Tag Archives: Yale

Something About Singers

There’s something about singers.

For those of us who sing in the shower and wisely nowhere else, the bond among singers is difficult to understand.

My husband and I met in college at Yale, but I wasn’t his first love. A year before our paths converged, he was introduced to a capella singing, and he fell head over heels. He sang first with a group called The Duke’s Men, then as a senior with The Whiffenpoofs. Music and singing shaped his entire college experience — his friendships, his personal growth, even his academic development. When he applied to law school, his personal statement was about touring with the Whiffs, singing and socializing with a Japanese university choir. That experience provided more than a bridge between two languages; their singing, together, created a shared language.

At Yale, the social scene revolving around a cappella singing was big. Actually, huge. For three semesters, I was happily involved in other activities, entirely unaware. Then spring term, sophomore year, I met the man I’d eventually marry, and my a capella education began.

I don’t mean voice lessons. I continued to pursue my own activities (which should evoke deepest gratitude from every voice teacher in the greater New Haven area). I learned that singing is a powerful force, connecting and affirming. Singers have a curious relationship to music — physical and emotional, personal and interpersonal. They sing for themselves, for each other, for their audience. Their voices become the ties that bind, simultaneously reaching deep within and soaring beyond their own parameters.

When he was tapped into the Whiffenpoofs as a senior, my not-yet-husband stepped into a new level of musicality. The Whiffs created wonderful sounds, but they were also unmistakably college kids — high on their own power source, losing their equilibrium at every turn, swept into the currents of their own undertow. Some of their ties strengthened, others strained, a few snapped. They graduated and scattered.

Then everything changed.

My husband and I attended the first Whiff reunion, five years out of college. I watched these men meet, this time as adults. They talked. Then they sang. Before my eyes, they moved firmly together, their voices connected in consonance and in dissonance. I realized — and I watched them realize — they were bonded for life. I’ve never seen a transformation quite like it.

Every five years, for over thirty years, they’ve met. Each time, they reaffirm their vows to each other and to their music.  I’m not always a part of their reunions, but when I am, I’m awed. It’s wonderful, startling, beyond reason, absolutely baffling — and it always will be.

There’s something about singers.

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Filed under a capella singing, singers, Uncategorized, Whiffenpoofs, Yale

LGBT Pride Month: Yale Has Come A Long Way

A few weeks into my first semester at Yale, I was walking to the Silliman dining hall, when I ran into a group of freshmen on their way to Commons. I was quiet by nature, and always preferred small to large. Everything about Commons felt too big and too loud. But I hadn’t yet found my social footing, so I was pleased when my classmates asked me to join them.

The day was sunny and warm, perfect New Haven post-summer-pre-winter weather. We all wore jeans and T-shirts, backpacks slung over our shoulders, comfortable in the light breeze. We were near the entrance to Commons, when I heard a student raise his voice: “Nobody wants you here!”

I turned and saw a folding table with three young women. Their petition was short and simple, asking people to support gay and lesbian students. The young man who yelled was surrounded, a pack of five men, threatening and condescending. The three women were clearly upset, but stood their ground.

I barely registered my lunch group’s calling for me to “come on” and “hurry up”. Instead, I slowly walked back to the table. Quietly, I signed the petition. The women thanked me politely, although their eyes were on the pack, as were mine. I can still picture those boys – all in polo shirts, trim and fit, Gentlemen’s Quarterly handsome. I met each of their eyes, and they stared back. A few grinned brazenly; one looked me over and licked his lips. I was unable to speak.

In my high school, gay boys were constantly targeted, verbally and physically. But violence was common, because my high school’s population included several gangs, always ready to erupt. Yes, the gay boys were bullied terribly. But most of the violence at school was between rival gangs. Surrounded by the fireworks of gang warfare, I failed to identify the magnitude of homophobia as a source. Even more naively, I never expected to find bigotry in college.

I don’t remember much about that lunch, except the stares from the group. When I finally found my voice and asked what was wrong, the bravest of the bunch spoke up: “Are you gay?” I shook my head and they exchanged baffled glances. The girl to my right put down her glass of milk. “Then why did you sign the petition?”

I walked to my next class slowly, knowing I had done something terribly wrong. It took me weeks to figure out that I should have returned to that folding table, and stood with those three women. I should have found my voice, spoken up, said that if “Nobody wanted them here”, then I was glad to be “Nobody”.

