Endearing but ultimately disappointing inquiry into collegiate a cappella via three beloved groups.
With a fanatical fan base and famous alums including Barbara Streisand, Prince, John Legend, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, even Osama bin Laden, collegiate a cappella has been a cultural touchstone for much of the 20th century. GQ senior editor Rapkin, who was a member of Cornell University’s Cayuga’s Waiters, approaches the subject in the tradition of popular films like Spellbound and Wordplay (and the Christopher Guest movies that mock them). He focuses largely on three groups. The all-female Divisi from the University of Oregon is a relatively new band that has become a favorite on the competition circuit. The Tufts Beelzebubs are known as the gold standard for music arrangement and album recording. The University of Virginia’s Hullabahoos, also a newer group, has a rock star-reputation, gigs opening for the Lakers and plenty of girls lining up on campus to meet them. Some colorful characters emerge, particularly Divisi’s founder, who stayed on at Oregon long past her prime to shape her squad; a troubled young music director at Tufts who left the Bubs in a lurch when he had to go on medical leave; and a handsome Hullabahoo who attracted wealthy old benefactors with his youthful looks and charm. Perhaps even more amusing are the alums who can’t let go: One Tufts grad made a career out of producing a cappella albums, and another continued to lend his country home to the Bubs even after they accidentally burned down the house they were renting from him in Somerville, Mass. Still, the author fails to enable readers to connect with the amusing, astonishing and, most importantly, human aspects of this obsessive hobby. Though Rapkin highlights several competitions and notable gigs throughout the book, there is no conclusive event or end moment to wrap things up.
Wit and nostalgia mitigate, but don’t entirely compensate for, a weak story arc and lack of emotional engagement.