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.


Amy Kaufman Burk, Yale 1980, is a therapist-turned-author in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, in a school with over forty languages spoken among the students. The story deals with homophobic bullying in high school, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Amy’s second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case. This novel was written in support of same-sex parents, to fight the stigma of mental issues, and with deep respect for the human capacity to heal.

Amy’s Author Page On Amazon


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

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