A cappella performances, once relegated to the steps of a university library or nave of a campus church, have now become mainstream, if not blockbuster, entertainment. Over the past decade, unaccompanied singing groups delivering smooth, layered harmonies have won an ever-growing fan base. Chart-topping, voice-only songs have blasted across the small screen, in television shows “Glee” and “The Sing-Off,” and the big screen too, with the hit “Pitch Perfect” movie franchise. And the popular quintet Pentatonix now counts three Grammys and more than 3 billion views on its YouTube channel.
The elevation of a cappella from niche genre to pop phenom has, no doubt, been long in coming for The Whiffenpoofs. The 110-year-old Yale singing group, which is bringing its dynamic vibes and dashing presence to local stages twice in the next month, first enjoyed widespread renown when Rudy Vallee (Class of 1927) recorded a version of the group’s signature “The Whiffenpoof Song.” While the anthem had its heyday years later, as the theme tune of the legendary World War II Black Sheep Squadron of the U.S. Marines, enthusiasm for the songsters’ art form has now taken on an unprecedented fevered pitch.
“We now do 200 to 250 concerts a year,” says Nick Massoud, the Whiffs’ business manager and one of the 14 members in the traveling troupe (all seniors). “And we make a point of trying to hit venues near every member’s hometown.”
The Whiffenpoofs’ performances at Port Washington’s Landmark on Main Street theater on Sunday and Tilles Center in Brookville on Feb. 23, work toward satisfying their mandate. “My worlds are colliding,” says second tenor Daniel Rudin, a Yale music major who grew up in Dix Hills.
Whiffenpoof baritone Mohit Sani, who is studying economics, is from Great Neck. Strengthening the connection to local talent, the Schreiber High School A Cappella Chorus will be singing the opening set at Landmark.
Naturally, audiences can expect to hear the “The Whiffenpoof Song” — also recorded by Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, Louis Armstrong and others — along with an extensive playlist ranging from standards to contemporary pop. One of the group’s newest numbers, Sara Bareilles’ bluesy “Manhattan,” was arranged by tenor Sofia Campoamor, the first and only woman to sport the Whiffs' trademark white bow tie and tails.
Whichever songs they sing, some concertgoers may feel it's not enough. As one critic lamented when a performance ended, “We had just a whiff . . . and then poof! They were gone.”