Octet alums reunite at annual concert

As parties celebrating Williams’ homecoming victory began around campus, members of the Octet celebrated the College through their tradition of men’s a cappella music-making. At 8:30 p.m. on Saturday night, Chapin Hall saw the return of 21 Octet alumni, drawn from across the span of the 50 years the group has existed, who combined to charm a large audience with show tunes and other classic fare.

Also on the program were selections performed by Fairgame (an a cappella group composed of Octet alumni from Washington, D.C.), the current Octet and a violin solo by Nathaniel Farny ’96, of the New England Conservatory of Music.

The Williams Octet Alumni concert happens annually over the course of one weekend in the fall term, usually coinciding with homecoming events. Manager Henry Flynt ’44 said the reunion weekend usually includes rehearsal on Friday and Saturday followed by a Saturday night performance. The program this year featured as its finale “A Rodgers and Hammerstein Gala,” one of about six repertoires the alumni group cycles through over the years. Most of the selections on the program were arranged by the group’s enthusiastic long-time music director, Warren Hunke ’42.

The songs performed by the ensemble drew many laughs from the audience, featuring entertaining escapades as well as strong singing. The musical directors often took advantage of slightly silly song lyrics to draw expressions and gestures from the performers, such as in the song “The Trouble with Women” (from the 1943 musical One Touch of Venus), which drew on double meanings and innuendoes. It finished with the line, “The trouble with women. . .is men,” emphasized by special smiles and winks from the singers.

The greatest comic moment occurred at one point during the song “Witch Doctor,” when the director pulled out his cell phone with one hand and ordered a pizza as he continued with the other to direct the soloist in a sustained note for several minutes. The pizza then arrived on stage several songs later, delivered by a member of the current Octet, Mauricio Najarro ’05.

One of the finest musical moments was the Farney’s virtuoso violin performance of “Prelude to Sonata No. 2,” which director Hunke told the audience he put in the program specifically in order to allow Farny’s talent and training to shine. Farny was also performed “All the Things You Are,” from the Kern-Hammerstein musical Very Warm in May, arranged for violin and men’s voices by Hunke.

The performance by the twelve members of the current Octet featured some beautiful solos on a distinctly more modern repertoire, which included The Obvious Child by Paul Simon, I’d Die Without You by P.M. Dawn and Crash and Burn by Savage Garden. It was interesting to note the change from the background harmonies of the alumni musical numbers to the vocal percussion produced by the Octet of today.

The alumni’s talent ranged from soloists who sounded trained in professional singing to those who just put their love of the music and of this event in their voices. The audience, made up primarily of local families and returning alumni, was drawn into the energy and vibrancy of the overall performance. It was a delightful celebration of the oldest a cappella tradition at Williams.