Monday, March 31, 2008

Garfield. A Cappella.

A friend sent me this link to Garfield Minus Garfield, a site which is exactly what the name implies. The intro reads: "Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life? Friends, meet Jon Arbuckle."

The real revelation: Who knew Arbuckle was an a cappella alum?!

Here's the original a cappella-themed Garfield comic...

...and then the one without the cat.

I'll let you decide which is funnier.

Click here for more (or rather less) Garfield.

Krok 'n' Awe

On March 9, 2008, the Harvard Krokodiloes performed at Carnegie Hall. The sold out concert (which also featured the Yale Whiffenpoofs and the Princeton Tigertones) was part of a weekend-long celebration produced by Krok alum Brian Bumby, and it was what you'd expect from the Kroks: understated. Just kidding! There was a black-tie banquet for 400, royalty flying in from Europe, etc. Blah blah blah.

There was also an a cappella roast, written by a Tony-nominated duo, no less.

Larry O'Keefe is a Krok alum, class of 1991. He met his wife, Nell Benjamin '93, at Harvard. They are perhaps best known as the composers and lyricists for Broadway's very funny (not to mention deceptively smart) Legally Blonde: The Musical. They were also the emcees for the Kroks show at Carnegie's Zankel Hall.

Here's act one of their self-lampooning script from Zankel Hall. Act two coming tomorrow.


LARRY: Good afternoon, I’m Larry.

NELL: And I’m Nell.

LARRY: And we are so incredibly thrilled to be here today among 600 of the very best people we have ever met. I’m not kidding. I know you are, because each of you has a deep appreciation and love for Ivy League a cappella music! Woo hoo!

NELL: Larry and I have a deep appreciation for it too. The skills we learned from Ivy League a cappella music helped us in our careers. As some of you may know we are the writers of a show currently running on Broadway: Legally Blonde The Musical.

LARRY: Playing right now at the Palace Theater.

NELL: 47th and 7th. Hope you can come see it!

LARRY: The matinee’s at 3pm! If you run now you can just catch it! Thank you very much!

NELL: Bye!

They run off stage. Pause. They return sheepishly.

NELL: Apparently we’ve been told we should do more than shill for our own show. Back to today’s topic: We have a very personal appreciation for Ivy League a cappella music.

LARRY: We are, in fact, married because of Ivy League a cappella music. We met as undergraduates, because Nell saw me, on a stage not unlike this one, wearing a tuxedo, singing as a member of the Harvard Krokodiloes.

NELL: Faced with the evidence it was apparent that I had to get me some a’ that.

LARRY: (blushing) Thank you. And so –

NELL: (appreciatively) Mm-mmm.

LARRY: So once again --

NELL: Daaaamn!

LARRY: (flustered) Why, thank you, Nell. …But in this way, we see the grand mission of a cappella singing was again fulfilled. Because why do young men join a cappella groups? This underdog of the arts, this redheaded stepchild of glee club; why does the flower of young manhood turn away from healthy pursuits like squash or Nintendo Wii to stand in a line snapping their fingers and singing the music of their great-grandparents? Why?

NELL: For the tail.

LARRY: Tail?

NELL: Tail. They think girls will sleep with them after the concert. (Giving happy thumbs up sign) And they will!

LARRY: They will!

NELL: Why? Girls see this line of guys in tuxedos and they think “Hey! It’s my wedding!”
…Then the next morning they wake up, they go, “Well, I saw the guys in tuxedos, I remember hearing some hymns, but I’m damned if I can find a ring!”
…I’m clearly making some of the mothers in the audience nervous. But don’t worry! It turned out okay for me! (Nell shows off her wedding ring.) See?
…But to be fair, not all these young men join a cappella groups to get girls to sleep with them.

LARRY: Some join these groups in the hope that guys will sleep with them.

(Larry and Nell both give happy thumbs up sign.)

NELL: And they will!

LARRY: They see a line of guys in tuxedos and they think “Hey! It’s my wedding!”

NELL: But all the tail is merely the excuse for a cappella music, not its grand purpose.

LARRY: It’s not? Then what is that grand purpose? Are you referring to a musical tradition? A continuity of culture?

NELL: I’m referring, Larry, to the molding of young people into America’s most productive and self-actualized citizens.

LARRY: Why thank you, Nell. But how is that accomplished?

