Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Christmas!

With the UVA Hullabahoos.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

What took so long?

SUNY New Paltz's Absolut A Cappella puts a ring on it.

'Pushing Daisies'

There was a nice little a cappella snippet last week on ABC's Pushing Daisies, a show which (incidentally) is produced by a former member of the Yale Bakers Dozen, Oscar-winner Bruce Cohen.

A short clip here:

(Thanks to Mark for the tip!)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Viva La Vida? Loca!

Collegiate a cappella groups love Coldplay. Like, a lot. A few years back, every group sang Coldplay's "Fix You." In fact, so many groups were submitting their version of "Fix You" to BOCA (the Best of College A Cappella compuilation), that the judges selected one just to stop the flood!

Well, apparently Coldplay's "Viva la Vida" is just as viral. Six versions here. Many, many more online.

UPENN's Off the Beat:

Absolute A Cappella from SUNY New Paltz:

The Bostonians of Boston College:

The Duke Pitchforks:

Catholic University's Red Line:

MIT Resonance:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Hazing? In A Cappella?

Just when you thought you'd seen it all.

An a cappella group at the University of New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Gentleman, are under investigation for an alleged hazing incident, the university's student newspaper reports. Until the case is resolved, the Gents are barred from performing on campus. "However," the paper adds, "they will be allowed to practice and appeal for certain performances next semester, and will be back with certain stipulations in the fall of 2009."

Read more here. (Tip via the A Cappella Blog.)

Here's a video of the Gents singing "Up the Ladder to the Roof." Which, presumably, is where the hazing happens! (We kid! We kid!)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Monday, December 8, 2008

Forget the economy!

ABC's World News Tonight investigates the rise of Straight No Chaser tonight. Tune in!

Want to read more about SNC? We covered them here, here and here.

Friday, December 5, 2008

And The Winners Are...

Remember that contest Ben Folds was sponsoring? He was looking for the best collegiate covers of his music. Then, he'd pick a handful of his favorites and fly his own producer out to record the groups in the studio? (Refresh your memory here.) Well, the winners—from more than 200 entries—have been announced.

And they are:

1. Blue Notes (Wellesley College) - Annie Waits
2. Midnight Ramblers (University of Rochester) - Army
3. Leading Tones (Ohio University) - Brick
4. Lady Bens - Cigarette
5. Newtones (Newton High School in Boston) - Evaporated
6. Fifth Element (University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire) - Fair
7. Gracenotes (West Chester University of PA) - Fred Jones Part 2
8. Loreleis (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) - Jesusland
9. Colorado University Buffoons - Landed
10. Voices In Your Head (University of Chicago) - Magic
11. Spartones (University of North Carolina at Greensboro) - Not The Same
12. Jazz Singers (Sacramento State) - Selfless, Cold and Composed
13. Mosaic Whispers (Washington University - St Louis) - Still FIghting It
14. The Amateurs (Washington University - St Louis) - Luckiest
15. Nassoons (Princeton) - Time
16. With Someone Else's Money (University of Georgia) - You Don't Know Me
17. All Night Yahtzee (Florida State) - Missing The War
18. Treble in Paradise (American University) - Zak and Sara

Some of these tracks will make Ben's a cappella compilation album, due out this spring. The proceeds will go to Save the Music. It's nice to see a genuine rock figure supporting collegiate a cappella.

Read more:

The Daily Princetonian covered the Nassoons's recording session here.

And check out Ben Folds's blog here.

Athletes and A Cappella?

While the UVA Hullabahoos have an intramural football team, traditionally, athletics and a cappella have not mixed. Well, Gen-O is changing all that! Yup, a couple of varsity athletes at Princeton have formed what I believe is the first-ever all-athlete a cappella group called (wait for it) Jock Jams. It could be worse. According to the Daily Princetonian, the group almost called themselves Varsitunes.

Read it and weep here.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Yuletide A Cappella Cheer

It's poised to be a very merry a cappella Christmas, what with Straight No Chaser selling a boatload (or a small rowboat, anyway) of their major label debut, Holiday Spirits. (To read more about SNC, check out this just-posted story from the Chicago Sun-Times.)

To which I ask: Where is the big a cappella Hannukah album!

No, I don't ask that. Because there is none! What would be on it? Me singing "Dreidel" maybe.

Anyway, if you're in the market for Christmas music (without instruments) this season, I'd like to point you to the UVA Hullabahoos disc, "Better Than Coal." The track list is here.

For a preview, check out the Hullabahoos singing "All I Want For Christmas Is You" here. Listen to that applause. Deafening!

The Economic Crisis Hits A Cappella!

