Forty-five years without a guitar

The Ephlats celebrated their 45th anniversary with a reunion of alumni from the last thirty years this weekend. On Saturday night, they held a concert featuring groups of alumni from each decade of the Ephlats’ existence.

The alumni who graduated in the ’60s and early ’70s began by singing to three tuning pitches in a self-deprecating attempt to tune correctly. After coming to a consensus, it was impressive that their harmony was still intact and resonant after so many years. In the middle of “’Neath the Shadow of the Hills,” the Ephlats’ trademark song, the melody ceased while the background harmony continued. A spokesman stepped forward to explain that these were the men who had been on campus between the end of fraternities and the beginning of women on campus; they were “lonely men.”

The current Ephlats are an a cappella group, but they have not always been without instruments. The alumni from the ’70s were accompanied by cello, flute and acoustic guitar. Another noticeable difference between the alumni of the ’60s and those of the ’70s was the addition of women to the group. In 1970, the first year that the College went co-ed, seven out of the 16 women on campus sang with the Ephlats. (Of course, the men were still involved solely for the music.)

To commemorate the transition from an all-male to a co-ed group, Dave Prouty ’70 arranged “Come All Ye and Cohabitate” to the tune of “Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing.” This song looks back at the old all-male days of a cappella, and looks forward with renewed hope to a changed ensemble. Micah Halsey ’05, a current member, said, “It’s amazing that it’s gone from being an all-male group, to bringing in women. Our group is what it is because we have women. . ..The [“Cohabitate”] song, we’re going to bring that back.”

In the 1980s, the Ephlats disbanded for a few years, but the group was restarted in 1984. The members of the revived group were pleased to discover that there were $30 left over in the Ephlats’ checking account, and with that, they began again. Some alumni remembered the tradition of “singing in” new members: the veterans came to the first-year dorms, often in the middle of the night, to sing “I Think I’m Goin’ Out of My Head.”

A highlight of the ’90s alumni performance was the addition of vocal percussion, which is now a familiar part of a cappella arrangements. The concert ended with a few songs by the combined ’80s and ’90s alumni, followed by “The Mountains” and “’Neath the Shadows of the Hills” sung by everyone.

All present seemed to enjoy each other’s company, being back together after so long and singing. Martha Williams ’77 said that while football players “can’t come back and tackle each other,” the Ephlats can reunite after many years and still maintain excellent harmony. “Music is forever,” she added. Steve Reuman ’74 said that “harmony, as you heard tonight, is just something that holds people together. You can come back 30 years later and pull this stuff together and it sounds beautiful. . ..It’s a great force to bring people together.”

Scott Case ’98, the principal organizer of the event, also organized the Ephlats’ 40th anniversary reunion while he was a student at the College. After seeing how much people enjoyed that reunion, he helped provide the momentum towards the 45th anniversay reunion. “I loved the Ephlats when I sang,” he said. “I graduated four years ago now. I just had a great time — one of the highlights of my college experience here. . ..Some of the people in the group are still some of my best friends. So I think the reunion is about the music, but it’s also just about hanging out with your friends.”

The current Ephlats enjoyed meeting the alumni, and learning more about the group’s history. Their next concert will be in late November. Until then, look for them around campus: plans include “trying to sing on Chapin steps more often. It needs to be more welcome; people need to come out and hear us,” Halsey said.

The co-ed Ephlats and the all-male Octet have a long-running dispute over which group predates all the other a cappella ensembles at Williams. Forty-five years, however, is an impressive tradition by any standard.