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Dear Bubs, Welcome Home

March 11, 2013

As the house lights dimmed in Cohen Auditorium on February 7, the familiar, frantic opening lines of Rossini’s Il Barbieri de Seville rang from the stage’s Steinway.

From the lobby, a robust call responded: “Lalalalaa!” Then Figaro, wearing a tux, burst through an open doorway, boldly singing his way down the aisle to the stage where he settled into his aria “Largo Al Factotum Della Citta”—famous for its repetitive, self-congratulatory triplets of “Figaro, Figaro, Figaro!” begging for applause.

The audience obliged with a standing ovation.

“You have no idea”

According to “Bubalum” Danny Lichtenfield, A94, there are words of wisdom older Beelzebubs pass along to newcomers when they join the group: “You have no idea.” Of the commitment, the music, the fraternity, the family—of the outstanding alumni network they are about to join.

For any attendee of a Bubs concert, including the audience in Cohen expecting an hour or two of standard a cappella entertainment, the motto also holds true. The Bubs deliver much more than expected.

The Barber of Seville that night was played by Christopheren Nomura, A90, who has made a name for himself on the Boston classical scene. Nomura was just one of the more than 80 Beelzebubs alumni who came back for a Welcome Home Concert, the official kickoff for the Bubs’ 50th anniversary celebration. Alumni, family, and friends braved the beginnings of a blizzard to fill the auditorium, and were rewarded with eleven talented acts, from opera to a cappella that defied vocal limits.

The evening began with an original composition, “T-U-F-T-S,” by Marty Fernandi, A85, performed by the current Bubs and Jackson Jills, who are also celebrating their 50th anniversary. Fernandi wrote the piece while on the Hill and has since been a big presence in the New York cabaret world. He later performed original cabaret pieces with Jills alumna Fiona Ostermayer, J85.

On the operatic side, Nomura wowed with Rossini and Copland, and Associate Professor of Voice at Michigan State University Peter Lightfoot, A72, captivated with selections from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and Verdi’s Falstaff. Bill Nabel, A72, shared stories and favorite songs from his post-Tufts life, which includes more than 9,000 Broadway performances, from the original A Chorus Line to the entire 13-year run of Beauty and the Beast.

Cult trio Guster appeared via satellite with a small string section (Adam Gardner, A95, is a founder of the group), performing “Either Way” from their seminal album Lost and Gone Forever. Spiritual pop singer-songwriter Todd Herzog, A94, who has also topped the Billboard charts, sang original songs, accompanying himself on guitarand played original songs on guitar.

The Lone Ranger

Between performances, former Bubs shared memories from Tufts. Tufts Athletics Director Bill Gehling, A74, AG79, A05P, described dreaming of the Lone Ranger only to wake up at 3 a.m. in the Kippy House (now home to sorority Alpha Omicron Pi), wander downstairs, and make his first acquaintance with a transfer student who was playing the William Tell Overture (the Ranger’s theme song) on guitar.

That real-life Lone Ranger was Willie Nininger, A74, still a good friend of Gehling’s. The two performed together, both singing, playing guitar, and riffing off of one another in clubs in and around Somerville after Tufts. They got the act together again one more time for this special concert.

A folk humorist and flatpick guitarist, Nininger has written children’s music for Captain Kangaroo, including “I’m Proud to Be a Moose,” and country hits that landed him on Hee Haw. His whimsy was evident as he reprised the William Tell with gusto.

Back to Innovative Basics

The night wouldn’t have been complete without some good old a cappella.

The group Peking and the Mystics, formed by Bubs founder Tim Vaill , A64, A01P, in 1973 and still going strong, brought folks back to the days of doo-wop and Motown. The members are all Bubs alumni: Gene Blake, E73, EG87, Andy Cranin, A79, Chris Parker, A69, and Dave Pratt, A84.

Deke Sharon, A91, and his group The House Jacks have taken a cappella to a slick and hip new level; they tore up the stage with more Gershwin and Sharon’s double-take “mouth trumpet” solo for “Summertime.” Since Tufts, Sharon has been a producer for The Sing-Off, the reality show that launched the Bubs into the national spotlight and Glee fame, and musically directed last summer’s a cappella film Pitch Perfect, starring Anna Kendrick and Elizabeth Banks.

Bringing the usual tie-flinging energy to the stage, the current Bubs closed out the program with favorite arrangements, including “Madness” by Muse. They also offered their thanks to the Beelzebubs who came before them to create the musical fraternity that has helped shape their Tufts careers.

At that sentiment, every alumnus made his way to the stage to clap his arms around the brothers beside him and sing one last song.


The more than 80 Bubs alumni who braved the storm to sing together one more time

Want more Bubs? Come back for Alumni Weekend, May 16–19, to see the current Bubs perform and check out historic Bubs video, photos, and more in a special exhibit, “Tufts University Beelzebubs: 50 Years of Fun Through Song” at the Remis Sculpture Court in the Aidekman Art Gallery, now through May 27.