Yes, it's true. It looks like the sinking Dow has killed off the AC 100—a planned celebration of the 100th anniversary of collegiate a cappella. This is sad news!

The pithy proof is here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Last Night A Cappella Saved My Life

Or so says Brian Eno! A cappella is a key ingredient to a long life. Really! This NPR piece from the celebrated British musician is required listening for a cappella fans. Check it out here.

A Cappella: Stranger Than Fiction

Back in September, James Franco hosted Saturday Night Live, and joked about his enrollment at Columbia University. His co-star in the sketch, Jason Sudeikis, made a joke about the proliferation of a cappella groups at Columbia.

I blogged about it then. (Read that item here.) But the gist of it was this: Sudeikis joked about singing in a group called the Funk Tones, which he described as Columbia's "most popular non-tryout, non-Lesbian a cappella group."

Well, in a case of life being stranger than fiction, there is an all-Lesbian a cappella group. (Photo here, with Cyndy Lauper...duh.) They're called The Lesbian Overtones. (Amazing name.) They're based in Brooklyn and are playing some gigs in New York soon. Check out their myspace page here.

Also, a clip:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hullabahoos. In Hi-Def.

Last April, the Hullabahoos put on a big 20th anniversary concert. It was called "Big Spring Sing Thing XX." Now, in what I believe is a first for a collegiate group, the Hullabahoos are selling a full-length concert DVD of that night, recorded in HD. (Order on-line now.)

Here's a sample of the concert from YouTube. While it's not in HD, you get the idea.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Cappella Face

A strange thing happens when people watch a cappella groups perform. I call it "a cappella face." Basically, it's that look people sitting in the front row wear, that confused expression that says, "WTF am I looking at?" Even when they like the music, some can't help but make that face. You know that face? You know what I'm talking about?

This dovetails with another thing I like: Videos of a cappella groups performing for celebrities. There's a funny story in Pitch Perfect about a famous Hollywood Christmas party where the Baker's Dozen from Yale perform every year. Marisa Tomei, Hillary Swank, Jim Carrey—they've all been there, they've all seen the BDs. What I really want to know is this: Do the celebrities make that a cappella face? Or do they grove along? Do they mouth the words?

Here's a video of the Harvard Din & Tonics performing for Andy Garcia. Sadly, Garcia's back is to the camera for much of it. But this provides some insight.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The SNC Publicity Trains Chugs Along

A story from Allentown's Morning Call. Click here to read.

And the promo video:

Friday, November 14, 2008

That's Me Signing Books.

Yup, that's me. I went to Yale last night to read from Pitch Perfect. And a reporter from the Yale Daily News grilled me! I'm not kidding. GRILLED. The other side of my face (which you can't see) has char marks.

Anywho, the reading was a success. A big thanks to Yale's SOBs (the a cappella group, not the reporter) for singing three tunes. And doing some damn credible bird noises.

That story here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

File Under Inevitable.

The all-female UNC Loreleis covered Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" last week. The song choice was inevitable. But you've gotta give it up to the Loreleis for nailing it. This version is at least 10% less annoying than the original!

Yale. Tomorrow Night. Me. You?

Folks, I'm doing a reading tomorrow night at the Yale Barnes & Noble. If you're in the area (or want to road trip!) the event starts at 6pm, and features a special performance by Yale's Society of Orpheus and Bacchus, affectionately known as the SOBs.

Here are the SOBs in an excellent video from YouTube. What I love about a cappella videos like this is the lack of explanation. Like, We're going to sing a pretty song. And not explain why one dude has no shirt on and another is in pajamas—with feet.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ron Jeremy!

So, Ted Trembinski of the Binghamton Crosbys e-mailed in an excellent story. Apparently the other night the university hosted "The Great Porn Debate"—an academic discussion of flesh.

The Crosbys, who sing a cover of the song "Internet Porn" (originally recorded by DaVinci's Notebook), figured this was a good chance to perform that song for their biggest audience to date. They approached a friend working the event who wound up "sneaking" them in, Trembinski says, where they serenaded some 2,000 people with vocals on porn.

The best part: They got to meet the legend himself, Ron Jeremy. Click on the photo to see it, um, larger.

Fun With A Cappella

I've seen many a cappella groups pay tribute to Star Wars. I've just never seen someone do it a cappella all by themselves.

P.S. If this is an old video—and by extension, I look old for posting it late in the game—my apologies.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Tens of People Turn Out For Reading!

I did a reading last night at the UPENN Barnes & Noble. The Daily Pennsylvanian reported on it today. That story here.

