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Arts and Culture

Yale's Whiffenpoofs A Cappella Group Admits First Woman

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The oldest collegiate a cappella group in the country is The Whiffenpoofs at Yale. They have been around since 1909, and since 1909, they have been all male - well, not anymore. This year, junior Sofia Campoamor will join, becoming the first woman Whiffenpoof. We've got her via Skype at her dorm room in New Haven. Sofia, hey there, and congratulations.

SOFIA CAMPOAMOR: Hello. Thank you so much.

KELLY: Set the stage for us by just explaining how big of a deal are the Whiffenpoofs at Yale.

CAMPOAMOR: They're a pretty big deal. A cappella is a really big cultural phenomenon at Yale. There's a lot of a cappella groups at the first year through junior level. And so when singers really like a cappella and they become seniors, a lot of people will audition for The Whiffenpoofs, as well as for Whim 'n Rhythm.

KELLY: Well, this prompts my next question, which is why did it matter to you to join The Whiffenpoofs? Because there are a lot of a cappella groups, female and co-ed groups, that you could've joined instead.

CAMPOAMOR: So I've actually been singing with a different a cappella group, Mixed Company of Yale, an all-gender group, for the past three years. And so now it's time for me to be thinking about senior options. I always had really enjoyed the music of The Whiffenpoofs and as well as the opportunities that were available by joining the group. They have traditionally taken a year off to travel the whole world, and they really just have a level of resources and opportunity that none of the other groups have been able to access just because they've been around the longest.

KELLY: And they literally take a year off - this is after junior year, before senior year - and travel and perform.

CAMPOAMOR: Exactly. So they go all over the world, and they take the time off, and then they come back and do their senior year afterwards.

KELLY: Let me ask you about one of the objections that has been raised over the years to women joining, and that's that The Whiffenpoofs, as we've said, have a lot of traditions. They have a traditional repertoire that is by definition designed for male voices, for lower voices. Their traditional closing number is "Gentlemen Songsters Off On A Spree." Are you going to sing it?

CAMPOAMOR: I will be singing it. I don't know exactly what we'll decide about the words, but I'll definitely be singing the closing song. I think one of the things that's really important to understand is that it really is about the music and the repertoire. And the reality is that the upper tenor parts will actually be higher than they would. So the ranges of the notes are actually pretty similar to what an alto might be singing in a different group.

KELLY: Sofia, a lot of people are going to be looking forward to and excited to hear your voice up on that stage. Do you want to sing us out, maybe something you sang for your audition that got you that spot?

CAMPOAMOR: Sure, that sounds good. I sang a song called "Manhattan" by Sara Bareilles, who's one of my favorite singers and songwriters. (Singing) You can have Manhattan. I know that's what you want. The bustle...

KELLY: That is Yale junior Sofia Campoamor. She is the first female member of the Yale Whiffenpoofs, and you just heard why.

CAMPOAMOR: (Singing) To save you some space for somebody new. You can have Manhattan 'cause I can't have you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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