Feel the Rush: Yale A Cappella

A week into A Cappella Rush, I had 8 folders crammed with wrinkled and marked sheets of music. My common room was awash with mounds of flyers that avalanched frequently enough to create a constant bed of papers around my desk. I felt like I was subsisting on sorrys: sorry the room is a wreck, sorry I won’t shut up, sorry I won’t be able to have any meal with you all for an entire week.

When I originally applied to Yale, I thought A Capella looked *fun*. Singing has been a passion of mine since age 0, and I did choir in high school. I thought I’d give it a go, not realizing what exactly A Cappella at Yale meant. Since I’m assuming future people reading this article will be in a similar situation and that people who are reading this article now are curious as to what A Cappella rush is, I’m going to provide an overall layout of the process.

A Cappella Rush, my suitemate told me as I hurried to learn a piece of music before a callback, is like Greek life at a state school on steroids.

Dead on.

There are 4 main parts to A Capella Rush:

1. Listening to all of the groups

This is to get an idea of which ones you like best. They’re all amazing, regardless of what genres of music they sing. There are two occassions for this: Woolsey Jam, in which you, along with hundreds of other people, listen to all of the groups perform; and another, almost identically-structured group sampler in Dwight Hall. For both, each group performs 2 songs and shows off their specific qualities.


Some general categories of group are:
a. Guy groups have fun enchanting the audience with elaborate and amusing displays. Essentially, they’re crazy. But funny. Probably don’t rush them if you can’t do basic movements like rubbing your ass and grinding (and generally acting in an absurd manner).

New move: the pigeon flap.

b. Girl groups showcase their nonchalant coolness. Essentially, they can’t get the crazy on, but they don’t need it. They’re all very quirky (in a good way) and have their own personalities. Probably don’t rush them if you have a fear of cults.

The glam cam.

c. Finally, mixed groups pulse to the beat of their tunes while also having the mix of female/male voices to produce a very full sound. These groups are all very different and have by far the most interesting and disturbing stories of mayhem abroad on tour (ask them about funny/interesting tour stories). Example: telling a girl at a concert to “take my hand” (song lyrics) when said girl somehow didn’t have a physical hand. Uncomfortable. Probably don’t rush them if you can’t handle weird.

At least move in the right direction.

I auditioned for both all-female groups and mixed groups, while some people choose to only audition for unisex groups or mixed groups. It depends on preference.

Some specifics on Woolsey Jam, the event to kick off A Cappella Rush:
It’s for a cappella rushees and laymen alike, and let me tell you, it’s hot. Woolsey doesn’t have air conditioning and the fans blowing at the back of the auditorium are utterly ineffective. While people do leave Woolsey Jam throughout the night (Woolsey Jam is long, ~2 hours), the initial number of people who come is large enough to fill all ground floor seating. The result is that the sweltering heat of summer is compounded by hundreds of warm bodies. Everyone sits forward in their chairs so that their backs aren’t saturated with sweat. A guy who was sitting in front of me came away from Woolsey with his linen shirt visibly soaked all the way through. Be warned.


Some specifics on Dwight Hall, the next event after Woolsey:
Dwight is like Woolsey, except geared at people who are genuinely interested in rushing a cappella. It too lasts for ~2 hours, after which you have to sign up at each group’s booth for auditions.
Originally, I wasn’t going to even rush a few groups by the end of the Dwight Hall performances, but I wasn’t prepared for the mania of signing up for auditions. As soon as the last group (The Whiffenpoofs, the all-senior all-male singing group) finished, the entire chapel space broke out into chaos. Lining the rows of the audience were tables for each a cappella group stationed with several laptops for audition sign-ups and group members passing out folders stocked with audition information. It’s essentially a shitstorm.

You know you want to join. Come hither to my table.

Navigating the absurdly hot and packed room (slightly less hot than Woolsey) is essentially impossible because members from each group relentlessly insist that you sign up for auditions. You can provide excuses, e.g. you don’t really like jazz, or you can’t dance, or some other reason, and they’ll disregard you and say, “Just give it a shot. It can be practice.” And so, if you’re like me and you can’t say no, you audition for 7 SGC groups. Note: The SGC groups are the main a capella groups on campus, everything from Living Water to The Society of Orpheus and Bacchus to Proof of the Pudding. There are still many other a capella groups not in the SGC, e.g. Magevet and Slavs; these are other viable a capella options that have varying processes for finding members that I will not detail here. I want to stress that non-SGC groups still do everything SGC groups do such as touring internationally and recording albums. These groups are just as talented as SGC groups and are worth looking into if you are serious about a cappella.