A quick thank you to the Penn-Six for performing—and sticking around for the reading. The Balls of the Year Award goes to the all-female Quaker Notes, who sang two songs and promptly disappeared. The youth of America, ladies and gentleman!

Here's a Penn-Six clip for ya:

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Straight No Chaser Hits the Billboard Chart...And the road

First-week sales are in for Straight No Chaser's Holiday Spirits. Verdict? 7,040 albums sold. #76 on the Top 200 Billboard chart. Nice work, gentleman.

They also announced some tour dates:

Dec. 03, 2008 - Chicago, IL
Dec. 04, 2008 - Chicago, IL
Dec. 10, 2008 - Toronto, ON
Dec. 11, 2008 - New York, NY
Dec. 17, 2008 - Los Angeles, CA
Dec. 18, 2008 - Los Angeles, CA
Dec. 20, 2008 - Indianapolis, IN

Tickets here.

To read about SNC's record deal, click here.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Monday, November 3, 2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Who are the Do-Re-Migos?

The staff of NBC's The Office once again mocked our fair sport of collegiate a cappella tonight. The plot: In an effort to piss off Andy Bernard, Dwight Schrute applies to Andy's alma mater, Cornell. He starts wearing Cornell gear around the office and dropping Big Red factoids into regular conversation. Andy Bernard, as we know, is a proud alum of Cornell's Hear Comes Treble, and he takes issue.

I'll post the video tomorrow (once NBC does). For now, here's the highlight:

DWIGHT: Andy, I've been meaning to ask you: Which a cappella group should I join? The Harmoniacs? Or the Do-Re-Migos?

ANDY: Assuming you had the voice to be in any of them, it's irrelevant. Because I called admissions and it looks like I will be conducting your university interview.

For more Office a cappella humor, click here and here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Cappella Is Having a Moment

Journalists like to joke that all you need to write a trend story is three examples. Well, if that's truly the case, a cappella is the new hot trend!


1. Two weeks ago, indie rock god Ben Folds announced a unique a cappella contest. He's putting together a compilation album of collegiate a cappella covers of his own music. You submit your video via YouTube. If he likes what he hears, he’ll send his producer to work with your group. The album is due out this spring. Enter here.

2. Atlantic Records signed IU's Straight No Chaser to a five-album deal. Read that story here.

3. Mark Burnett of Survivor fame is working on an a cappella reality show called “A CAPPELLA NATION,” tied to the Universal deal. (That story here.)

4. Mosaic won MTV's Next Top Pop Group contest. Here.

5. A cappella is the latest pop culture go-to joke! There have been repeated a cappella references on NBC's The Office, including three minutes on the season premiere this year. A cappella has also been joked about twice on Saturday Night Live and also in last summer's Step Brothers. SNL clip here.

6. I'd lump my book Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory in there. It was optioned by Universal Pictures and the lovely actress Elizabeth Banks for a feature film—a trend-worthy mention.

7. The Yale Whiffenpoofs will celebrate their centennial in 2009. Look at it this way: It only took 100 years for a cappella to become an overnight hit.

Spread the word! Forward this to college newspapers, a cappella groups, and anyone who (proudly or not so proudly) appreciates a cappella.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Can Lauren Graham Sing?

So, Lauren Graham—you know, the mom from Gilmore Girls—was just cast as the lead in an upcoming Broadway revival of Guys and Dolls. (That story here.) Perez Hilton blogged about the casting notice today, asking: "Can she even sing??"

Of course she can! As an undergraduate at Barnard, Lauren Graham was a member of an all-female a cappella group called the Metrotones. She talked about it with the Columbia Spectator a few years back, saying: "That was like the most fun I had in school, and still some of my best friends are from that group. The lobby of Furnald—I mean they all lived at Furnald Grocery—and the lobby is where we did a lot of our concerts, and that would be the building on campus that means the most to me, I would say." (Read that story here.)

I couldn't find video from her collegiate days, unfortunately. But I did find this clip from the 2007 film Because I Said So, in which Lauren and her on-screen sisters force Diane Keaton to form a family a cappella group. Seriously. That clip here.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Straight No on Fox!

Straight No Chaser, everyone's favorite overgrown a cappella group, had their first gig this weekend—a homecoming show at their old stomping ground, Indiana University. They promoted the concert on the local Fox affiliate. That excellent clip is here. Enjoy!

For past Pitch Perfect coverage on SNC, click here.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Waiters on CBS

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my old a cappella group showing up on CBS. (That story here.) Finally, the video surfaces. Nice work, gentlemen.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

"W" is for Whiffenpoofs

There's a quick mention of the Whiffenpoofs in Oliver Stone's "W." In a flashback to his Yale fraternity days, Dubya and his fellow pledges are made to sing the Whiffenpoof song while shivering in an ice bath. The lyrics: "We're poor little lambs who have lost our way. Baa! Baa! Baa!"

