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May 21, 2004

Monterey Herald

They've serenaded U.S presidents current and past, including fictional President Joel Bartlett on television's popular "The West Wing." International luminaries the Dalai Lama and Mother Theresa have heard their fine musicianship as do many thousands throughout the world every year. They are the famed and venerable singing ambassadors of Yale University known as The Yale Whiffenpoofs.

Founded in 1909, the nation's oldest and most prestigious collegiate a cappella male singing group keeps their membership to a fixed 14 Yale seniors selected annually by each preceding chorus. Each year two of the 14 "gentlemen songsters" are tapped as leaders. They are the business manager and the music director, also known as the "Pitch Pipe," who oversee all aspects of Whiffenpoofs activities from picking the repertoire, recording and rehearsing songs, to tending minutiae of the singers' world tour. In the musical world, Cole Porter, creator of American musical classics Anything Goes and Kiss Me Kate, ranks as the best-known former Whiffenpoof. The list of noteworthy Whiffenpoofs alumni also includes Senator Prescott Bush, the father and grandfather of the American Presidents Bush. In fact, being tapped into the Whiffenpoofs these days can be such an intense commitment of time and energy that some members set aside their senior studies for the year. Marc Freed-Finnegan, the Whiffenpoofs' business manager this year, took the year off in order to devote all his time to the ensemble.

In addition to the ambitious summer tour -- which will take the 14 singers to such exotic places Japan,China, Thailand, Nepal South Africa, India, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey and Russia -- the 2004 Whiffenpoofs plan to make a contribution to children's literacy by donating a portion of our world tour proceeds to the cause.

"Our hope is to act as junior 'ambassadors,' traveling the world and bringing international attention to the importance of reading and writing," said Freed-Finnegan. In addition to a financial contribution, the singers want to visit schools, orphanages and homeless shelters to perform for children, spend time reading with children, and help establish local literacy centers through gifts of books, pens, pencils and notebooks. On May 29, the Whiffs will be working with the Salvation Army in a special literacy outreach program for local disadvantaged children.

So, where did these intrepid Yale singers get such an unusual name? It seems that back in 1908 one of the men had just seen the Victor Herbert musical comedy called "Little Nemo," which included a fantastic tale about a Whiffenpoof fish. The word had a freedom and exuberant fancy that appealed to the choristers and it was immediately adopted as the group's new name.

Posted by acapnews at May 21, 2004 8:27 AM


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