The Whiffenpoofs, is an all-male acapella group from Yale University that has been seen and heard on popular television shows including “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Gossip Girl,” and even “The Simpsons.” This Sunday, Oct. 15, the “Whiffs” will be in town, performing at The Peoples Church in East Lansing.
Ian Billinge, Whiffenpoofs Business Director and East Lansing native, spoke about the unique singing group, and how he got involved.
A current Yale senior studying physics, Billinge attended a performing arts high school, and was an active participant in choir. This passion for music continued into higher education.
“When I arrived at Yale, there was a ton of acapella groups on campus,” Billinge said. “We have an enrollment of about 4,000 undergraduates, but we have 16 official and a smattering of unofficial acapella groups, so it’s a really big scene there.”
After a few years in other singing groups on campus, Billinge auditioned for the iconic Whiffenpoofs, and made it. Now, in addition to providing a baritone voice to the group, he also serves as Business Director, booking concerts, and managing finances, transportation, publicity, CD mailings and more.
In looking at the Whiffenpoofs tour schedule, he knew a stop near MSU was essential and started comparing venues in the East Lansing area.
“It’s been a while since I was here, so I didn’t have any strong frontrunners or personal places,” Billinge said, “but I did remember seeing the African children’s choir – I was about ten years old, and I’m pretty sure that was at The Peoples Church. I knew they sometimes hosted musical events and choir.”
He reached out to Andy Mayville, Facilities Director at The Peoples Church, and they set a date.
The two are excited to share this unique musical opportunity with the East Lansing community. Mayville said the sanctuary holds 1000 people, and he has made it a mission to continue to fill that room as often as possible, not just on Sunday mornings.
“In my position, I’ve been trying to bring in more music acts to make the church more of a music venue,” Mayville said. “There’s not a lot of opportunities for musicians and groups to have venues of our size that are available. I’ve been trying to open the church up to other groups.”
The Peoples Church acts as a community activity hub, according to Mayville. “We recognize a need in the community for a music venue, and to encourage music, so that’s why we’ve sort of filled that need that we’ve recognized.”
The Peoples Church also regularly hosts MSU music student performances and acapella groups, national and locally-known folk groups including Stella!, Gifts or Creatures and Seth & May.
The Whiffenpoofs, founded in 1909, have a longstanding reputation as the oldest acapella group in the country, but that doesn’t mean that all their material is old fashioned. Billinge said the group performs a wide range of musical styles – something for all sonic palettes.
“It’s a nice, relaxed concert for all ages, and really, all backgrounds,” Billinge said. ”We have quite a diversity of music. Everything from jazz standards to a song by the Animals, all kinds of stuff.”
Ticket prices for the performance are $11 for students, $20 for General Admission, and $25 for Priority Seating. The Peoples Church is located at 200 W. Grand River Ave. East Lansing For more information and to purchase tickets for the Sunday, October 15th 7:30 p.m. performance, visit www.whiffenpoofs.com.