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No question about The Spizzwinks(?)

The Yale Spizzwinks(?) are performing Tuesday afternoon on the Beaver Creek Plaza and Tuesday evening at the Eagle River Presbyterian Church. Both shows are free.
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AVON, Colorado – Listen to the Yale Spizzwinks(?) sing Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” and you know somewhere in heaven Freddie Mercury is smiling and singing along.

Or hear Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and bet that Jackson is hollering across the clouds to Mercury, saying, “Hey Freddie, you gotta hear this!”

And you gotta, too.

The Yale Spizzwinks(?) are performing in Avon on Tuesday evening and on the Beaver Creek Plaza on Tuesday afternoon. And this much music, that’s this good, will not cost you one thin dime, but if they pass the hat and you’re writing a check, remember that “thousand” is spelled “T-H-O-U-S-A-N-D.”

Dr. Kent Petrie had a little to do with bringing them here. He went to Yale (Class of 1972). They’re from Yale. That’s all the connection needed. Also, the group is on its spring Colorado tour and one of the Spizzwinks(?) is the son of a Presbyterian minister in Denver and they wanted to get to this area for a little skiing – an understandable desire.

So, they’ll sing for their supper, so to speak.

“We could probably fill the hall with old Ivy Leaguers who remember and love this kind of music,” Petrie said.

The Spizzwinks(?) are a relatively small group, 16 members. Since they don’t have to pack instruments, they can perform almost anywhere and at any time. These guys are funny, and a typical concert includes skits and other comedy.

Anyway, they’re from Yale, and they’re the oldest undergraduate a cappella group in the country. And the question mark is supposed to be there. The Spizzwinks(?) tell their story this way.

A long, long time ago, a cappella did not yet exist on Yale’s campus – or anywhere else in the world. New Haven, Conn., was a veritable black hole of musicianship and camaraderie.

In 1909, a light emerged from the darkness when, with much pomp and ccircumstance, four members of the Yale Glee Club formed the Yale Whiffenpoofs. Though musically excellent, the Whiffenpoofs were, to be frank, a bit dull.

One night, late in 1913, four Yale freshmen met at Mory’s Temple Bar, Yale’s historic tavern, to pick a name for their new singing group, a light-hearted alternative to the Whiffenpoofs.

After thinking and drinking (perhaps more drinking than thinking), one of them glimpsed the ghost of Frank Johnson – the postmaster of his small Iowa hometown. Johnson had gained Iowa notoriety when he attributed the Great Corn Blight of 1906 to a mythical insect called the Spizzwink, which only he could see. The singer jumped up at once.

“That’s it!” he shouted. “We’ll call the group ‘The Spizzwinks.'”

That year, the editor of the Yale Banner, the yearbook, was unsure of the spelling of the fledgling group and added a question mark in parentheses. The group liked the look of “The Spizzwinks(?),” and the parenthetical question mark is still with us today.

Since then, collegiate a cappella has swept the nation, with hundreds of groups at universities across the country performing in every style from Barbershop to contemporary pop.

Spizzwinks(?) alumni include Tony Award winners, Academy Award winners, U.S. ambassadors, symphony conductors, Pulitzer Prize winners, composers, comedians and more.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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