The Whiffenpoofs are singing in San Francisco 

Now that the television shows “Glee,” “American Idol” and the new hit “The Sing-Off” have gone nuclear, attention on real-life singing groups has never been higher.

Enter the Whiffenpoofs.

Yale University’s famed a cappella group (not to be confused with another Yale choral group, the Baker’s Dozen, which was involved in an infamous 2007 assault case in San Francisco) — hits The City this week in a rare performance at the Marines’ Memorial Theatre.

Four words: Gleek your heart out.

For Nathan Calixto, a native of Brisbane majoring in molecular, cellular and developmental biology at Yale, being a part of the exclusive, renowned group of male singers is a kick.

In fact, the first tenor, who has been performing since he was 6 and has worked with San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Symphony, says he attributes “what he has become” as a performer and singer to his time in The City, and mentions the San Francisco Boys Chorus as a particularly big influence.

That’s a good thing, considering the rich tapestry of the Whiffenpoofs.

More than 100 years old, the organization came into being after five singers from the Yale Glee Club began meeting weekly a local bar. They improvised on harmonies to songs they revered and garnered campus attention. Their name is based on a mythical dragonfish dubbed the Whiffenpoof.

As the years passed, attention grew. Recently, the group was spotlighted on “The Sing-Off,” but the singers also have turned heads on shows like “Saturday Night Live,” “Jeopardy!” and “The West Wing.”

Interesting to note: Membership in the Whiffenpoofs only lasts one year and comprises 14 senior Yale men.

“Being part of the group, you know your are a part of this tradition; we’re part of this brotherhood,” says Calixto, who, according to the Whiffenpoofs’ website, also is known for frog imitations and impersonations of Justin Bieber. “So you have 100-plus guys who have done this before you. This is really evident at our concerts — at the end, it’s a tradition that we sing the Whiffenpoofs song, which has been with us since our founding. Alumni in audience are welcome to come onstage.”

Friday’s performance will include songs such as “Midnight Train to Georgia” and “Space Oddity” on the set list, which combines pop songs, show tunes, jazz standards and traditional Yale tunes.

For Calixto, it’s all about the joy of performing.

“What it comes down to, honestly, is the fact that I really enjoy knowing that by performing — and this may sound a little deep — we’ve done something to brighten up people’s day,” he says. “That’s really what it’s all about,” he says.


The Whiffenpoofs

Where: Marines’ Memorial Theatre, 609 Sutter St., San Francisco

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Tickets: $50 to $70

Contact: (415) 771-6900,

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Greg Archer

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