An Ensemble Resolution of a Community Diversified

A Cappella Groups at Harvard

The a cappella groups are a timeless part of the rites of autumn. For the past few years, they have welcomed first-year students with their perenially popular Freshman Jam, and hardly an Ivy League football game passes without an a cappella ensemble celebrating it with a concert. The a capella groups have always revelled in this season of Ivy League festivity. Though the Krokodiloes have existed in their present form only since 1946, they date their tradition back to the founding of the Hasty Pudding Club in 1770.

Surveying the Music Scene Part One in a Series of Two

Indeed, a capella fanaticism is a distinctly Ivy League phenomenon. Associate Director of Choral Activities Beverly Taylor says the tradition grew out of the singing clubs and fraternities of England, and the Ivy League schools adopted the form because they had such close contact with universities such as Cambridge and Oxford.

But the a cappella groups are no longer the paragons of tradition they once were. They still perform in formal dress and, by definition, they still perform without accompaniment. But now the music scene has diversified considerably--female and co-ed ensembles have formed and survived. And the proliferation of distinct groups with distinct arrangements seems only to have heightened campus popularity, and cooperation within the musical community.

The modern a capella groups fall into four categories: all-male, all-female, co-ed, and special interest groups. With the advantage of history and generous alumni, the two all-male groups, The Krokodiloes and The Din & Tonics, remain the most prestigious. Traditionally, the Kroks played the famous Yale Game jam with the prestigious singing group, the Whiffenpoofs, but this year, the Dins were done the honor. Members acknowledge what they call a "friendly rivalry" between the groups, but that belies the scope of the changing community.

The Radcliffe Pitches benefit from their unique status as the only all-female group on campus. They are not as threatened as other groups by the spectre of competition. Indeed, they have the prerogative of choosing either the Dins or the Kroks to perform with them in concerts. And they occasionally perform in jams with the co-ed groups.

The co-ed category is the newest, and rapidly overtaking the all-male groups in prestige--The Veritones was the third and only non-male group to release their music on compact disc. The Opportunes and The Callbacks comprise the rest of the co-ed groups, and both of the young groups are increasingly popular.

Only one group to date comprises the special-interest group--Under Construction sees "sharing the Christian faith" as part of its musical mission, says member Lisa Park '91.

But the groups are as distinguishable in their musical styles and sounds as they are in their membership. The Kroks repertoire, for example, consists mainly of older popular songs.

"We don't feel comfortable singing modern music," says Larry C. O'Keefe '91, who left the group this fall. "When we do something in reference to rap, it's comic."

O'Keefe says the Dins have a more varied repertoire than the Kroks. Joe M. Hill '91, who left the Dins this fall, agrees.

"The Dins are not stiff and some other groups are," Hill says. "The Dins do new humor at every concert. They do new songs at every concert."

But Veritones member Timothy Krochuk '92 says he thinks that the Kroks and Dins are distinguished more by their stage presence than their sound. Krochuk says he thinks that the co-ed groups have a more "jazzy, brassy" sound than the single-sex groups. Opportunes member Daniel A. Singer '92 says his group tends to sing more modern numbers. "Current pop is one of our favorites," Singer says.

But Singer says parody is the Opportunes's specialty. The group tends "to change the words of a song that just came out to ones having to do with Harvard," he says. Singer cites a recent skit featuring the song "Bokman," and a number titled "VES Dropout," an adaptation of the classic "Beauty School Dropout" featured in the musical Grease.

The Callbacks claim more varied musical interests, and defy the stereotype of the focused a capella group, says President Jen E. Hunter '92.