Aires sing to 60 years worth of crowd-pleasing a cappella

by Joseph Debonis | 4/30/07 1:29am

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On Saturday, several generations of Aires sang in front of Dartmouth Hall.
by Teresa Lattanzio / The Dartmouth

Oh, have you not heard of BAMGTP? (Abbreving is so totally hot right now.) They are only the greatest musical unit to be celebrating their 60th reunion since, well, the Dartmouth Aires. Rembert Browne '09 and Annabel Seymour '09, emcees for the night, performed an act about their turbulent, illustrious and completely fictional past -- 60 years' worth -- in between sets of musical masterwork from the Aires and the Decibelles, Dartmouth's oldest male and female a cappella groups respectively.

Also in the crowd to join Dartmouth's current Aires: nearly 60 alumni of the revered a cappella group. Concentrated in the center of the audience, these Aires of yore greeted their descendants with an overwhelming "AHHH!" as they took the stage. Donning sober black suits, white shirts and red ties, the group was channeling the spirit of their forebears for the first set. In front of a running slide show of Aires photos dating to the 1940s, the group gave the sold out auditorium a taste of the original Aires repertoire during their first of three sets.

"Mood Indigo" was one of the first songs ever performed by the Aires, and remained a staple of the group throughout the 1940s and '50s. Aires founder Orton Hicks '46 arranged the second song, the jazzy "I Remember You," for the Dartmouth Alumni Choir in the Upper Valley. The first set closed with "Dartmouth Undying."

After a brief interlude, the Decibelles graced the stage of Spaulding Auditorium. The beauty of their sunny spring dresses was matched only by the quality of their performance -- both drew whistles from the audience. Singing everything from Gavin DeGraw's "Chariot," to "Kiss Me" by Sixpence None the Richer, to a dance-inducing adaptation of Cascada's "Everytime We Touch," their selections were quite a departure from the Aires' jazzy, traditional arrangements.

The Aires returned, now in familiar form as they slid across the stage, yelling and screaming in colorful outfits that clashed mercilessly. After Jon Lohse '10 received a message from God requiring him to dance, the Aires whipped out a quartet of songs never before heard on campus. "Disco Inferno," by the Trammps, was followed by Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes," originally sung by the Aires a decade ago.

The high point of the show came next when Jarrett Cato '07 sang "I Shall Not Walk Alone," a spiritual by the Blind Boys of Alabama. Introduced as a tribute to the Virginia Tech tragedy, Cato was captivating -- as the cliche goes, you could hear a pin drop. The wildly enthusiastic audience gave the group a much-deserved standing ovation in the middle of the show.

Aires director Zach Supalla '07 proceeded to call alumni to the stage, and dozens clamored eagerly out of the audience like vocally talented moths to a flame. Supalla walked back and forth across the stage with a pitch pipe as Aires, aged 18 to 80, arms on shoulders, broke into "Somewhere" from West Side Story, the group's decades-old personal song.

The alumni, on a high of Aires-induced love, returned to their seats and joined the audience for the debut of Mika's "Love Today." After they had supposedly finished for the night, the group returned to the stage as the insatiable audience chanted "One more song!" It was then, to the satisfied screams of girls (and boys) in Spaulding, that the Spring Sing concluded with the perennial Aires favorite, "Up the Ladder to the Roof."

Spring Sing was just the beginning of a highly festive 60th reunion weekend for the Aires. In the words of Supalla, "This weekend [was] a celebration of an organization that, besides giving us an opportunity to sing and dance and have a great time around the country, breeds incredible friendships."

As Supalla pointed out, a quarter of the Aires' alumni -- 59 to be exact, ranging from the classes of 1952 to 2006 -- returned for the weekend. A cocktail party followed the concert on Friday night, while Aires past and present sang throughout Saturday afternoon from the steps of Dartmouth Hall, together and in groups arranged by era. The weekend concluded with a Saturday dinner at the Dartmouth Skiway and a farewell brunch on Sunday.

BAMGTP, to be sure, had a quieter reunion weekend. Commiserating over unjust obscurity, all two members sought to plan for the future. If they were only as intelligent as they are talented, they would take a thing or two from the Aires; with legions of devoted fans, a cadre of dutiful alumni, standing ovations mid-performance and sixty successful years behind them, I'd venture to say that they are doing something right.