AirCappella is Giving a Little Whistle
Early this month Louisburg, North Carolina – the “world’s whistling capital” – will host the International Whistlers Convention, and Vassar’s own AirCappella will be there to perform in the opening ceremony. AirCappella, for the uninitiated, is one of Vassar’s more unique student organizations. It is an a cappella group…where no one sings, and everyone whistles.
“We were originally just a group of recreational whistlers,” says William Lefferts ’13, the group’s co-president. “Then we started acting more like an a cappella group.” For Lefferts, it’s been a serendipitous opportunity. “I played cello for seven or eight years before Vassar, so I had a musical background,” he explains. “A cappella was a draw, but I can’t really sing. But I can whistle.”
AirCappella became a VSA-approved organization in 2005 and the 10-member group has been whistling a happy tune since. It puts on spring and fall concerts, each with a 10-song set list that can range from Beethoven to the Beatles to Lady Gaga.
During the semester, AirCappella’s members can be found singing at a number of on-campus events and venues, and a few off-campus ones, too (such as the Arlington Street Fair and an elementary school on Raymond Avenue).
As quirky as whistling a cappella may sound, the group has garnered an impressive amount of attention. A YouTube video of AirCappella performing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” one of the group’s signature songs, has logged more than 132,000 views. Lefferts says he’s been contacted by students at other colleges, such as Duke and Colgate, interested in starting their own groups. In 2009, AirCappella made it to the 2nd round of auditions on America’s Got Talent. And in 2010, the Huffington Post named AirCappella in its roundup of “Best of Collegiate A Cappella.” – Peter Bronski
Photo credit: Courtesy William Lefferts
Searching for Vassar’s Bobby Fischer
As this issue of the eNewsletter reaches your email inbox, Vassar will have just finished hosting the 34th annual Dutchess County chess championship. Justin Warren ’14 is among the competitors, and he knows a thing or two about the game. He’s been playing since the first grade. As an elementary school student in Georgia, his team won the national championship. As a high school student at Hastings High School in New York’s Westchester County, his team earned 3rd and 5th place finishes in the national championship.
Despite Vassar being the physical venue where the Dutchess championship is held, the college hasn’t traditionally been known for its chess playing. “It’s not a big thing,” Warren says. “Yet.” He’s planning to change that.
During his first week on campus at the start of the Fall 2010 semester, Warren attended a meeting of the Vassar-Chadwick Chess Club, a vibrant chess group that is open to the public and has been around since the 1930s, and which meets in Rockefeller on campus. Warren saw a handful of other students there, too. They got around to talking and started meeting informally on Sunday afternoons to play chess.
Now, some eight to ten people show up regularly, and more than 20 are on the email listserve. They’ve even set up competitive matches against Marist (Vassar won the first bout 5-1, with a rematch – at Marist’s request – scheduled to take place as this eNewsletter goes to press). Warren and his peers are hoping to make their student chess club an official, VSA-approved organization.
While balancing his chess game with the rigors of being a Vassar student and a Barefoot Monkey hasn’t been easy, Warren remains committed to the game and its virtues. “Chess can be competitive, or social, or an intellectual problem-solving thing. You can play it fast, or long,” he says. “It’s whatever you want it to be.” – PB
Photo credit: Courtesy Justin Warren
The Vassar Haiti Project Celebrates 10 Years
From Friday, April 8 through Sunday, April 10 the Vassar Haiti Project (VHP) will host its tenth annual Haitian Art Sale and Auction, featuring over 350 original Haitian paintings, silk scarves, sculptures, and other handicrafts. An opening reception on Friday at 5:00pm will include a screening of a documentary about VHP by Cannes Film Festival award-winner Alex Camilleri ’10, Madison Silverstein ’11, and Sean Morash ’13.
The VHP – co-directed by Lila and Andrew Meade – works to benefit the remote Haitian village of Chermaitre, focusing on four primary initiatives: education, reforestation, water, and health. They are noble but potentially daunting areas of work in a country with 98% deforestation, 70% illiteracy, and 50% unemployment.
And yet, the VHP is making a difference. Since 2001, it has funded a school lunch program, paid teacher salaries, and funded the construction of a seven-room primary school building that now serves 340 students with nine teachers. It has also planted thousands of fruit and coffee trees on the hillsides surrounding the village, established a water collection and purification system, and established the region’s first medical clinic in the neighboring village of L’Acul.
To date thousands of works of art have been sold, raising more than $650,000. “We’re ... creating change through art,” says Andrew Meade, who lived and studied in Haiti in the 1970s, and whose daughters - Kristen '10 and Lily '14 - have both been involved with the project. “Our goal has always been to create sustainability in our adopted Haitian community.” Year by year, artwork by artwork, sale by sale, that goal has been slowly coming to fruition. – PB
Photo Credit: Courtesy Vassar College Media Relations
NCAA’s Hall of Champions Features Vassar
On April 3 and 4, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) hosts the Division I women’s basketball Final Four championship in Indianapolis, Indiana, home of the NCAA’s Hall of Champions museum and conference center. It’s fitting, given that the Hall of Champions – mere days before – will have just unveiled a new permanent exhibit, “The History of Women in Intercollegiate Athletics.”
