Max Sauberman ('13) returns tonight to Millburn High School with the esteemed a capella group the Yale Whiffenpoofs to perform before his hometown crowd bringing his vocal journey full circle. Sauberman shared his story leading up to this exciting event.
My love for a cappella definitely originates in my passion for choral music, which I discovered primarily in Ms. Lasic’s 5th Grade Chorus and then Mr. Huneryager’s middle school chorus program at MMS. This funneled into my participation in the annual middle school (and later high school) musical theater productions, and my decision to audition for Millburn High’s then fledgling new student-led a cappella group, Soulfege.
I served as Soulfege’s president & music director from the end of my sophomore year through my graduation. The experience was by far my most enriching and impactful one at Millburn High School, building up the quality and prestige of the group while also working with incredible friends and peers and coordinating outreach efforts to channel our music into doing good in the greater community.
Yale University was put on the map for me as a potential university for matriculation due to the combination of its academic rigor AND its vibrant and robust culture of student-led a cappella groups. I was also made aware of the tradition of the Yale Whiffenpoofs, America’s oldest collegiate a cappella group (est. 1909), an all-senior ensemble whose 14 members take a full year off from school to perform concerts full-time and tour around the entire world.
When I arrived at Yale for my freshman year, I was quickly swept up in the month-long undergrad a cappella “Rush” process. There are 15 groups on campus affiliated with the Yale Singing Group Council, the overarching government body (think panhellenic / inter-fraternity council but for singing!) and I auditioned for four groups. I ended up choosing to join The Yale Spizzwinks(?), an all-male group that’s America’s oldest underclassman a cappella group, founded in 1914.
I’ve had some of my greatest life experiences with the Spizzwinks(?), including performing at the 100th-anniversary reunion and touring around the world to New Zealand, Europe, Turkey, South Africa, Colombia, China, Indonesia, Alaska/Hawaii, and much more. In my three years with the group, I performed over 275 concerts on all six inhabited continents. We also made some short trips to Millburn, including a big concert at Christ Church in January 2015. I’ve served a variety of leadership positions in the group — I was last year’s Business Manager (overall leader), and have previously served as 2014-15 Rush Manager and 2015 Summer Tour Manager (South Africa/Turkey).
Last February, I was accepted in the Whiffenpoofs and so I am taking a year off from Yale (where I’m an Econ major) this year to tour the world. My leadership role in the group is that of World Tour Manager — I’m one of two members of the group coordinating our three months, 25-country international tour from May-August, where we’re literally traversing around the entire planet from May 24 through August 21. I’m also Associate Business Manager, and I have a large stake in the planning for the rest of the year as well — including coordinating the concert in Millburn this upcoming weekend. (It’ll be roughly our 125th concert performed since we began as a group in late August!).
The Whiffenpoofs, just a one-year commitment, make a point to tour to every member’s hometown, so this weekend is officially our “Millburn tour.” I worked with the Millburn High School administration to confirm a concert at my venue of choice, the Millburn High School auditorium, where I performed in countless chorus/band concerts, benefit events, and eight Limelight Players fall musicals and spring drama productions.
Soulfege was an incredibly important aspect of my four years at Millburn High School, and so I felt like I obviously owed them the opportunity to open for our concert. I made sure to quickly bring them into the fold — despite the craziness that no current members of Soulfege performed with me. However, my cousin David Jordan is a current member of the group, and so it’s incredibly special to get to share this concert and this stage with him on Friday.
It also occurred to me that I could also bring the Spizzwinks(?), and therefore have my entire a cappella past and present performing at this concert. I’ll be singing in the set with the Spizzwinks on Friday too, which is extra special this year because one of their newest members, Jake Gluckman, was a close friend at MHS (and is now a close friend at Yale!) — he too was a Soulfege president and we performed in some school shows together too.