NELL: Larry, a cappella music vastly accelerates the process by which brilliantly talented young men become… insufferable.

LARRY: Right. …Wait, what?

NELL: (cheerfully) Insufferable!

LARRY: Insufferable?

NELL: Every Ivy League student becomes insufferable. But studies show an Ivy League a cappella singer becomes insufferable up to seven and a half times faster.

LARRY: What, you mean it’s like advanced placement?

NELL: Exactly. And because it’s so accelerated, the subsequent return to reality is more painful, but quicker. Like ripping off a Band-Aid.

LARRY: (flinching) Ow!…

NELL: Instead of sloooowly tearing the Band-Aid of Disappointment off through your thirties, forties, and beyond…

LARRY: Well, I don’t know if I can agree with your thesis, but in some ways you’re right. It was quite a come-down… all the tuxedoes, the adulation..

NELL: The tail…

LARRY: …I thought life would be handed to me on a platter. Then after graduation I was carrying a platter, because I was a waiter.

NELL: Rrrrrip!

LARRY: Stop that!

NELL: See? In the undergraduate world, standing in a line wearing tuxes and singing means you’re a superstar. In the real world, standing in a line wearing tuxes and singing means you’re in Hello Dolly.

LARRY: You didn’t have to bring that up.

NELL: At the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre in Jupiter, Florida.

LARRY: Yes. Thank you.

NELL: You were good! (sings helpfully) “Hellooooo, Larry….”

LARRY: Anyway…

NELL: With your little tray. “Helloooo, Larry…”

LARRY: Stop that.

NELL: And at intermission they served this great coffee – well, he (pointing to Larry) served this great coffee…

LARRY: Dammit!

NELL: (smiles serenely)

LARRY: Okay, fine. I was insufferable. I got free trips to Bermuda and around the world. Nice people lent me their guest rooms and threw parties for me. I got to run around like a rock star. A clean-cut, slightly fey rock star. But it didn’t take me long to figure out no one’s going to put up a 30-year-old man in a hotel in Monte Carlo just because he can imitate a double bass.

NELL: Rrrrrrip!

LARRY: Hey! Come on! This isn’t fair! Why must my dreams die so soon? (to Nell) Can’t we test this?

NELL: Oookay. (to audience member, who turns out to be Fred Carret ’91) You sir! You look wealthy. Do you have a summer house?

FRED CARRET: (from audience) I wouldn’t call it a “summer” house.

NELL: Okay, do you have a house?


NELL: Is it nice?


NELL: Where is it?


NELL AND LARRY: (impressed) Oooh, Spain.

LARRY: Okay, sir, so let me ask, but don’t answer right away, take a breath and think about it:


…May I stay there? Before you answer, listen to this!:

(singing the bass intro to “House Of Blue Lights”) “Doot’n-dooba-doot’n-dooba…”

NELL: (helpfully) Faster! Louder!

LARRY: “doot’n-dooba-doot’n-dooba”…

NELL: It’s not working!

LARRY: “Doot’n-doo…”
(has coughing fit). Dammit woman! I almost had ‘em.
(coughs more). Probably shouldn’t have had those twenty years of cigarettes.

NELL: Q.E.D. So as I was saying, the Ivy League a cappella group is the perfect environment in which to succeed, become insufferable, then get over yourself.

LARRY: So if you’re sitting here thinking “oh, these a cappella kids are so talented, I frickin’ hate them…” Please don’t go hatin’.

NELL: That’s the wrong attitude, mister.

LARRY: Right. Instead just sit back, enjoy as these fine young men, whether they be your classmates, your peers, your children, your exes, your future exes, or all of the above – as these fine young men sing their hearts out for you. Because each of these fine young men represents one astonishing thing:

NELL AND LARRY: Two hundred thousand dollars tuition. …Ladies and gentlemen: The Yale Whiffenpoofs!

In defense of (uh) Hanson?

Some friends have encouraged me to get personal on the blog. So here goes...

I sang in a collegiate a cappella group, Cornell's Cayuga's Waiters, from 1998-2000. And full disclosure: I was rejected from the group. Twice. Hey, third time's a charm.

My biggest problem was always singing in a quartet. I didn't trust myself (or my ear) and would lose the part. Which is why I'm posting this clip. Say what you will about the brothers Hanson, but this little trio isn't easy to pull off. Pay a little respect to (yes) Hanson.

Friday, March 28, 2008

It's pronounced Fronkensteen!

