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Singing... For Their Supper

Harvard's Students Choose Island Performing Get-Aways

By Leondra R. Kruger

It's the day before spring break and you've turned in your last blue book. You throw your Chem 17 textbook into the corner, pick up your bags and hit the door. Two and a half hours later you've landed on some sundrenched airstrip where tropical island breezes blow all thoughts of midterms from your mind.

Think you've left Harvard behind? Think again.

Sharing the sun, sand and surf with you are the Din and Tonics, the Krokodiloes, the Opportunes, the Pitches and Hasty Pudding Theatricals.

A cappella groups--don't leave home without them.

Maybe it's the proximity to the Bermuda Triangle, but vacationing Harvard students say their classmates are eerily ubiquitous on an island about the size of a Dunster single.

"The island is small enough that you can't avoid anybody," says Ian R. Liston '96, business manager--and second tenor--of the Harvard Din and Tonics.

Members of the island-bound Harvard groups say tropical spring break performances are the high points of the musical year. "I'm so psyched," says Opportune Anne B. Allison '97 on the threshold of her departure. "That's a given."

The appeal of the performing arts spring break is simple: It's warm and it's free. But it's also a chance for group members to get to know each other outside of their weekly rehearsals.

"It was really the point last year where we pulled together," Liston says of last year's trip.

Of course, the appeal may be more than the promise of musical camaraderie. With low or non-existent drinking ages, some performers say it is easier to hold a steady pitch than to walk a steady line.

"You try not to be drunk for the concert," says Amy B. Brown '97 of the Opportunes.

'That Sort of Arty Thing'

The average spring break day in the life of a Din, says Mahau Ma '97, means getting up to "a fantastic brunch," and hitting the beach for "sand [and] waves." In the evening, the group heads to the restaurant or hotel where it will perform that night.

Like the Dins, the Kroks' vehicle of choice is the moped. "We form this really long caravan of 12 guys in tuxes," says Daniel Gallisa '94-'95 of the Kroks. "Sometimes cars honk."

Although the dress if black-tie, the Kroks' performances tend to be, in Gallisa's words, "laid-back."

"As long as we entertain their audience, they don't care how drunk we are," he says.

The Dins sing two half-hour sets at several restaurants around the island. In between, the restaurant managers usually offer them dinner and drinks.

"By the second set, we're a bit looser," Ma says. "But the great thing is the audience is a little bit drunk, too."

When the performance is over, the groups often head to a local club--which, thanks to the large numbers of Harvard students in formal dress, sometimes ends up looking more like the Eliot Fete than a tropical hotspot.

Viv Redford, the owner of Oasis, the largest nightclub in Bermuda, says the swarm of Harvard students always makes a splash.

"The Hasty Pudding group always makes an appearance," Redford says. "They come with their props...and sometimes they take the stage, giving an impromptu performance...which always goes down very well."

But Redford says the club, which plays Top 40 music and hosts performances by a local classic rock band called the Kennel Boys--who play "in the style of the Gin Blossoms, Counting Crows and Hootie and the Blowfish"--welcomes the Harvard students no matter how they dress.

Redford says the Harvard students' formal-wear stands our from the uniforms of most college visitors, who choose the warm island climate for spring sports training.

"They're the only ones who come down to do that sort of arty thing down here," Redford says.

Better Than the Navy

The temptations of sun, sand and free drinks notwithstanding, Redford says, Harvard students are the souls of decorum.

"They enjoy themselves, just like everybody else," Redford says. "We see worse behavior when the Navy comes in."

Some students hint at a different story. "I wouldn't want to damage the reputation of the 'Tunes," Brown says. "Let's just say it's been hairy."

But aside from "the occasional moped wipe-out," Gallisa says the Bermuda trips are fairly uneventful.

And a good reputation can come in handy, group members say, since Bermuda's hotel owners tend to share information about particularly obnoxious guests.

"If you behave badly, your name will get circulated around the island," Liston says.

And no one wants to be blacklisted--after all, the groups have to sing for their supper.

Something For Everyone

And singing for their supper can sometimes mean catering to the local tastes.

The Opportunes, who are heading to Jamaica armed with their perennial favorite "Zombie Jamboree"--complete with Michael Jackson-inspired choreography--as well as a new arrangement of Bob Marley's "Stir It Up," have decided to include at least one crowd-pleasing reggae song in their repertoire.

"We sing more for the staff--the Jamaicans--than the cheesy American tourists," Brown says.

The groups heading to Bermuda, on the other hand, tend to aim their musical choices at an audience of older American and British tourists. "It really depends from concert to concert," says Michael J. Sun '97, the Kroks' tour manager. "But most of the ballads hit home."

Since most of their songs are taken from the 1920s, 30s and 40s, audiences tend to respond well to almost all of their music, Sun says.

In return for singing at island restaurants and hotels, the performers receive free food and lodging.

In return for nightly performances, The Opportunes, for instance, will stay for free at Sandals resorts in Montego Bay, Negril and at Dunn's River Falls in Jamaica.

And for the Bermuda crowd, free dinner and drinks seem to be the preferred method of payment. Members of the Kroks and the Dins say their dining experiences are first-class.

"I have never in my entire life--and my life up till this point has been pretty good--had so many wonderful culinary experiences in such a short period of time," Adrian D. Ashkenazy '96, a Krokodiloes bass, says.

A perennial favorite is the Four Ways Inn, which is popularly reputed to be one of "the four best restaurants in the world," Liston says.

There it is not uncommon for singers to feast on five-course meals consisting of "everything from rack of lamb, to exotic fish dishes and seafood to the world's best desserts," says Werner J. Kienberger, manager of the four-star Four Ways Inn in Bermuda.

Although meals are often pricy, Kienberger says hotel owners and restauranteers do not begrudge the performers their just desserts.

"Everybody will enjoy them," he says. "I even advertised in the local newspaper...We expect a full house."

So Many Students!

Because the nightlife in Bermuda is rather limited, Harvard students do tend to congregate frequently at the island's clubs and bars.

"You see all these people you know," Ma says. "It seems like Harvard owns the island."

Having so many Harvard students in such close quarters can become stifling, some members say.

According to Ashkenazy, the Bermuda spring break had its start as a Harvard performing arts institution with the Hasty Pudding Theatricals. The Kroks followed suit some 25 years ago, followed in turn by the Pitches and finally the Dins, who only recently began to make the trip south.

"It's such a small island," Ashkenazy says. "Sometimes I think it would be nice if every singing group could find its own island...It's nice to be able to call a tradition your own."

Of course, Ashkenazy says, the need to preserve "your little subculture" must be balanced with all the benefits of spending spring break with "very good friends" from other groups.

The four Harvard groups on Bermuda do, from time to time, get together. One tradition that has persisted is the annual Hasty Pudding-Krokodiloes volleyball match, when members of the two groups gather for an afternoon of good-spirited, non-musical rivalry.

One year at said volleyball game, Ashkenazy says he broke his arm thanks to "a little bit of horseplay and wrestling" with a member of the Hasty Pudding Theatricals.

Because the quality of island hospitals was a little dubious, Ashkenazy says, he had to be flown back to Boston in the middle of the week to have surgery.

"I'm going to be the referree this year," he adds.

The More the Merrier

Although some say the island is getting a little crowded, the tourist industry is delighted by Harvard student groups' apparent attraction.

"We will welcome as many of you as possible," says a spokesperson for the Bermuda Department of tourism. "Bring your whole school!"

A few more years and Harvard might do just that.

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