Fun fact: Senator Prescott Bush—Dubya's grandfather—actually was a Whiffenpoof.

And now, just so we get the whole family in to this post, here's a video of the 2008 Whiffs serenading former president George H.W. Bush.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Observe This.

This week's New York Observer pimps my upcoming reading at Housing Works, writing: "Whip out your pitch pipe! " (The reading will take place on Monday, October 27th. 7pm. Click here for details.)

The fun part? I'm going to reunite with the alums of my old a cappella group, Cornell's Cayuga's Waiters, for a few songs. I don't expect us to get a five-album deal out of it, but it should be a good time. Spread the word!

The full Observer story is here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

'SNL' Loves to Hate A Cappella

Earlier this year, when James Franco hosted SNL, the opening monologue contained a big joke about Franco's resident advisor at Columbia and the guy's a cappella group, The Funk Tones. (That story here.) Well, SNL struck again last night! In a new segment called "We Liked It," Weekend Update anchors Seth and Amy made fun of the final presidential debate, broadcast live from Hofstra University.

SETH: "I like how the candidates always thank the host school even though we all know they have nothing better going on. What else were they going to do at Hofstra last night? Was the a cappella group going to sing?"


Watch that clip here:

Monday, October 13, 2008

I Might Be Singing in Public...

Here's the invitation.

I'm doing a reading on Monday, October 27th at Housing Works alongside Kate Torgovnik, the author of "Cheer!," a book about competitive college cheerleading. The address: 126 Crosby Street. The time: 7pm.

Spread the word!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

"12 Days..." The Plot Thickens!

I received a fascinating e-mail this morning from Eric Seidman, a 1984 alum of the Colgate 13 and the president of the Colgate 13 Alumni Assocation. It's a story that involves a cappella, football and a "borrowed" arrangement of "The 12 Days of Christmas." Read on!

Seidman writes: "In the fall of 1979, during the annual touch football game between the Nassoons and The Colgate 13 played the morning before the Princeton/Colgate Varsity Football game, one of the Thirteen's non-playing members entered the Nassoons' music room and borrowed a copy of 'The 12 Days of Christmas' or, as we knew it, 'The Christmas Song.' He went to the library, copied the music and returned the original to the Nassoons's filing cabinet so no one would know. The Colgate 13 sang that arrangement for many, many years delighting audiences around the country. While the SNC video on YouTube must be the most watched version, I would argue it is far from the most interesting."


Seidman continues: " In June of 1981, the Colgate 13 performed 'The Christmas Song' during its annual Graduation Concert. The group asked the father of one of the 13's graduating seniors (a baritone, by the way) to join the group on stage to guest conduct 'The Christmas Song.' Since the group almost always asked a guest conductor to join them for 'The Christmas Song' this wasn't unusual (the ever-changing lyrics of multiple Christmas songs with varying tempos and styles made for some very funny antics with a conductor willing to go along for the ride). However, this was no high school principal, father of the bride or college professor. No, this was, some might say, THE conductor of his generation because that baritone's father was Zubin Mehta."

Yes, Zubin Mehta, a legend, and a man who, at the time, was the music director of the New York Philharmonic. Fascinating story, indeed.

Further reading: On June 1, 1981, the New York Times printed a short piece entitled "Busy Weekend for Zubin Mehta and Son at Colgate."

That story reads: "It was Christmas in May, as well as commencement weekend for Zubin Mehta and his son, Merwan, at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y. With 14 members of the Mehta family in town for the event, the conductor received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree yesterday at outdoor ceremonies beside Taylor Lake on the Colgate campus. The senior Mr. Mehta's adaptability was put to the test Saturday evening when he was guest conductor for a concert by his son and other members of the Colgate Thirteen, the university's traditional men's vocal troupe. The piece de resistance turned out to be 'Christmas Song,' a diverse, quick-changing medley of holiday classics that is one of the Thirteen's year-round performance favorites."

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Awesomest A Cappella Contest Ever

If anyone out there was waiting for some validation of their work, it's about to come— courtesy of one Ben Folds.

The supersmart Ben Folds (who we've interviewed before) has just launched a contest. In his words: "I'm making an album of a cappella versions of my music to be performed by the best university groups we can find. This idea was motivated by a number of amazing university a cappella versions of my songs I came across on youtube. Some of these brought to light unique nuances and perspective that is necessarily absent from the original recordings as the songwriter and singer happen to be the same guy. I was moved and inspired. Some of these versions were an improvement in my humble opinion and it would be a great opportunity to capture some of this."

