By Ellen Butler
Unigo Campus Rep at Vassar College
Vassar students are never at a loss for which groups to belong to. There’s a synchronized ice skating group. There’s a circus troupe that juggles fire. There are handfuls of student theater troupes and comedy troupes. There’s even a knitting group.
Vassar is also home to what some might say is an excessive amount of a cappella groups. At last count, there were eight altogether, which, for a college of 2,400 students, means that about 1 out of every 20 students on campus belongs to an a cappella group. While each group has its own personality and repertoire, most students would probably say that one group in particular stands out from the others. Like all a cappella groups, they do not perform with music of any kind—but unlike other a cappella groups, they don’t sing. They whistle.
AirCappella, Vassar College’s whistling a cappella group, has been around for almost four years now, and has certainly made its mark despite its short existence. Just last January, in fact, AirCappella was invited to perform at a conference for Advil Cold & Sinus in Atlanta, Georgia, where they whistled “Eye of the Tiger,” wearing snazzy headset microphones that would make any pop princess envious. “They even choreographed some dance moves.
It was pretty ridiculous,” said Sadie Burzan, a sophomore and this year’s AircaPresident. (A word to the wise: anything regarding AirCappella should be preceded by “Airca,” e.g. “Aircaparty” or “Aircacookies.”) Aside from being minor celebrities in the pharmaceutical field, AirCappella performs at many of the same venues where Vassar’s other a cappella groups perform, such as street fairs, alumni events, and the A Cappella Preview Concert, which happens at the beginning of every school year to introduce the incoming freshmen to all of the a cappella options Vassar has to offer.
Many of the current members of AirCappella, however, knew well before about the whistling group, and a number of them came to Vassar in part because of it. “I found out about AirCappella during an information session in my junior year of high school. I wouldn’t tell my parents, but it was one of my five best reasons for going to Vassar,” said Mike Longue, a freshman in the group. Ben Creed, a senior, told a similar story. He heard about AirCappella at a welcome reception for admitted students in the spring of my senior year of high school. “When the ‘all-whistling a cappella group’ was mentioned, my mom and I just turned and looked at each other, stunned at the coincidence. I whistle all the time. AirCappella was sort of a sign that I should come to Vassar.”
As with most other a cappella groups, AirCappella has a fairly eclectic repertoire. A sampling includes what they consider their signature song, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by The Tokens, as well as “Happy Together” by The Turtles, “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” by The Beatles, “Toxic” by Britney Spears, and “Moondance” by Van Morrison. While it may take an audience member a few seconds to figure out what song the group is singing, the group does an excellent job of making their songs recognizable to anyone. Their rehearsal is also similar to those of singing a cappella groups: they divide into parts, gather around an iPod and speakers to pick out what line they should whistle, and have a conductor who guides them through the songs. It’s completely student-run, and collaboration seems to be an essential part of what they do. Oh, and something else to mention: what they do is exceptionally difficult. Singing on pitch is one thing, but to whistle one part on pitch while surrounded by about eight other people whistling something different is impressive, to say the very least.
At this point, AirCappella knows of only one other whistling a cappella group in the country, so “Calling it the most unique group on campus shouldn’t be too much of a stretch,” as Mike put it. Jeremy Bloom, another freshman in the group, agreed. “Not only are we the most unique group on campus but I may also dare to say we are one of the most unique a cappella groups in the world.”
Clearly, the members of AirCappella are exceptionally proud of what they do—but what about the rest of campus? Everyone in college at some time or another tires of hearing that one group sing “The Longest Time” by Billy Joel for the 8,000th time, but whistling? The group, for the most part, has received positive feedback from students on campus. “When people first hear of our existence, they think it's a neat, clever, curious, odd idea. Then when they hear us perform they're surprised how good it sounds,” said Ben. Andrew Shapransky, a sophomore in the group, admitted that perhaps, “Most people on campus think we're really weird. I don't blame them, we are. But people seem to enjoy seeing us live.”
Regardless of what students’ opinions are, AirCappella is just one slice of what makes Vassar so great. As Sadie put it, “I think a lot of people love us, because we're funny and novel. Some people just don't care for any sort of a cappella, and some people aren't too keen on whistling. But I think we're one of those things that keeps Vassar weird, and people appreciate that.”
Straight from the Source: What do people say when you tell them you’re in a whistling a cappella group?
“They laugh and say, ‘Of course you are Jeremy!’ with complete sincerity.” -Jeremy Bloom, freshman, undecided
“‘Will you whistle something for me?’ is the most common reaction. Most people are really impressed.” -Sadie Burzan, sophomore, Germanic Studies major
“They laugh. It's such a ridiculous thing to be in. People usually ask me to whistle for them on the spot. I love when I'm around musicians so I can whistle with them...my favorite was when I whistled while someone played the ukelele and someone else played bongos. That was a blast.” -Andrew Shapransky, sophomore, Economics/Psychology double major
“They pause, smile, sometimes laugh, say, ‘That's so cool!’ or ‘That's crazy!’” –Ben Creed, senior, Urban Studies/Hispanic Studies double major.