Soulfege will open the concert with their 2017 ICHSA Medley, the medley performance that awarded them second place overall in the regional ICHSA competition last month (they’ll be advancing to the next round in Cherry Hill in April!).
The Spizzwinks will then perform a set, followed by the Whiffenpoofs. I’ll be performing with both groups, including debuting a brand new arrangement (a new solo of mine) “Streetcorner Symphony” with the Whiffenpoofs. Both groups have in their active repertoire an eclectic set of songs from many genres, including jazz, pop, standards, musical theater, R&B, rock and more.
For both groups, all arrangements are created by past or present group members, with no exceptions. The Spizzwinks have an online archive of over 300 arrangements, and the Whiffenpoofs have over 650.
Some examples from the active repertoires:
Spizzwinks — “Let it Be,” “Strangers Like Me,” “Leave Your Lover,” “Blackbird,” “Can’t Help Falling in Love."
Whiffenpoofs — “Got to Get You Into My Life,” “Haven’t Met You Yet”, “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” “Operator,” “Rainbow Connection,” “The Whiffenpoof Song."
Because the Whiffenpoofs take the year off, we schedule rehearsals essentially whenever we’re available — we’re constantly learning new music on tour, and by the end of our year, we’ll have learned about 60 songs.
The Spizzwinks, who are enrolled at Yale, have weekly rehearsal schedules — 2.5 hours each on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, as well as 1-hour sectional rehearsals.
This year the Spizzwinks have toured/are touring to Clinton, IA; NYC; Florida; New Zealand (Auckland/Queenstown), and Europe (Ireland, UK, Italy, Spain, Netherlands)
This year the Whiffenpoofs have toured/are touring to:
Cape Cod (August ’16)
Hanover, NH (Oct)
Stowe, VT (Oct)
Salt Lake City (Oct)
Sun Valley / Boise, ID (Oct)
Tulsa OK (Oct)
Oklahoma City / Norman, OK (Oct)
Boston / Brookline, MA (Nov)
Denver / Telluride, CO (Jan)
Santa Fe / Albuquerque, NM (Jan)
Dallas, TX (Jan)
Vermont: Burlington, Smugglers’ Notch, Brattleboro (Jan-Feb)
Montreal, Québec (Jan-Feb)
Millburn, NJ (Feb)
Pittsburgh, PA (Feb)
Philadelphia, PA (Mar)
Annapolis, MD / Washington DC (Mar)
San Francisco / Los Angeles, CA (Mar)
Florida (Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Naples) (Mar)
Lima / Cusco, Peru (Mar)
Chile: Santiago / Atacama Desert / Patagonia (Mar-Apr)
Buenos Aires, Argentina (Apr)
Chicago, IL (Apr)
May 24-29: Anchorage, Alaska
May 30 - June 1: Reykjavik, Iceland
June 1-4: Bergen, Norway
June 4-9: Ireland
June 9-12: Berlin, Germany
June 13-15: Frankfurt/Bavaria, Germany
June 16-17: Prague, Czech Republic
June 18-20: Athens. Greece
June 21-23: Dubrovnik, Croatia
June 24-27: Fez, Morocco
July 4-7: Italy
July 8-11: Zanzibar, Tanzania
July 12-18: South Africa
July 19-24: Israel & Amman, Jordan
July 25-30: Japan
July 30 - August 1: Hong Kong
August 2-5: Bangkok, Thailand
Koh Tao, Thailand
Siem Reap / Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Queenstown, New Zealand
I sing Tenor 2 in the Whiffenpoofs (and sung the same part in the Spizzwinks).
My favorite performance this year is probably singing the National Anthem at the University of Oklahoma homecoming football game in late October, in a stadium of 95,000 screaming fans.
While I’m not pursuing music professionally, I hope that the arts can always be a part of my life — perhaps working in arts management, or even joining adult choirs.
The concert is Friday, February 10 at 7:30 pm at the Millburn High School Auditorium at 462 Millburn Avenue. Tickets will be available at the door.