Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Whiffenpoof Song and Yale University Traditions

Back in the fall of 1962, when I was a freshman in college, I bought a vinyl L.P. by the Lettermen.  The Lettermen was a group of four harmony singers.  The L.P. was of them singing various college songs.  My favorite was a haunting and sad melody called "The Whiffenpoof Song."  I didn't know the origins of the song, but it was obvious from the words that the singers were supposed to be college students from, I guessed, the 1920's.  To me, the song conveyed long-time traditions, the passing of time and past generations.  Young students, vibrant with life, would also grow old and someday "pass and be forgotten with the rest."

Recently I saw a reference to "Yale" and the "Whiffenpoofs," did a Google search and found that the Whiffenpoofs are a Yale a capella choir.  They have been around since 1909 and are a Yale tradition.  Their most famous song is "The Whiffenpoof Song."  A 48 year mystery solved!  I just had to wait until they invented the internet.

I found the Lettermen singing "The Whiffenpoof Song" on YouTube.  It's embedded below.

The Lettermen's lyrics were changed just a tad to remove any reference to bars and drinking, i.e. "Temple Bar was changed to "Temple Square" and "glasses raised on high" was changed to "voices raised on high."  Here are the original lyrics:


To the tables down at Mory's
To the place where Louie dwells
To the dear old Temple Bar we love so well
Sing the Whiffenpoofs assembled with their glasses raised on high
And the magic of their singing casts its spell

Yes, the magic of their singing of the songs we love so well
"Shall I Wasting" and "Mavourneen" and the rest
We will serenade our Louie while life and voice shall last
Then we'll pass and be forgotten with the rest

We're poor little lambs who have lost our way
Baa, baa, baa
We're little black sheep who have gone astray
Baa, baa, baa

Gentleman songsters off on a spree
Doomed from here to eternity
Lord have mercy on such as we
Baa, baa, baa

Some History:  Mory, whose real name was Frank Moriarty, was the original owner of the ale house, which he founded in 1861.  Yale students discovered the bar when returning from rowing practice, and it soon became a student hangout.

The song reference "the place where Louie dwells" refers to Louis Linder, the fourth owner of Mory's, who owned the restaurant and bar from 1899 to 1912.  It was during Louis's reign that the student singing group "The Whiffenpoofs" was formed, named after a mythical creature from a popular play.  They performed at Mory's every Monday night and still do to this day did, until Mory's was finally closed in 2009, one hundred years after the Whiffenpoofs singing group was formed.

When Louis Linder retired, Mory's fans formed a nonprofit organization to own and run Mory's as a private club. Mory's had been in continuous existence for 140+ years when it was finally closed in 2009.  I do not know the reason for the closing -- perhaps it could no longer turn a profit. [Update:  Mory's was reopened in 2010.  Read about it here.]

Related articles:
You can read about the history of Mory's and the Temple Bar here.
The Whiffenpoofs have their own website here.


Anonymous said...

Sorry you had to wait so long to find the history of this great song.
More bad news. Mory's has been closed since 2009.

TB62 said...

Mory's has reopened.

Stogie Chomper said...

That's good news! I hate to see great old traditions like this die.