When the facility re-opened in 2009 after a devastating fire in 2007, the exhibits – which primarily covered the current 23 sports governed by the NCAA, with an emphasis on men’s athletics – “didn’t do much history,” notes Kelly Dodds, assistant director of special projects at the NCAA. That omission was especially striking for women’s athletics, which didn’t enter the NCAA until the 1981-1982 season. (Title IX, which mandated gender equality in higher education, including sports, passed in 1972, and the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, founded in 1971, championed the cause until the NCAA took the torch in the early 1980s).
“We realized that women’s sports was a piece of history that needed to be included, and that we were missing an opportunity to educate people about women’s journey to get where they are today,” says Dodds. She and her colleagues set out to create a timeline, illustrated with photos, artifacts, and memorabilia, and trace it back as far as they could. As it turns out, that timeline starts with Vassar and the college’s women’s baseball teams of 1866. “They started the whole thing off,” Dodds says. The famous 1876 photo of the Vassar Resolutes, successors to the earlier Laurels and Abenakis, accompanies the timeline entry.
“They’re perfect to get the point across,” Dodds says, “that a lot of things were happening in women’s athletics long, long ago.” – PB
Photo Credit: Courtesy NCAA Hall of Champions
The Young Philanthropist
When Zoe Lloyd Foxley graduated from Vassar in 2001, she set out on a course of service to community, first as an elementary school teacher, and then, after earning a Masters from the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work, as a worker at a community mental health agency in Santa Monica. Meanwhile, she’s been deeply involved in service of another kind – as a member of the board of directors of two family foundations.
Foxley sits on the board of the General Service Foundation, a non-profit focused on human rights, economic justice, and reproductive justice, founded by her great-grandparents 65 years ago. For eight years she’s also served on the board of the John M. Lloyd Foundation, named in honor of her uncle, who died from HIV/AIDS complications in 1991. Earlier this year she was named chair of the board, taking the helm from her father, Robert Estrin. “It’s a great honor to be leading the family foundation that was started in my uncle’s honor,” she says, “and an opportunity to not only continue the important work of advocacy in the HIV/AIDS field, but also to promote the importance of generational leadership transition within a family foundation.”
In both a literal and a metaphorical sense, Foxley is continuing her family’s legacy of foundation philanthropy. It’s a commitment strengthened by her participation in the programs of Resource Generation, a non-profit focused on helping “young people with financial wealth to leverage resources and privilege for social change,” according to its mission statement. (Michael Gast ’02 serves as its co-director.) Foxley also benefits from the influence and leadership of her mother, Mary Lloyd Estrin ’66, a current member of Vassar’s Board of Trustees, as well as the boards at the General Service and John M. Lloyd foundations.
“I feel very privileged to be raised in a family that values social change philanthropy through the medium of family foundations,” Foxley explains. “I’m committed to this work for my lifetime.” – PB
Photo Credit: Courtesy Zoe Lloyd Foxley
From Humble Vassar Roots a Band Makes it Big
If you catch the trailer for the movie No Strings Attached (2011), you’ll hear the song, “Ours,” and the characteristic sounds of alternative rock band The Bravery, which Milwaukee’s Summerfest – the world’s largest music festival – named one of the top indie rock acts of the last decade.
The band has humble Vassar roots. During their time on campus, lead singer Sam Endicott ’99, keyboardist John Conway ’00, and Jonathan Togo ’99 played together in ska band Skabba the Hut. Togo went on to a career in acting (CSI: Miami), but Endicott and Conway moved to New York City, linked up with three other musicians, and in 2003, the quintet officially became The Bravery. A month-long residency at club Arlene’s Grocery followed, and by late 2004, The Bravery had signed a record deal with Island/Def Jam. “Then,” as Endicott notes in the band’s newly penned bio, “a bunch of stuff happened.”
The Bravery’s first single, “An Honest Mistake,” earned the band new fans in droves. The Village Voice, Rolling Stone, and MTV all heaped praise on the group. Endicott, Conway, and company were soon touring with the likes of U2 and Green Day, before eventually headlining tours of their own. The Bravery’s music found favor in the soundtracks of video games (Ultimate Band, Grand Turismo 4, MVP Baseball 2005), television shows (Grey’s Anatomy, Gossip Girls, Heroes, Chuck), movies (The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, Never Back Down), and commercials.
More recently, band members have written songs for Shakira and Christina Aguilera. They’re also back in the studio recording their next album, which follows The Bravery, The Sun and the Moon, Stir the Blood, and Live at the Wiltern. This latest stint in the studio comes after their recent return to the U.S. after a month-long residency at London’s Hoxton Bar and Kitchen, which in some ways brings The Bravery full-circle since the band’s early days playing a month-long residency in New York City. By now, though, it’s clear that their musical success is no mistake, honest or otherwise. – PB
Photo Credit: Courtesy Big Hassle Media
Kathleen Fitzpatrick, 5:30pm, April 7, 2011,
Dave Tompkins, 6:00pm, April 12, 2011, Taylor 203
Anne MacKay ’49, 5:30pm, April 13, 2011, Main Building (Villard Room)
Peter Eleey, 5:00pm, April 21, 2011, Taylor 203
– Cynthea Ballard ’13
Photo Credit: Courtesy Pomona College
In the Media
Photo Credit: Courtesy Vassar College / John Abbott