Ben Folds wants 12 or so tracks from collegiate groups. And he's looking for you to submit via YouTube. And if you make the cut, he's going to send one of his producers to help you record a Ben Folds tune. Pretty impressive! Note: The deadline is November 14th.

For more information, click here.

Who is Dick Gregory? Part 2

Folks, I want to direct your attention to the COMMENTS for the post entitled Who is Dick Gregory? (Link here, then scroll down.)

If you recall, Mr. Gregory is the author of the original spoof "The 12 Days of Christmas," since covered (and expanded) by Straight No Chaser. There's been a really nice response to the blog post on Mr. Gregory from his former students.

Brad Davis '71 writes: "I was the scrawny kid who, at Williston in the late 60's, never managed to make the grade at Caterwauler auditions but attended rehearsals anyway—sitting way back in the shadows—just to hear those dozen guys sing. What a thrill the day the group, with Dick's (I'm guessing) reluctant nod, invited me to sing with them. Looking back, I number those two years as among the very few highlights of my high school experience. Dick's generosity, heart, and straight-shooting probably saved my wee life. Thank you and congratulations, Dick!"

I encourage you to read more. The notes are heartwarming!

A Cappella All Over The Morning Shows

It's been a big couple of weeks for collegiate a cappella groups on national television. First, the Beelzebubs and Hullabahoos were on Good Morning America Weekend (full disclosure: I made a cameo). That clip here.

Then After Dark from Washington University in St. Louis was on the CBS Early Show, here. And now my own beloved Cayuga's Waiters from Cornell were on the Early Show—interviewed by Cornell alum and CBS on-camera guy Dave Price. Read about it here. Nice work!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

I've Got a Crush On Palin?

How did I miss this? Washington University's co-ed a cappella group After Dark was on the CBS Early Show last week singing an original tune about their crush on Sarah Palin. Unreal.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Mosaic Earn MTV’s Top Pop Group Title!

Anyone watching MTV's Top Pop Group? Mosaic, a pro a cappella group I wrote about in Pitch Perfect, won the whole thing!

Mosaic, if you remember, once counted Scott Porter from NBC's Friday Night Lights among its members. But Scott quit to go Hollywood...and later regretted it. Here's that excerpt from Pitch Perfect:

Friday Night Lights may be coming back to NBC this fall, but one actor might not be thrilled. Scott Porter, who plays Jason Street, quit his gig singing with Mosaic, a professional a cappella group, a few years back to go Hollywood—only to see Mosaic snag a slot opening up for Prince (Prince!) on New Year's Eve. "That's a rock star moment," Porter reveals in Pitch Perfect. "I am on this massive, amazing TV show that everyone loves, but I devoted eight years of my life to taking the next step with a cappella music. There is a huge part of me that regrets leaving Mosaic." Uh, you're on Friday Night Lights! "I would regret it more if I was on the WB and wasn't doing groundbreaking television. There's no rehearsal on our set, no marks to hit. It's gorilla-style for primetime network television. Other shows want to look like us. At the same time, I wanted to make people go, Holy crap—a cappella. That's something new. I want to imitate that.

Well, that's what Mosaic just did. Winning $100,000 in the process! There's a strange thing here: This is not the first contest Mosaic won. Last year they scored in the CBS Early Show's search for "The Next Great A Cappella Group," judged by Boyz II Men. Kinda funny, no? They must REALLY be the best!

Anyway, check out a clip of their MTV win by clicking here. Congratulations, gentlemen.

Mosaic Earn MTV’s Top Pop Group Title!

Posted using ShareThis

Monday, October 6, 2008

Straight No Chaser Announces First Reunion Gig

Straight No Chaser, which I wrote about extensively in this weekend's New York Times (that story here), will reunite where it all began.

From the Atlantic Records press release that went out today: "Straight No Chaser will celebrate the release of HOLIDAY SPIRITS with a special Homecoming Show at their alma mater, Indiana University. Tickets to the concert—set for October 25th at the Indiana University Auditorium—are priced at $16.50, or $22.50 with a copy of HOLIDAY SPIRITS. For more information, please visit

Someone local: Check it out and report back.

Anne Sings!

Anne Hathaway—an alum of the Vassar's Measure 4 Measure—hosted SNL on Saturday. And she did her old a cappella group proud singing in this Mary Poppin's spoof. Check it out:

Friday, October 3, 2008

Who is Dick Gregory?

I’ve got a piece in Sunday’s New York Times about an a cappella group, Straight No Chaser from Indiana University, with a unique story. See, ten years after graduation, this group suddenly scored a major label record deal when one of their old video's became a surprise hit on—where else?—YouTube. (Read that story here.)

