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Fifty-six years later, ’58 Whiffenpoofs still singing

“We will serenade our Louis, while life and voice shall last / Then we’ll pass and be forgotten with the rest.”

Those words from the “Whiffenpoof Song,” merely romantic when sung by a group of callow 21-year-olds, take on an extra poignancy when a group 55 years their senior joins in.

That’s what happened on September 25, when the Whiffenpoofs of 2015 and those of 1958 sang in a concert at the Westminster School in Simsbury, Connecticut, finishing according to tradition with their signature song. (The ’58 delegation includes four Westminster alumni.) The occasion was bittersweet, as the ’58 Whiffs had recently lost their first member: until September 17, when John Cassel ’58 passed away after a career in musical performance, the group had been fully intact.
It’s common for former Whiffs to get together, most often at class reunions or at reunions organized by the Whiffenpoofs Alumni Association. But the ’58 Whiffs have an unusual penchant for coming together to sing—nearly every year, members say.
“The standing joke in our class is that all the athletes are dead, and all the singers are going to live to be one hundred,” says Augustus Kinzel ’58. “There’s something about the music that does seem to keep us healthy. We’re not withering on the vine.”
Aside from the Westminster concert in September, which was the first time in living memory two classes of Whiffs decades apart had sung together, the ’58 group has performed often over the years, usually to benefit the favorite charity of a member.
“We sing at nursing homes and retirement communities and prep schools and wherever people want to hear the Whiffenpoofs,” says Bill Opsahl ’58.
After Cassel died, 12 of the group’s members, most fully gray and all approaching 80, gathered in the Lee, Massachusetts, house of Bart Miller ’58—the same house where they first met in the summer of 1957—to practice for a benefit concert in his honor.
“That’s how we chose to grieve—we chose to sing,” says Linus Travers ’58. “Singing and sharing music; it was instinctive. It’s what occurred to us to do.”
The format of the Lee concert was similar to those the group held decades ago, when they traveled across the United States and Europe, often singing classics like “Strike Up the Band” and “Eddie My Love” in exchange for their food. After their last official performance in 1958, at the Brussels World’s Fair, most of the Whiffs entered the armed forces.
“Then we began to lose track, except for Christmas cards and stuff like that,” says Opsahl. “We waited until the class had its 25th reunion. The day before, we all gathered in a room, and sang a rendition of ‘Jack the Casino Man.’ Since then, we’ve been gathering every couple years.”
“The older we get, the more it’s like an old record player where you sort of have to crank it up, and it’s all gravelly and out of tune,” Kinzell says. “But after 10 or 15 minutes, we start being right on pitch, and the whole thing comes back.”

Now that many of the ’58 Whiffs are retired, the chance to sing, to entertain, is more appealing than ever. And for other classes of Whiffenpoofs, the group is a model of the connection and camaraderie that can be created while at Yale.
“Just to see the class of ’58 come together is really inspiring for us,” says Ehrik Aldana ’16, business manager of the current Whiffs. “It’s something we definitely hope to do in 50 or 60 years.”


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.

Filed under Whiffenpoofs, Class of ’58

1 comment

  • Martin Snapp
    Martin Snapp, 4:14pm October 15 2014 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    What’s amazing is that they lost their first member only last month. Our Whiffs (1967) have already lost three, by my count.

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