Over the years, the word "Whiffenpoof" has become a punch-line. The latest appearance? The Broadway production of Young Frankenstein. The joke, a bit of a throwaway line, comes in the middle of a song called "Together Again," when Igor and Frankenstein first meet.

From the script:

(spoken as MUSIC continues under)
No, stop it! Stop it! You don't understand. I'll only be here for a few days, to settle my grandfather's estate, and then I'm heading straight back to New York. No laboratories, no creatures.

Bet you change your mind, master. C'mon, join in a chorus. It's fun!

My dear Igor, I happen to be the Dean of Anatomy at a world-renowned School of Medicine. Although I do sing a bit. And was, in fact, a Whiffenpoof at Yale.

A Wiffenpoof, wow! C'mon, doc, nobody's around.

PS -- A public service announcement: A friend and Whiffenpoof alum tells me that, when referring to a member of that illustrious singing group, they'd prefer one use the nickname "Whiff" rather than "Poof." True story.

It's not as easy as it looks.

Four of the contestants from Bravo's Make Me A Supermodel started a mock-appella group called Serenade. The verdict? Well, at least they look good!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Do it, Barackappella!

It was bound to happen. On February 29, some kids from Lewis and Clarke held a benefit concert called, yes, Barackappella. Here's their take on the much-maligned song "Yes We Can." If you squint, the girl on the left could pass for Scarlett Johansson. No luck with a, however.

I'm just saying.

In collegiate a cappella, "Apologize" is the new "Fix You." There. I said it.

Here's a YouTube link to some 20 versions. Guess what: It's too late to apologize!

Vampire Weekend. Sort of.

Vampire Weekend is the band of the moment, no doubt. And so I wanted to give a big blog-out to the Singing Knights from Carleton College for hopping on that train first (according to YouTube anyway) with their version of "Oxford Comma." Word.

Sandy Cohen was a Beelzebub.

Yes, it's true. In the 70s, Peter Gallagher, aka Sandy Cohen, had been a member of the Tufts Beelzebubs. In the spring of 2007 he came back to campus and reunited with Bubs past and present. This video is must-click TV.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Cappella: Everywhere and nowhere.

The New York Times story (see link below) inspired a slew of e-mails from a cappella singers past and present. Perhaps my favorite came from Andrea Sheehan, a proud alum of a “feminist a cappella group” from Mt. Holyoke called—wait for it—Nice Shoes. What does a feminist a cappella group sing? Helen Reddy covers, maybe? Uh, who cares! They’re a feminist a cappella group. That’s awesome!

For the uninitiated: Yes, there are a cappella groups for every demographic. A shout out to Cornell’s Jewish a cappella group, the Chai Notes!

But this avalanche of e-mails got me thinking about something Jonathan Coulton said when I interviewed him for the Times piece. Coulton is an alum of the Whiffenpoofs, an excellent musician in his own right, and the man behind a very special acoustic version of “Baby Got Back.”(YouTube it, kids. I ain’t got time to link to everything.) Coulton made a great point in our phone call, saying, “A cappella is at once everywhere and nowhere.” He was speaking to the almost Zelig-like (or Forrest Gump-like) nature of a cappella. At first glance, maybe this genre seems obscure. Until you realize it’s been everywhere.

There are a cappella jokes in Young Frankenstein on Broadway and on NBC’s 30 Rock. The Whiffenpoofs appeared on Saturday Night Live years ago, and the producers ran each kid’s SAT score across the bottom of the screen in a CNN-type crawl.

Want something more historic? Gordon Bloom, an alum of the Harvard Krokodiloes and the man who invented the Kroks international summer tour, sent me this link, to a piece from the Harvard Gazette about Leonard Bernstein (yes, that Leonard Bernstein) and his love affair with the Kroks.

Check it out here.

Perhaps there is change in the air. Perhaps I should re-title this post as, A cappella: Everywhere and (exceedingly less) nowhere.

Credit line: The letter posted above courtesy of Gordon Bloom and the Kroks.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The New York Times.

I wrote a piece for the New York Times about what life is like after school for the graduates of our nation's 1,200 collegiate a cappella groups.

Check it out here.

Photo credit: Patrick Andrade for The New York Times.
Caption: DOO BE OR NOT DOO BE? The Harvard Krokodiloes, happily, if relentlessly, a cappella.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008