The song was a comedic take on “The 12 Days of Christmas" (incorporating Toto's "Africa!") and it was viewed nearly eight million times. In case you missed it, I'll embed that video here:

Atlantic Records is talking about sending these boys (or rather, these men) out on the road with the likes of Josh Groban. But what about this arrangement of “The 12 Days of Christmas?” Where did it come from? As I reported in the Times piece, though the arrangement has evolved over the years, it began as the handiwork of one Richard Gregory, now 76, an alum of the Yale Whiffenpoofs and a retired music educator from the Williston Northampton School. I tracked down Mr. Gregory to get the story behind the music. He speaks:

What inspired you to write this arrangement of “The 12 Days of Christmas?”
I was in the Navy in the 1950s, stationed on the Island of Guam. I had a singing group of Naval officers, and we needed something fun for Christmas. I was diddling around one night writing music. These Christmas songs—a lot of these songs have the same chord structure. They’re easy to play together in counterpoint, and I’m fascinated by counterpoint. I wrote a primitive version of the arrangement. It wasn’t as long and it wasn’t as good. I came to the Williston Northampton School in the ‘60s and began an a cappella group of students, the Caterwaulers. I polished up the arrangement and taught it to the boys. We sang it and people liked it.

Why the Caterwaulers?
Caterwaul is what cats do on the back of the fence when there is a female cat in heat. That’s the name we adopted.

One of the Caterwaulers—the person who was the so-called music leader, the one who blew the pitch pipe—went to Princeton and joined the Nassoons. And he took that song with him. And the Nassoons have been calling it their arrangement ever since. They put it on a phonograph as their arrangement. It was strange for them to learn that I had written it.

How did they come to find out that you’d written the arrangement?
One of the graduates of the Nassoons was auditioning at Williston Northampton for a teaching job. Someone at the school knew I’d written that song and made a point of us meeting. I said to him, Do you know who wrote the arrangement? I did. That’s how they got the news. By that time, the song had been given from hand-to-hand to groups around the country.

I heard from one of the Nassoons. He tells me they credited you on their 1976 recording of "12 Days..." He points out that your name wasn't taken off, really. Rather, the song was subsequently taught by ear. That's where the disassociation happened. Anyway, now the song's going to be on a major label.
So it’s not dead yet...

When did you get a sense that “The 12 Days of Christmas” was such a phenomenon?
It was after Chrsitmas last year. I hadn’t heard of YouTube. I don’t have a computer. In fact, today I’m writing a letter on a manual typewriter. But my friends began to talk about it. And some people would call me—including a father whose son sings in the Indiana University a cappella group. He tracked me down.

Where did you see the video?
I went to a friend’s house. And it was good fun listening to it. Then that other song came on.

Yes, that’s Toto’s “Africa.”
It’s a good song, but one I’ve never heard of. The Indiana group cut off the last—and best!—third of my arrangement and stuck on this other thing. They lost “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and “Chestnuts Roasting.”

Is there money to be made here?
I’ve been glad to have anyone sing it who wants to. The University of Michigan glee club put it on a CD. It’s beautifully sung. The choir director called and asked me and I said it was fine. But really, no one cares very much about rights and so on. A publisher called me after the YouTube success and showed some interest in selling the arrangement, but I think they realized that they won’t make much money off of it. Everyone who wants the arrangement already has it.

As an undergrad at Yale, you sang with the Whiffenpooffs. What do you remember about those days?
I graduated from Yale in 1954. But I was pitch pipe of the ’56 Whiffenpoofs as a graduate student. We went around the country. I sang solo on the stage of the San Francisco Opera House. It was a song called, “Slow Motion.” It’s in the Yale Songbook, I think. It was something I wouldn’t have the nerve to do now, but being young and fearless I did it and I got through it. As part of the glee club, we sang with the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood. Back then, the Whiffs traveled with the glee club. The Whiffs of ‘56 still sing together—all twelve of us.

Really? Where?
Different parts of the country—California, Wisconsin. Only four of us are on the East Coast. And yet we all get together, along with our wives. We still sing pretty well for guys in our 70s. But by now the fun is more important than the singing.

Did the Whiffs perform at Williston while you were teaching?
Yes. It was an ego trip. They’d call upon me to join them for the “Whiffenpoof Song.” It was good for two or three days. Then everyone would forget about it.

How has a cappella changed?
During the ‘70s, it was not cool that kind of music. And now there has been a big revival of it. Things have changed.

