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!