The Whiffenpoofs’ name alone should keep one humble. But the a cappella group has more than just a whiff of talent.
The 14 young men, whose forebears at Yale University started harmonizing and cracking wise more than a century ago, have toured the country and the world every chance they’ve had this school year — crooning Cole Porter tunes for older folks in Florida, making throngs of South American college students laugh to the point of howling with their onstage banter, and dropping kids’ jaws with an ode to the Muppets.
Brad Travis, a St. Mark’s alumnus, joined the popular, all-seniors ensemble after a long stint with the Baker’s Dozen, an a cappella group for male underclassmen at Yale.
The baritone and self-dubbed “massive classical music nerd” found that singing could rival a fraternity experience, one “all my friends who went to [Texas] Tech or A&M were able to access,” he figures, “but at the same time, I was able to make music.”
Travis even lived with other Baker’s Dozen members in an off-campus house as a junior. Tempting as it is to imagine them spontaneously bursting into song while studying or doing the dishes, he swears that was a rarity.
“The moment we’re done singing,” he said with a chuckle, “we don’t want to sing anymore.” Not until the next night’s show or rehearsal, anyway.
The child of a ballerina and a violinist, Travis grew up taking music lessons and eventually singing in the choir at St. Mark’s, where he earned his chops with lead roles in Oklahoma! and other musicals.
“I just can’t tell you how good he was,” remembers family friend Beverly Houston, herself a songwriter and composer. She’s been just as regaled by the Whiffs, whose performances involve lots of staged antics, offbeat humor, and the occasional Big Bird costume, say, when every other singer is dressed in a tuxedo.
The group is a nonprofit fueled by its own ticket and album sales, and members arrange their tours through “blood, sweat, and tears,” Travis explained. “It’s a lot of fun to basically reach out to people and say, ‘Please, can we come sing for you?’ ”
Come Thursday, the dapperly appointed young men will stop at the Dallas Children’s Theater — a gig Travis’ mom, Karen, set up. Both his parents “are really invested in the arts,” he said, “and this is a way for me to give back to the community through them.”
The show, which will have limited seating, is intentionally family-friendly.
“It’ll be a wonderful evening,” said Robyn Flatt, executive artistic director of the children’s theater, whose late father was a huge fan of the group’s signature “Whiffenpoof Song.”
“Couples will enjoy it,” she said, “and of course Yale graduates who heard these songs a lot when they were in school will love it, but I think everybody will.”
Travis is majoring in East Asian studies — and in turn working his connections overseas to finagle more tour dates — but Houston doubts post-college life will thwart his showmanship.
“There are lots of businessmen who keep up with their music and their theater skills,” she said. “I think he will be one of those.”