Yale music groups' holiday activities range from appearing on "Martha Stewart Living" to singing at the White House

Martha Stewart’s weekday morning program – well known for it’s cozy atmosphere and colorful accents – will be saturated in blue Christmas Eve.

Yale blue, that is.

The Alley Cats, one of Yale University’s popular a cappella singing groups, will appear on Stewart’s syndicated program, “Martha Stewart Living,” Dec. 24. The 17-member, all-male ensemble will sing holiday favorites in a segment taped at Stewart’s Westport, CT, studio in November. The program also will feature interviews with group members and footage of the ensemble rehearsing on the Yale campus. The segments will be repeated on Stewart’s weekend program.

The Alley Cats is among scores of Yale undergraduate musical groups that perform on and off campus throughout the year. Always in high demand, the groups are especially sought-after during the holiday season. Many ensembles use the three-week recess between fall and spring semesters to tour outside the New Haven area. Several groups will embark on winter tours over the next few weeks; their combined itinerary includes stops in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., St. Louis, Miami, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Omaha and Canada.

Yale undergraduates volunteer their time to participate in University-affiliated music groups, which range in style and emphasis from gospel choir to klezmer band to barbershop quartet to chamber and symphony orchestras to jazz and pop. Being a music major is not a requirement, but the high performance standard and limited number of openings (many singing groups, for instance, keep their ranks under 20) can make participation a prestigious distinction. For example, membership in the Yale Whiffenpoofs, the oldest collegiate singing group in the country, is considered quite an honor.

Although membership requirements differ for each group, they can be rigorous. For instance, each year the Alley Cats, the Whiffenpoofs and about a dozen other a cappella groups hold a three-week “rush” for incoming freshmen. The groups present joint concerts and hold repeated auditions and vocal workshops for, as well as dine with, prospective members. The process culminates with a campus-wide “Tap Night,” during which group members disperse to find the newly agreed-upon frosh inductees. Once located, the lucky freshmen are literally shoulder tapped into membership.

“The whole process helps you get to know the student,” says Brian Sogol, business manager of Mixed Company. The 20-member group, whose musical excellence is often wrapped in jocular delivery, performed at the White House Dec. 8. “Each group has a different flavor. You’re really going to spend a lot of time with each other, and a group can really function as a family away from home.”

Music-group participation also can lead to memorable experiences, as well as help extend and strengthen Yale ties. Semi-annual CDs are released by many ensembles. The local Yale Club is a frequent tour stop, and individual engagements often are arranged by Yale graduates – many of them music group alumni. The Society of Orpheus and Bacchus recently performed at a Yale alumnus’ production company; another alumnus, a producer for the upcoming film “American Beauty,” has invited Baker’s Dozen to sing at Paramount Studios during the group’s winter tour of the Los Angeles area. Baker’s Dozen also will sing at a ski resort in Utah, exchanging performances for ski lift tickets. The Society of Orpheus and Bacchus and the all-female singing group Something Extra have similar bartering arrangements during their tours.

Alley Cat members continue to be “tremendously excited” about their appearance on Stewart’s program, but it is only part of the ensemble’s holiday activities. After seeing themselves on television, the Alley Cats will hit the road, performing at public schools and private functions in the tri-state area. Whim ‘n’ Rhythm – considered the female counterpart to the Whiffenpoofs – also plans several stops at public middle and high schools during the group’s Long Island tour. In addition to singing and conducting music workshops at the schools, Whim ‘n’ Rhythm will present a public concert in Amityville Jan. 8.

Also performing at schools in the Long Island/New York City area will be Proof of the Pudding, which may sing at Rockefeller Center as well. Out of the Blue – a coed group whose repertoire includes the classics of Gershwin and Porter along with the contemporary hits of U2 and Seal – also expects to perform at Rockefeller Center, and at the Museum of Modern Art and several New York City department stores. The group will tour St. Louis elementary and high schools Jan. 2-9. The Yale Glee Club’s tour of parts of Wisconsin, Ohio, Canada and upstate New York will include a New Year’s Eve performance in Buffalo.

Miami schoolchildren will be able to enjoy the Spizzwinks’ special brand of jazz standards, traditional ballads and fun-filled rock ‘n’ roll. The group also will perform a benefit concert for a Miami hospital. On the way back to Connecticut, the ensemble will make stops in Atlanta and Washington, D.C.

Other Yale groups performing in the nation’s capital during winter recess include New Blue and the Duke’s Men, which will present a Dec. 21 White House concert. The group’s winter tour includes singing the national anthem for the New York Islanders Jan. 5 game and a possible “Today Show” appearance Jan. 4.

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