Did you ever think you’d be talking about “The 12 Days of Christmas” fifty years after leaving Guam?
I’m grateful for some notoriety. But I would have preferred other works of mine to become notorious. I’ve written three operas and a lot of choral music and chamber music—which is not fashionable.

'Pitch Perfect'...The Greatest Hits

Folks, we're closing in on 150 blog entries. Thank you loyal readers!

But for those of you who are new to the site, I thought we'd take a look back at the best of the blog. Herein, the top five Pitch Perfect posts of all time:

1. The Baudboys of Pro A Cappella
Inside Microsoft's bitter a cappella rivalries!
Click here.

2. I Was on NPR.
Talkin' the rise of collegiate a cappella on Weekend Edition.
Click here.

3. Pitch Perfect: The Trailer!
The Bubs...were on Letterman?
Click here.

4. Ben Folds: High Five!
Ben Folds (yes, that Ben Folds) speaks out in defense of collegiate a cappella
Click here.

5. ICCAS: Live on TV!
The heartbreaking story of Divisi's rise and fall—fresh from CurrentTV
Click here.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

'Pitch Perfect' Makes the Very Short List!

Folks, good day: Pitch Perfect was featured on Kurt Andersen's Very Short List, a website devoted to "must-see gems."

Of Pitch Perfect, VSL writes: "College, they say, is a time of self-discovery. And so, some of us discover that happiness is found onstage, involves the wearing of matching outfits, and includes the singing of Journey songs (even the instrumental parts) in perfect harmony. Ah, cappella! What would our 21st-century campuses be without you? In Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory, a GQ editor named Mickey Rapkin shines a bright light on this highly competitive, rapidly expanding subculture."

Click here to read the full entry. And please sign up for VSL's daily e-mails!

Monday, September 29, 2008

'GMA' Clip

True to form, the Hullabahoos uploaded the Good Morning America segment about collegiate a cappella—or rather, just the part of the segment where they appear. That video is here:

Must-Have LP: Part 2

Last week we wrote about "Campus Hootenanny," an awesome collegiate a cappella compilation LP from the 60s. (That post here.)

Well, another must-have bit of a cappella history popped up on eBay. There's been a lot of controversy in a cappella circles about studio effects on albums. Well, it may have started back in 1984 with the Bubs's album "Clue." Bill Allen, a Bub alum, was the engineer on this LP.

The effect in question: The record opens with a song called “Grazin’ in the Grass." Bill recorded the group saying the word “Pow” a few times. “I had them linger on pow,” Bill says, in a story told in Pitch Perfect. “Powwwwwww.” The Bubs were recording on 1/4 inch tape. Bill spliced the tape—literally. He took a pencil and scrubbed the mark, laid it on the splicing block and cut it with a razor. He flipped the tape, and played it back. And so the Powwwwww became a wwwwwwwwoP. “That’s how we got the big crescendo that starts that track,” Bill says.

A cappella fans, "Clue" is up for sale on eBay. Click here to bid!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

'Good Morning America' Indeed

Collegiate a cappella is "less Urkel than Usher," according to GMA Weekend. And the Tufts Beelzebubs were in the ABC studio this morning to prove it. That story from earlier today is here.

Video coming shortly...

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Cappella Returns to 'The Office'

If you're a fan of The Office, you know that Andy Bernard likes to talk about his old a cappella group, Cornell's Here Comes Treble. Well, in last night's season premiere, Bernard (played by Ed Helms) was at it again, trying to convince his fiance that the men of Treble should sing at their wedding. Check it out here:

Let's Try This Again...

The Good Morning America Weekend segment on collegiate a cappella (with a plug for Pitch Perfect) has been rescheduled for this Sunday morning in the 8 o'clock hour. Tune in!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Yale A Cappella Smackdown!

Yale's fourteen a cappella groups (fourteen!) tapped new members last night. But some groups had to curtail their celebrations due to sanctions from, get this, the Singing Group Council—a governing body made up of reps from all the Yale a cappella groups.

The Yale Daily News reports:

"The SGC received seven formal complaints and numerous informal complaints pertaining to pre-tapping and illegal meetings between freshmen and a cappella members outside of the rush process," co-chair Sean Pool '09 said... As penalties, the SGC required the Baker’s Dozen to cancel its rush dinner, while the other three groups had to wait at the High Street gate for two extra minutes. During this time, other groups could begin the sprint through Old Campus to tap their picks and therefore get to them first. The SGC also levied an additional penalty on Mixed Company, which will have last pick for the date of its singing dessert next year.

The full-story is here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Cappella Karaoke?

