Aires alums and undergraduates reunite for their 75th anniversary weekend

The celebration was marked by a series of concerts on campus that featured a variety of music styles.

by Madeline Sawyer | 5/24/22 2:00am


Photographed by Naina Bhalla ('22)

The Dartmouth Aires Reunion Concert, part of the a cappella group’s 75th anniversary weekend, featured 120 alums and 20 undergraduates in a dynamic performance on Saturday, May 14. The show included a roster of both contemporary and classic tunes. 

The Aires kicked off the show with a lively rendition of the alma mater, which the audience stood for and joined in singing. Other fan favorites included “Football Medley,” “Sh-Doom (Life Could Be a Dream),” “Desperado” and “Mood Indigo.” For current Aires member Sheil Sharma ’23, singing and interacting with alums was a highlight of the event. 

“It was so special to see the connection that I didn’t realize we had to such an insane number of alumni,” Sharma said. “[They] are so supportive, talented, excited and so passionate about what the undergrads do and about Dartmouth in general.”

The Saturday show was part of the Aires’ four-day reunion weekend, which brought together more than 100 alumni. The Dartmouth Aires was founded in 1946 as the College’s first a cappella group. The reunion began with an impromptu rehearsal on Thursday afternoon at Tom Dent Cabin and concluded with a brunch on Sunday morning, according to Dartmouth Aires alumni board reunions chair Matthew Schwartz ’06. 

Preparing for the Saturday show required more rehearsals in the prior week than the Aires have ever done for other reunions, Schwartz said.

“I myself — in some way, shape or form — have been working on this particular reunion for about three years,” said Schwartz. 

To plan this elaborate event, the alumni board appointed graduated members from each decade to reach out to other members to engage early on in the project. They compiled old sheet music, found recordings of songs that alumni could use to practice their parts and encouraged alums to gather on a regional basis in advance of the reunion. 

Show-related details, including the set list, were handled by musical director Adamah Cole ’06 and show director Adam Frank ’09. They solicited alumni to pick their favorite songs from each era and voted on the songs that they wanted to perform. These songs were added to the “perennial songs” that all Aires learn and maintain in their repertoire. On Saturday morning, the Aires conducted a two-and-a-half hour structured set of rehearsals in the basement of Silsby Hall. 

Even with all of this planning, a last-minute change of venue required the Aires to scramble to set up a sound system and redirect audience members, as Channing Cox lawn tent, the original location, was unsafe in Saturday’s 90-degree weather. The atrium of the new Class of 1982 Engineering and Computer Science Center ended up being the ideal space — the size accommodated a large crowd, who sat on tiered steps and stood on upper levels looking down on the stage, and the natural light and high ceilings made the show feel as if it was outside. 

“It is such a testament to the group’s professionalism, years of experience doing performances in the oddest and strangest of locations and being a fun-loving crowd that is not too concerned with formality,” Schwartz said. 

At the show, alums introduced songs from different decades and shared their Dartmouth experiences. Before intermission, the current undergraduate members joined in a high-energy rendition of Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” — a song randomly chosen by spinning a wheel during the show. 

“It was an amazing experience, especially after a few years without live music. It was great to see them having fun,” Emilie Hong ’25, who attended the performance, said. 

The combination of the randomly selected song and the “heartfelt and humorous” introduction of each decade by emcees created an authentic and informal tone that epitomizes the Aires group, Schwartz said.

While the show was more formal than in previous years, the group still wanted to maintain an “impromptu, fun-loving energy,” according to Schwartz. Aires reunion weekends traditionally include two shows: an alumni-led informal show on the steps of Dartmouth Hall and the undergraduate show in Spaulding Auditorium. For the outdoor show, a crowd organically gathers, members sing tunes that anyone shouts out and shows can last up to four hours. This year’s show was more structured, with a set list and time limit. 

“We wanted the 75th reunion to be special,” said Schwartz. “We wanted it to feel elevated … I think we all perform better when there is a great campus crowd there to experience it with us.”

After the Saturday show, another set of private performances at the Dartmouth Skiway gave the Class of 2020 — who missed their final show due to the COVID-19 pandemic — the chance to sing together again.

“It was really moving to see that connection manifest itself over the weekend through interactions we were having with alumni,” Sharma said.

An in memoriam video, created by John Sadd ’70 to honor the Aires who have passed away, played at the end of the Aires’ Saturday morning rehearsal. Members described this celebration of the history and heritage of the Aires as a particularly special moment. 

“The experience of living through the history and the memories of the group, doing this memoriam service…celebrating the history of the group was just an incredible bonding experience,” Schwartz said.

Video footage of the event will be available on the Dartmouth Aires YouTube channel.