Have you auditioned for–?

At the end of Dwight, you will have obtained all of the information needed to audition for each group. Sound the funeral bells.

Your social life disintegrating just as it started to form.

2. Auditions

Auditions consist of a host of warm-ups, pitch-matching exercises, sight reading, prepared recitations of a song of their choosing, and, always, a song of your choosing. Auditions are held Friday-Sunday after the first few days of school. Girls and guys can rush unisex groups of the opposite gender for practice, and often people try to prioritize groups by auditioning for their first choices on Sunday so they have more time to perfect the incredibly homogeneous audition process and use previous groups as practice. It is not always effective to organize auditions in this methodical way; I actually had a Friday audition for the group I am in now.
For preparation, each group’s respective folder will contain sheet music (if you need to learn something from their repertoire), a blurb about the group, and instructions on what will be in the audition (e.g. if there will be pitch matching, sight reading, etc.). Most groups post mp3’s of the parts you need to learn online, so do not fret if you cannot read music and need to learn a group’s song.

Bring out the master musician.

For my first audition, I needed to learn an song excerpt and prepare a solo of my choice. The audition itself consisted of me nervously walking to a desk stationed a flight of stairs from the audition room and talking with one of the group members manning the tables. It is generally good practice to arrive to all auditions/callbacks 5 minutes early as it makes you seem prepared and allows you the chance to talk with group members responsible for managing the incoming auditionees. Cue the panic.

The struggle is real.

When the time came for my audition, I was led upstairs. My escort knocked on the audition room door and I could hear many people pounding quickly on a table inside, as is common practice among groups welcoming in rushees.

Never fear, neither does anyone else.

I came in and everyone introduced themselves (not that I remembered any of them a minute later). We did some warm ups, pitch matching, and a sight reading exercise. Sight reading exercises in a cappella at Yale generally involve a group member singing the piece once, singing the piece with you, and then letting you sing the piece by yourself. In a way, it is less sight-reading and more trying to memorize very quickly. There are some groups that do simply give you a piece of music and a starting note, however the ability to sight read isn’t something expected so don’t worry if you horrendously flub a sight reading section. For the individual piece, I chose a song from a musical to sing, but, as the a capella groups themselves say, you can technically sing anything you want. The amount of effort I saw being put into finding “the perfect song” by my rushee friends was exhausting: We continuously sang for one another, correcting each other’s vowels, tone, style, etc. At the end of the day, this part of the audition process truly is the time to set yourself apart, so having a good personal solo is incredibly important. Unleash your inner diva.

Diva switch engaged.

All throughout the audition, I was constantly snapped, clapped at, and cheered on. To be honest, auditioning is made way less scary by all of the constant support given by each and every group. I never had a single experience–even when I horribly botched a callback by learning the wrong part of one piece and learning the other in the wrong key–where a group wasn’t saying how good a job I did. Enjoy the praise and let it give you confidence, but keep in mind that it’s not entirely sincere: Groups have an agenda to recruit the best rushees they can and want to make a good impression.

That was awesome! 😉


3. Rush meals, singing desserts, and callbacks

After an audition, you will be herded back to the table where you checked in to schedule a rush meal. A rush meal is where you meet with generally 2 members of a group for either breakfast, lunch, or dinner the coming week. Since I rushed a lot of groups, I had only 3 meals that entire week that weren’t rush meals. Do not underestimate the time-consumptive power of rush meals.

Tip: Keep an a cappella planner on paper or on your phone.

On top of rush meals there are singing desserts hosted by each group. A singing dessert usually lasts about 1.5 hours and involves food (chocolate, brownies, cookies, cake) and singing. The group gives a concert lasting about an hour and talks with prospective rushees during intermission and after. Singing desserts aren’t required, but it’s very helpful to hear a group’s full repertoire when deciding between groups (and: food!).

