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The Songs

The accumulated archive of the Whiffenpoofs is substantial. For many years, assigned individuals have been responsible for collecting and preserving copies of all Whiffenpoof arrangements. This archiving program was begun in 1946 by William Oler, who undertook the task of writing down as many arrangements as the collective memory of living Whiffenpoofs could then retrieve. Oler was assisted in this heroic effort by Wally Collins, Louis Hemingway and Dudley Miller. The result of this work was the Whiffenpoof Blue Book, a two-volume compilation of over 200 Whiffenpoof arrangements that had been sung up to 1948. Before Oler’s effort, there had been no attempt to preserve the arrangements sung by the Whiffenpoofs. Until then, the tradition was largely an aural one, as The Twentieth Century Project: A Musical History well describes. It is also true that in this early era the Whiffenpoof repertoire included many arrangements found in the Yale Songbooks of 1918 and 1934. The current Whiffenpoof archivist is David Powell, and it is largely because of his efforts that recent arrangements have been collected and preserved. The repertoire list in the Whiffenpoof Media Library includes over 600 titles of arrangements.

The Albums

There are over 70 extant Whiffenpoof recordings made between 1927, the year of the first recording, and today. There were also Whiffenpoof recordings known to have been made in 1937 and 1939, but they have both been lost. In one case, 1939, the recording was considered to be deficient because of high ambient noise, and it was accordingly not preserved. In addition to these recordings, the Whiffenpoof Media Library includes selections from one of two 1915 Varsity Quartet recordings as exemplars of Yale singing at that time. The two 1915 recordings have remarkably high fidelity given the available technology, and the performances themselves are excellent. The variation in the technical quality of these recordings is considerable, however, and this variation poses a significant CD design problem. The older recordings, regardless of the quality of the performances, include far less sound information than the later recordings. Because of this discrepancy, it is rarely possible to juxtapose older recordings, particularly those on 78s, with the newer recordings because they are sonically thin by comparison and lack the tonal range caught by the later technologies. The recordings on CDs are themselves significantly better than even the best of the 33s, thus compounding the problem of designing adjacencies.

The Music

Many arrangements in the Whiffenpoof Media Library at first had no identifying information other than the song title. This lack of information provoked a search for and accumulation of original sheet music for the listed titles. In addition to the accuracy and completeness of the information included in this sheet music, the music has also contributed to a better understanding of the arrangements themselves. See, for example, the explication of the variation between the words in the original music and the Whiffenpoof arrangements of the same song in ‘The Problem of the Verse’ in the history portion of this site (originally printed in The Twentieth Century Project: A Musical History). This variation from the original is often significant. In addition to supplying frequently missing data, the sheet music also provides us with another perspective, that of the evolution of graphic style.