Up until this year, Harvard’s a capella groups lined up in a well-recognized pecking order. The Krokodiloes, Pitches, Din and Tonics, Veritones, Callbacks and Opportunes were known as the “Grandfathered Six,” the only groups with the privilege of singing in Sanders Theater. On March 11, the Six became Seven as the Harvard Lowkeys, founded in the fall of 1999 by Susan E. Bell ’03, were admitted into a capella nobility.
The Lowkeys recently gained the rights to hold jams in Sanders Theater, as the six older a capella groups have been doing for over a decade. Lowkeys Vice President Eli J. Lederman ’03 describes the newly acquired rights as a “long road finished.” Lederman, President Oliver B. Libby ’03 and member Joshua R. Lacsina ’03 were all original members of the group. Lederman says that the goal was always that by graduation the group would be “fully self-sufficient,” or inducted into the “Grandfathered Seven.”
In order to fully enter into Harvard mainstream a capella, the group had to go through an arduous ritual. First, the Lowkeys had to become an officially recognized student group. With Harvard’s official seal of approval in Fall 2000 the group could then operate a website on Harvard’s network, get a student mailbox, be listed among other official student groups, poster on campus, and most importantly, use Harvard space for rehearsal and performance.
Sanders Theater, however, is not automatically open to any student group who wishes to perform there. Sanders has a set number of performance dates open to a capella groups per year. In order to be part of the negotiations for these dates, a group had to be part of the “grandfathered six.” At first, it seemed as if this a capella aristocracy was impenetrable. The “grandfathered six” are so entrenched that Program Manager of Sanders Theater Julie Henrikus says “I’ve been here 12 years and the grandfathered six have always just been here.” Moreover, there was no proscribed method of breaking into the group. The Sanders staff told the Lowkeys that in order to gain performance rights they would have to demonstrate “just cause” by proving that they were skilled musically; could sell enough tickets; and fit in with the image of Harvard’s premier performance space.
The Lowkeys waited until this year to vie for Sanders rights because they wanted to be sure that they had demonstrated their cause fully. They did so by selling out Lowell Lecture Hall and Paine Hall twice for free, and selling out Paine a final time with paid tickets.
The a capella community at Harvard has always had mixed feeling about the Lowkeys. Some groups, such as the Dins, Veritones and Callbacks have been especially helpful in assisting the Lowkeys establish themselves. Other groups have not been so accepting. William P. Kang ’03 of the Krokodiloes, however, denies there is any animosity toward the new kids on the block amongst the established groups. “As long as Sanders can accomodate without bumping out the older groups, it’s great,” he says. Libby believes that some people assumed that because of their name, the Lowkeys were a lesser group of singers. He would reply empthatically that “lowkey is an attitude not a quality.” In fact, according to Libby, the group practices at least as much as the other coed a capella groups, if not more.
For other musical groups looking to hit the big time at Sanders, Libby proffers some hard-won advice: “It took aggressive work on musicality and publicity combined with deference to the administration and older a capella groups. That’s the secret.”