Andrea here, musing today about lifting the spirits in times of trouble. We writers are used to a more solitary daily routine than most people (and we tend to be introverts by nature) so the shelter-in-place restrictions that most of us are facing right are perhaps a little less disruptive. Nonetheless, the sense of isolation can feel daunting. I think a profound part of being human is the need for connection with others, especially friends and family.
There’s the physical connections—hugs, just holding hands—that so many of us of us miss. And voices. Many of us have been on the phone or video chats with our loved ones to share that bond. But what’s also struck me is how music—again, an elemental means of communicating that seems deeply ingrained in humanity—is a source of solace and a means of lifting the spirits. A lot of us have been sharing links to songs to create flickers of sunshine among the dark clouds.
I shared a very fun virtual concert with the Wenches the other day. It was by an a capella singing group from my alma mater, which has a wonderful heritage in this genre of unaccompanied singing. They loved it, so I thought I’d share a few links with you of these marvelous college students raising their voices in song, along with a little background on their singing groups.
Here is the virtual concert, by the Spizzwinks (?) of Yale University which inspired this post. It was all done remotely, which resonates even more right now. And what I love about it that it was was an alumni event, so the singers are of all ages. Music—especially a capella singing—is a big deal in undergraduate life. It's a popular extracurricular activity and there are a number of wonderful groups, for both underclassmen and seniors. I'm just going to highlight three "Firsts!" The Spizzwinks (?)—yes, the question mark is part of their name—are the oldest underclassman a capella group at Yale, founded in 1914. Their website has this to say: “Since 1914, we’ve entertained audiences around the world with our unique blend of sweet harmony and tongue-in-cheek humor.”
The name follows the Whiffenpoof (more on them in a moment) tradition of creating a fanciful mythical beast as the namesake of the group. The name “Spizzwink” comes from a Midwest “legend” that the great Iowa corn blight of 1906 was caused by an insect called—you guessed it—the spizzwink! But however silly the name, I think you’ll agree that their sound is just beautiful.
The Whiffenpoofs are oldest—and most prestigious—of the Yale a capella singing groups. They were founded in 1909, and it’s for seniors only Each year the best 14 singers of the senior class are tapped to continue the group's world-famous tradition. It’s a huge honor to be a “Whiff” They sing all around the world, and have serenaded presidents and heads of state throughout the years. Here’s a blurb from their website: “Today, the group has become one of Yale’s most celebrated traditions. Singing a mixture of old Yale tunes, jazz standards, and other hits from across the decades, the Whiffenpoofs perform more than 200 concerts across six continents each year.”
Now, as women weren’t admitted as undergrads to Yale until 1969, the a capella tradition was always “men -only” for the Whiffs and many other groups. Most groups are now co-ed, however the Whiffs remained “men-only” for years because of “sound” reasons. But recently, the Whiffs made history by tapping their first female member. Some older alumni grumbled, but most everyone agrees they sound as marvelous as ever. You can hear them sing their own arrangement of the classic Beatles song, Got To Get You Into My Life here. (It seemed a perfect song for today!)
Now to the name—as their fame grew, the original singers decided they needed a group name. One of the members had recently heard a funny joke involving a mythical dragonfish called a whiffenpoof. They all thought it sufficiently whimsical (I have a feeling alcohol might have been involved in the decision) . . . and history was made.
In 1981, the women of Yale founded their own a capella senior singing group named Whim ‘n Rhythm. They are are now a grand Yale tradition too, and also tour all over the world. Here they are singing one of my favorite Indigo Girls songs. And here’s a link to a beautiful vocal called Songbird.
I hope you've enjoyed listening to these wonderful singers. Do you find that music lifts your spirits when you’re feeling a little blue? Have you been listening to more music recently? If so what’s your favorite genre?