Over time, I found my group of friends at Yale. I stopped being frightened of polo shirts. I began to hit my academic stride, and my confidence grew. I ate at Commons, and felt comfortable. I learned to handle big and loud. By the end of my first year, I had fallen head over heels in love with Yale. But I was also disturbingly aware that during my bright college years, the people on the LGBTQ+ spectrum often had a tough time, navigating an environment that pulsed with overt and covert hostility.

I’m told that Yale has grown, changed and evolved into a safe and supportive environment for people of any sexuality and sexual identity. Now, when I look over the curriculum for Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, I’m impressed. Back in my time at college, I was involved in Student-to-Student Counseling; now I read about Walden Peer Counseling, Pathways Peer Counseling, Queer Peers at Yale – and I feel a surge of pride for my alma mater. I’ll forgive Yale for needing time to evolve, and I’ll ask those 3 women at that folding table to forgive me for my silence, for walking away on that day back in 1976. I, too, needed time to evolve.

Yale has come a long way.

Happy LGBT Pride Month.


Filed under college, LGBT Pride Month, Yale

Light, Truth and Peter Rabbit

Several years ago, I stood at my college reunion, in the Timothy Dwight courtyard, under a gigantic tent shielding us from the pounding rain. A friend asked how I’d describe my quintessential experience as an undergrad. Intense adolescent relationships that evolved into lifelong friendships? An education founded on insatiable curiosity? Professors whose lectures moved me to tears? All true. But for me, more than any one of those, Beinecke Rare Book Library captured the essence of my four years at Yale.

I wandered into Beinecke in my rookie year, unhinged by my first set of midterms, looking for a quiet place to regroup. The cold was sharp for a Californian, and I hurried along Wall Street, avoiding the more populated Elm. I glanced to the right, and found myself facing an odd structure, strangely beautiful. I had passed by several times, but this time I stopped.

To this day, I’ve never seen anything as compelling as Beinecke. The walls are white marble squares – thick, strong, bizarrely translucent. The level of humidity, the placement of the sun, the density of the clouds all guide the light through the marble, a canvas always quivering, shifting, alive. Grays, browns and whites interweave with hints of yellows and pinks, a spectrum simultaneously limited and infinite. Shapes created by the light chase each other through the marble blocks, changing as a breeze repositions a cloud, a ray of sun gives way to a shadow – designs born of the unpredictable.

The center of the library is a gigantic pillar, encased in clear glass, holding several soaring levels of rare books and manuscripts. Hundreds of thousands of works. Written history. Yours, mine, ours. Inspiring, riveting, oddly comforting.

The surrounding area, open to the public, holds several glass cases, each with a rare book or manuscript. On that reunion weekend, I was greeted by two Gutenberg Bibles. I then moved on to Beatrix Potter, Alice In Wonderland, and maps of the “100 Aker Wood” from The World Of Pooh. I admired manuscripts from San Francisco and Marseilles, and smiled in surprise at a case of pages covered in startlingly bright silk, crimson and royal blue.

This weird and wonderful place captures my college experience – a time of compatible juxtapositions. Clunky blocks of impenetrable rock with light effortlessly flowing through. A Gutenberg Bible companionably next to Peter Rabbit. Serious and playful. Respectful and lighthearted. Reverent and fun. Beinecke makes no sense whatsoever, and somehow reinstates meaning and truth.

Beinecke and I met decades ago at a personal low point. Crushed and demoralized, I wondered if my career at Yale would end with those first exams. But it didn’t. I figured out how to take a test. I discovered I enjoyed writing papers. I stopped worrying that I was the most pathetic specimen ever to be admitted. I learned and struggled and learned more. Over time, I forgot to be afraid when I struggled. I had fun. I returned to Beinecke possibly thirty times during those four years, through ups and downs, calms and storms, disappointments and triumphs.

I don’t remember the exhibit on display when I first entered. I don’t remember the precise palette of light on Beinecke’s walls that day. I do remember my amazement. Even more, I remember that as I journeyed around the second floor, my curiosity returned and with it, confidence followed by perspective. Yale and I were a new relationship. We were off to a rocky start, but we had four years to work it out.

And we did.


Filed under Beinecke, college, library, Rare books, reunion, Yale