A cappella rush = so much food

At any time that week you will start to know about whether or not you have received a callback. The way you find out about callbacks is very low-key if you aren’t chosen for a callback (an email) and more interesting if you are chosen for one. Groups come to your room and give you callback information and other things like food/candy/chocolate. Groups love to show off their creativity and sometimes have really cool callback packages, like giant masks or fortune cookies with a group’s name on the fortune. Callbacks are more intensive than auditions and usually require you to learn two pieces from a group’s repertoire: a solo and a background “shoe” piece (named because when the group sings in the background, members form a semicircle like a horse shoe). This lets the group know how you’re going to sound both as a soloist and in the background with the other members. You have to prepare, as usual, another solo of your choice. Groups always want a contrast between what you auditioned with and what you callback with. For example, I sang a slow, jazzy song from a musical for my audition. All of my callbacks specified that they wanted me to sing an upbeat song for contrast. Groups will also specify other things in your callback information, such as what they liked about your voice and possibly even suggestions.

Now it’s your turn to be the center of attention.

All callbacks take place that weekend (so a week after auditions). They run pretty much the same as auditions except you have more to prepare and sometimes groups will ask you to do something they didn’t require in auditions, such as singing in a round or memorizing a new tune without sheet music. After callbacks, you do not immediately schedule rush meals. Within the next few days, before tap night, groups will contact you if they want to schedule a rush meal. This is a sign of interest and means that there is a good chance you might be tapped by the group. Groups can also let people they really desire know that they have a spot in their group via pretapping. Pretapping is usually done over the phone or by email but can also happen during face-to-face events like rush meals. A pretap message essentially states that you’re in the group if you want to be. You are not obligated to reply to a pretap, and if you don’t the group will still come for you on tap night. You can say yes to a pretap (which you should do if you want to be in the group) or you can say no to a pretap if you do not want to be in the group (which you should also do because then the group can pursue someone else and you don’t awkwardly reject the group when they come for you on tap night). Essentially it comes down to not being a dick both to other rushees who are waiting on groups and to the groups themselves who are trying to figure everything out.

If you are very split between groups, you can request an evening walk with a group to talk with its members and get a final view of the dynamics of the group.

If you’re choosing between multiple groups, there’s always the eenie-meenie method.

4. Tap Night
Tap Night is the very crazy/stressful night when all of the a cappella groups run across campus to collect their rushees from their rooms and usher them into the group. Different groups do different things during Tap Night, ranging from intense partying to hanging out and getting to know one another over Chick-Fil-A. Based on the dynamic of the group you decide to join, you should be able to get a good idea of what’s in store.

Although groups start out being very mysterious about the date of tap night, by callbacks the date is no longer a secret. Ask most members they will tell you the day of the week and time.

“Well gang, I guess that wraps up the mystery.”

On Tap Night, groups will storm through your building chanting your name. Members will be decked out in group gear, face paint, and sometimes even masks and/or costumes. It’s absolutely insane, but really fun for both the people being tapped and spectators. After you say yes to a group that comes for you (make sure you are in your suite during tap night so you can be found!), you will be given a group t-shirt and you will run with the rest of the group to collect other people, whooping and screaming the names of other future group members.

Who needs Woads?

Tap Night is often in the middle of the week (this year, 2015, it was on Tuesday), and you will likely be up very late on Tap Night. Needless to say the next day won’t be very fun, whether because you’re tired, hungover, or otherwise incapacitated by a long–but fun–night.

Post-tap night hibernation

But at the end of all the craziness that lockjawed my first 2-3 weeks of school was the reward: being in a group. Being in an a cappella group is a really great experience, with all groups touring internationally and domestically while recording their own CDs. A cappella groups give you a community of friends and a lifetime of connections to alumni. For me and everyone else, the struggle that was rush week was well worth it.

Just keep telling yourself.

If you ever plan to rush, know that a cappella is fun, but don’t become distraught and devalue your own self-worth if you don’t make any groups. Even the most talented people can have bad luck or become sick or have a terrible audition. I cannot stress enough that there are many other singing groups and choirs, such as the Yale Undergraduate Choral Society (YUCS), that do not cut people and still sound great. Additionally, people join a cappella groups all the time as sophomores and even as juniors so next year is always an option.