At Cornell, my old a cappella group's signature song was a clever-ish take on "We Didn't Start the Fire" rewritten as, yes, "We Didn't Go to Harvard." Every few years my beloved Cayuga's Waiters would update the lyrics. And the song became so popular, the group eventually printed t-shirts, seen here. (Apparently they didn't sell well, because you can still buy one here.)

Anywho... someone went and posted "We Didn't Go To Harvard" and its lyrics on YouTube, in what may be the first case of a cappella karaoke. Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Today's Brown Daily Herald has an interesting story about a cappella rush week, and the role alcohol plays in the festivities.

Reporter Kyla Wilkes writes:

Last Thursday at 11 p.m. all the a cappella groups crowded into lower Salomon for their traditional "midnight meeting" - affectionately dubbed "drunkapella" by some, said Allison Schneider '10, a member of the Chattertocks. As the group continues imbibing, Aronchick serves as a moderator "because we're all so loud and we're so drunk," said Matt Bauman '10, musical director for the Bear Necessities.

It's a theme! Yesterday we mentioned a Yale a cappella group that might lose its charter because of alchohol abuse. (That story here.) Meanwhile, the full story from Brown is here.

A Must-Have A Cappella LP

I recently started collecting collegiate a cappella LPs. I bought a bunch of old Cayuga's Waiters albums on eBay (I was a Waiter at Cornell), plus "Brothers in Song," the original Tufts Beelzebubs recording.

A few months ago I came across an LP called "Campus Hootenanny." The backstory: In 1964, five Ivy League collegiate a cappella groups—the Kroks, the Nassoons, Cayuga's Waiters, the Duke's Men, and the Jabberwocks—performed a group show at Brown University. RCA-Victor recorded the show and released it as a live LP. None of the old Waiters remember the show. I reached out to the Kroks, too, and despite their extensive alumni network (a note to younger groups, this is how it's done), as of yet no one has been able to recall the details. I'll keep researching.

In the meantime: The album is a pretty badass piece of collegiate a cappella history. Luckily for you, there's another copy floating around on eBay—all the way from the UK. Check it out here.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Alcohol + A Cappella = Problems

From the Cross Campus column in today's Yale Daily News: "Forbidden alcohol at Rush Week singing desserts garnered penalties for a cappella groups Proof of the Pudding, the Baker’s Dozen and the Society of Orpheus and Bacchus. They face losing their tap night dinners or waiting an extra two minutes at the gate when awarding bids. Really."

Link here.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

'Saturday Night Live' On Beat Boxing

So, James Franco (left) hosted Saturday Night Live last night, and his monologue featured a shout out to collegiate a cappella. I'll post the video when it surfaces. In the meantime, a rough transcript:

Franco recently enrolled at Columbia University. His monologue was about life on campus for a movie star. His fictional resident advisor, Craig (played by Jason Sudeikis) showed up to give Franco some advice about being an undergraduate celebrity.

CRAIG, THE R.A.: "I know what it's like to be the cool dude on campus. I can't set foot in Java the Cup without people saying, Hey man, There's that guy who beatboxes for the Funk Tones."

FRANCO: Who are the Funk Tones?

CRAIG: We're the school's most popular non-tryout, non-Lesbian a cappella group.

FRANCO: Sounds great.

CRAIG: Don't patronize me James.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Collegiate A Cappella is Hip!

At least that's what this weekend's edition of USA Weekend magazine says! Check out that story here.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ed Helms: Proud-ish A Cappella Alum

Ed Helms of NBC's The Office, an a cappella alum we'd interviewed for Pitch Perfect, again opens up about his days as an Oberlin Obertone in the pages of this week's New York magazine. "I love a cappella music, but I loathe a cappella music," he says. "It's the most paradoxical art form there is."

Read the full story here. And, to prove Ed's point, here's the Obertones singing a strangely aggressive version of Toto's "Africa."

Friday, September 12, 2008

'Good Morning America' On A Cappella...

...Bumped to Sunday!

In the meantime, a gold star to anyone who can find audio of Good Morning America's Diane Sawyer from her days singing with the Wellesley Blue Notes!

A Cappella Inspires Safe Sex.

Just watch it.

A Cappella on "Good Morning America: Weekend."

Folks, time to set your TiVOs. Or VCRs. Or whatever you record television with. Because the fine folks at ABC's Good Morning America Weekend are prepping a piece on the rise of collegiate a cappella, set to air tomorrow morning in the 8am hour.

GMA Weekend shot video of the Hullabahoos down at UVA and the Kingsmen (photo here courtesy of my camera phone) up at Columbia, and even solicited video from Divisi. A GMA producer interviewed me about Pitch Perfect, as well. And there's talk that the Tufts Beelzebubs will perform live.

Tune in tomorrow.