By Annette Hinkle
When The Duke’s Men of Yale University, an a capella singing group comprised of students from the esteemed Ivy League campus, take the stage at Ross School tonight, there will be a familiar face among them — baritone Raphael Odell Shapiro, a Ross alum and Sag Harbor resident, now in his sophomore year at the University.
Many people in this area will remember Shapiro from his stellar career as a young actor and dancer in countless Stages Children’s Theater productions and school plays at Ross. But this time around, Shapiro will be showing off his vocal skills.
The Duke’s Men (or “Da Doox” as they are affectionately known) is an all male a capella group founded at the school in 1952. A capella singing is a tradition at Yale and has been since 1909 when the Whiffenpoofs, a group with a name that sounds like it’s straight out of Harry Potter, was founded on the campus.
“The Whiffenpoofs are all male and all seniors,” explains Shapiro. “It’s the oldest collegiate a cappella group in the country. Because of them, a capella has always been a big deal at Yale. There are over 15 groups at Yale, which is a lot for 5,000 undergrads.”
This is Shapiro’s second year with The Dukes, whose members are all underclassmen, and he explains that joining an a cappella group at Yale is a lot like joining a fraternity. The three week audition process is called “rush,” and it involves multiple auditions, meals with the groups and even concerts.
“Most people audition for a couple groups, some for six to seven,” says Shapiro. “I only auditioned for one.”
“When it comes down to it, the reason I auditioned just for The Dukes is, there weren’t any groups that impressed me otherwise,” he says. “I like a lot of different types of music and we do standards, jazz, barbershop songs. We even do songs where we come into the audience, and we sing Miley Cyrus.”
Shapiro notes that The Dukes practice about six and a half hours each week while classes are in session. And during school breaks they travel … a lot.
“We go on tour every other year, and record a CD in the years in between,” explains Shapiro.
In 2009, the group performed in Peru. And just last week, Shapiro and his singing counterparts were relaxing on the beaches of Puerto Rico, though that was more about R&R than performing.
“We had a couple concerts, but the Puerto Rico leg was more of a vacation,” he admits. “The thing about a capella, you can do it anywhere. We were on a tour of some caves in the middle of the island, so we sang in there.”
“We make a lot of friends when we travel,” he adds.
Unlike many collegiate organizations, The Dukes are completely self-funded. There are no staff advisers and members themselves are in charge of finances, booking tours and musical direction.
“It’s a little lesson in growing up,” says Shapiro. “Usually the business manager is a business major.”
And what is Shapiro’s favorite song by The Dukes?
“I like one of our older and simpler ones, ‘Wonderful World’ by Sam Cooke,” he says. “That’s one of my favorites.”
The Duke’s Men of Yale University performs on Thursday, March 18 at 7 p.m. in the Senior Building Lecture Hall on the Ross School campus, 18 Goodfriend Drive, East Hampton. Tickets are $15 ($10 for students). Call 907-5555 for details.
Above: The Dukes performing at Alice Tully Hall in New York City