Baltimore student will head Yale's Whiffenpoof singers

May 16, 1991|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,Evening Sun Staff

Yale University's famed Whiffenpoof singers, perhaps the most renowned singing group of its type from a traditionally strong singing campus, has picked a 21-year-old junior from Baltimore to be its "pitchpipe" or music director.

Robert A. Berman, a 1988 graduate of Friends School here, will plan the 14-man senior group's repertory, soloists, rehearsals and arrange some of its music in the next year's program of weekend concerts. The year ends with the annual 10-week world tour after graduation.

Berman, a tenor, pianist, arranger and music major at Yale, said, "I'm thrilled to be chosen, but there's a certain amount of stress in this: preparing rehearsals and the music every weekend."

That's not all. Berman is also directing this year's annual May commencement musical, called "Blue Skies," with Irving Berlin tunes and an original script. And he is a new assistant musical director of the New Candlewood Playhouse, New Fairfield, Conn., a major summer musical theater near New Haven. This follows a stint last summer directing music at the Saxton's River Playhouse in Vermont.

The Whiffenpoofs, founded in 1909, record an album every year, sing on campuses and other settings and support themselves. Last Christmas they did a one-week stint in Japan and in 1989 sang at the World Series in memory of the late A. Bartlett Giamatti, baseball commissioner and former Yale president. Each year the Whiffenpoofs, all seniors, pick the next year's group after auditions.

"We mainly do popular songs from the '20s to today, many of them jazzy arrangements," Berman said. "Certain songs are dropped and others added. The repertory evolves. As pitchpipe, I actually have a small pitch pipe, stand on one end and tune the singers."

At Friends School, he had singing roles in "Bye Bye Birdie," "Carousel" and "The Music Man." Nick Kliment, another Friends alumnus, sang with the Whiffenpoofs in 1985. Berman is a son of Howard and Deborah Berman, of Bancroft Road. He plans a career in music directing.

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