, including the Whiffenpoof song, we have a number that are choral style, contemporary ones, we have a song by Sam Smith that’s playing on the radio now that we cover, and everything in between. There’s some beautiful classics we do, but I think it’s also great that anyone in the audience will know one of our songs, whether it’s a jazz classic or a top 40 hit.”

All arrangements are done by the Whiffenpoof members themselves. The group also operates independently of Yale and does not receive funding from the university.

Ehrik Aldana, a tenor II and the business manager of the ensemble, said, “we’re entirely self-sustaining, we are able to pay for our travel through ticket sales and CD sales. It’s entirely student run, so there isn’t any faculty involved, so it’s a really great learning experience to run an organization as 21 and 22 year olds.”

Aldana did not anticipate being a Whiffenpoof before coming to Yale. He saw them perform on The Sing-Off when he was a senior in high school. “I thought it was ridiculous and kind of crazy,” he said, but when he joined Yale as freshman, he was won over because the musical community there is so cool and exciting.

DJ Stanfill, a tenor II and the musical director of the Whiffenpoofs agreed. He said, “I came to Yale not sure if I’d do a cappella or not, but there is such a vibrant a cappella community there, I was drawn in from the get-go.”

Stanfill said that the Whiffenpoofs stand out among the 15 other Yale a cappella groups because “it’s kind of regarded as less focused on music and more focused on tradition and this longevity of this amazing society-like group of people that has existed for the past 106 years.”

After commencement this Spring, the Whiffenpoofs will embark on their world tour, starting in Iceland and ending in New Zealand, with around 25 countries in between.

When asked whether it was difficult for them to travel around the world together for one year, living in close quarters and dealing with a tight concert schedule, Miller said it could be at times, but they are a good group of guys and they try to be open with one another.

He said, “our policy is being direct and considerate with each other."

Whiffenpoof words to live by.

Washington University presents the Whiffenpoofs of Yale

  • When: Monday, April 27, 7:30 pm
  • Where: The E. Desmond Lee Concert Hall at the 560 Music Center in University City
  • More information.

St. Louis Public Radio's "And the Kitchen Sink" presents the Whiffenpoofs of Yale

  • When: Tuesday, April 28, 7:00 p.m.
  • Where: UMSL at Grand Center, 3651 Olive Street
  • More information

St. Louis on the Air discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.