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January 5, 2007

Yale Sisterhood Still Raising Its Voice

Hartford Courant (CT):

Every year since 1909, a cadre of elite Yale singers selects 14 juniors to succeed them in the world's oldest and best-known collegiate a cappella group, the Whiffenpoofs. In 1981, just 12 years after the university began admitting women as undergraduates, seven determined women created their own a cappella group, Whim 'n Rhythm.

"A number of us could see all the benefits associated with the Whiffs, and we decided that it would be nice for future generations if we could start something similar for women," said Janet Dea, one of the founders of Whim, as it's known around campus. "Those were the days when feminism was very much alive, and we considered ourselves trailblazers." The Whim 'n Rhythm have persevered for 25 years, performing around the world, including stints at the venerable Mory's Temple Bar, the longtime home of the Whiffenpoofs.

Last fall, one of its members, Robin Pearce, decided to make a 30-minute documentary about the group and its history. Besides discovering all of Whim's musical contributions, Pearce, whose yet untitled film debuts this spring, also unveiled the important ways in which Whim helps its charges through that "real world."

"People refer to male alums as the `old boys' group, but Whim is sort of like the `old girls' group," Pearce said. "Many alumnae have lent a hand in any way they could, helping women through business and life. "Yes, it is a singing group, but it's also a very important group for women at Yale."

Indeed, besides its acclaimed art, theater and music schools, Yale has a long legacy of founding and supporting undergraduate singing groups, all of which have attracted many local fans in addition to supplying both Whim and the Whiffs with a host of talent. As with the Whiffs, Whim is a group through which a few, like Dea (a professional singer and voice coach in Toronto), may launch their professions - and see the world.

In the coming year (one that includes a new CD, "Independently Blue), the Whim will perform in such places as Chicago, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Vienna. "Just as soon as we're done with graduation, we're picking up and flying to Japan," said Kathryn "Kat" Ogletree, a lifelong singer and a current member of Whim. "Whim is a great way to cap off your a cappella career at Yale. A lot of us have come from the farm teams, so to speak, to Whim, which is the big leagues."

This big-league status has taken some years to acquire. The first members of the group didn't have much time for harmonizing. "Our inaugural year was really a labor of love. We wanted to put something in place for future singers," Dea said. After gaining status as an official university club, Whim began working with Fenno Heath, a renowned music professor and, at the time, the conductor of the Yale Glee Club, who secured a time slot for Whim in the glee club practice room. During the spring of '81, the singing crew developed a repertoire of three songs for a joint concert with the Whiffs, after which the male group donated the proceeds to Whim.

Since then, the members of Whim have remained the premier women's singing group on campus, aside from one year, 1993, in which the previous class decided not to choose successors. After a season without Whim n' Rhythm, however, a group of alumnae living in New York City held auditions for 1994's troupe, set up an endowment and brought the group back to Yale. Since then, Whim has not missed a concert.

Posted by acapnews at January 5, 2007 12:29 AM