On Friday, Oct. 12, 2018, Community Ensemble Theater (CET) students and a few teachers excitedly rushed into the Craft Theater. The students talked of the Whiffenpoofs, a famous a cappella group who were coming to Ann Arbor. Among them was CHS and CET alumni Isaac Scobey-Thal. Because CET was extremely important to Scobey-Thal while he was in high school, he had arranged for a short private performance for them. He would be coming back to the old black box in which he spent countless of his high school hours, this time to perform with the “Whiffs.”
The Whiffenpoofs are a historical all-male a capella group comprised of seniors at Yale who, instead of completing their senior year, travel around the world on a performance. The following year the members will return to Yale to finish their senior year. The Whiffenpoofs started in 1909 when four male seniors began singing together at a local Yale restaurant called Morys. Those four seniors passed it onto younger members of the Glee Club, and it has been a tradition ever since. This year, around 50 seniors auditioned to be part of the Whiffenpoofs; only 14 were chosen
“It wasn’t made to be intense,” said Sen Huang, another member of the group. “But the fact that there was only an audition and no callback and it was just a one-shot kind of thing made it sort of nerve-wracking.”
“[Being a Whiffenpoof is] a life-changing thing,” Scobey-Thal said, agreeing with his other members. “A lot hinges on 30 minutes.”
Scobey-Thal was shocked when he got the call that he was accepted. “I was so so elated [because] our year was particularly competitive when it came to talent,” Scobey-Thal said. “None of us felt like it was a sure shot that we’d be getting in.”
Aside from becoming a Whiffenpoof, Scobey-Thal also acquired a group of 13 amazing friends. Jacob Miller, another member of the Whiffenpoofs, remarked that the experience would not be the same without his fellow “Whiffs.”
“Being in this group of 14 people has been incredible,” Miller said. “It’s a huge amount of time and there are a lot of situations that could be stressful and I have found myself sort of being able to relax because of the people I am with.”
This year is special for the Whiffenpoofs because it is the first year a woman has been part of the group. Women had been auditioning in protest for years, but this was the first year the Whiffenpoofs decided to hold auditions without considering gender.
“It’s very exciting to be the first,” said Sofia Campoamor, the first female Whiffenpoof after 100 years of male a cappella. The Whiffenpoofs changed their policy due to many different reasons. There are two senior a capella groups at Yale: one all female and the other all male.
“There was really no space for people who didn’t identify as man or woman,” Campoamor said. “It didn’t make sense to have a system like that. I think our senior a capella system is something that we are still continuing to look at and question and see how we can improve just because our institution has a different history, because Yale was only male for so many years.”
Scobey-Thal believes the move to have both groups accept people of any gender is the first of many reforms to make the opportunities in a capella more equitable.
Campoamor feels accepted within the Whiffenpoofs, who have integrated her into the group. “I think I lucked out being with a group of people where I feel so comfortable in my gender and being a minority in this setting,” Campoamor said.