At an a capella concert during Harvard-Yale weekend last month, Harvard alumni took to the stage at Yale.
As per tradition, the Harvard Krokodiloes invited former members in attendance at the concert to perform the group’s alumni song, “Johnny O’ Connor.” About ten former Kroks, ranging from recent graduates to men in their late seventies, joined the current members on stage. Though decades had passed since the last performance of many of these singers, most of them remembered not only the lyrics but also the choreography.
The founding of the Krokodiloes out of the Hasty Pudding Social Club in 1946 marked the beginning of a capella at Harvard. In the last half century, a capella at the College has expanded to include many groups that comprise a growing but tight-knit musical community on campus.
The culture amongst Harvard’s most competitive groups can sometimes seem intense—from the “Hell Week” of auditions to daily half-days of practice prior to concerts to inter-group rivalries. Yet members like the alumni singers at the Krokodiloes concert possess a life-long loyalty to their ensembles. And singers say they love this avenue for participating in the school’s musical scene.
With a rising number of a capella groups on campus and group admittance rates sometime lower than the College’s own acceptance rate of about six percent, the first step of joining an a capella group—an audition process called “Hell Week”—can be both stressful and exhilarating for current and prospective members.
The College sports more than ten a capella groups, including recent additions such as KeyChange, a co-ed group that performs music from the black diaspora, and Shani, a Jewish a capella group. Ensembles vary in gender composition, musical choices, and performance style.
During Hell Week, students can audition for one, some, or all of the groups, which host preliminary auditions and multiple callback nights. Auditioners face tough competition, and many pour hours into practicing before auditions, auditioning for current members, and preparing for callbacks.
Jason S. Friedman ’16, now a member of co-ed contemporary group The Veritones, says that he knew he wanted to sing in a co-ed group going into the audition process because the all-male groups on campus do not sing contemporary music. Though he had prepared songs before coming to college, he says that he spent a few hours a day warming up and practicing solo cuts for each night of callbacks.
Other singers, like Veritones member Skip L. Rosamilia ’17, decided to audition for all of the groups.
Rosamilia says he spent a significant amount of time in practice rooms selecting a song and then practicing to become comfortable with singing the song in front of different groups. “It seemed like [in] every free moment, I had to be really efficient,” he says of audition week. As an incoming freshman adjusting to college life, he adds, managing work during audition week was especially difficult.
Similarly, Michael A. Paladino ’17, a member of the Krokodiloes, says that on any given night he had about six hours of auditions. “Audition week was basically a week where my main event of each day was a capella, and class just seemed to get in the way,” he says.
The stress of Hell Week, however, does not fall only on auditioners. William D. Horton ’15, the musical director of the Veritones, says current members of the group must also prepare for auditions and often deliberate until 3 or 4 a.m. when determining which auditioners to call back. Out of a pool of more than 100 applicants, Horton says, the Veritones could only offer spots to five auditioners.
Hell Week culminates in the Final Night, during which final auditions take place and auditioners complete a preference sheet to indicate which group they will join if they receive multiple invitations. Group members discuss their experiences in a capella and try to convince auditioners to select their group.
“It was almost a tease to show us how great the group is and how much we want to get in,” Rosamilia says.
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